Friday night lights: Winning takes sportsmanship, not just rivalry

Friday night lights: Winning takes sportsmanship, not just rivalry

November 15th, 2013 in Opinion Times

An orange "P" still adorns a purple trash can in front of a vandalized wall on game day at Marion County High School. Vulgarities were covered up before the game on Nov. 1 in this file photo.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

What in the world was Marion County assistant football coach and teacher Michael Schmitt thinking if he - as he is accused - vandalized his own team's football field house in the name of inspiring the Warriors in the early morning hours on the day of a Nov. 1 game against their rivals?

The field house, a storage building and outside surfaces were spray-painted with the orange and black colors of the South Pittsburg Pirates. The messages were taunts, slurs and vulgarities. A power "P", the Pirates logo, was added, along with scattered trash.

It's head-shaker sad, and it was a regional talker-story on the morning of the game, when the general consensus was that rogue Pirates players or fans took the spirit of competition too far.

But the fact that now a 44-year-old coach, a man entrusted to help instill knowledge and strong morality, stands charged with vandalism of $1,000-$10,000 -- a felony -- is a jaw-dropping horror.

"There is probable cause to believe that the defendant was a party to the crime of vandalism ... to possibly incite blame on a rival school," reads the affidavit signed by Jasper Police Officer Scott Evans and filed in Marion County General Sessions Court. Authorities will not confirm or deny whether other coaches are also suspected, but they say the investigation is ongoing.

If Schmitt's involvement is true, it's a terrible example of sportsmanship. And what can it possibly say for his coaching and teaching ability? Is this his best motivating technique?

More importantly, what example does it give to young people -- those at these schools and everywhere?

Football, like the Tennessee River, is the lifeblood of Marion County and South Pittsburg. Games between the two schools have shaped one of the state's oldest rivalries. Both teams are state ranked and each has a proud tradition.

In a pre-game story about the rivalry, Times Free Press reporter Stephen Hargis summed it up like this: "In a county where fireworks stores are outnumbered only by churches, the command to 'love thy neighbor' is forgotten each year when the game is played."

Two weeks ago, as cleanup was under way before the biggest game of the year, Marion County school superintendent Mark Griffith lamented: "It's sad that somebody would take a rivalry too far like this. We'll get it cleaned up, but with the game coming up in just a few hours, our main concern right now is to get it covered up before the public arrives and sees it, because its language and images are really embarrassing. ... Once we find out who it was, we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law."

Let's hope so.

And by the way: The cheap trick -- no matter who was responsible -- didn't work. The South Pittsburg Pirates won their eighth straight game against the Warriors, along with their third straight District 6-A championship title.