High school football teams learn lessons in sportsmanship

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Before the game even started, a matchup between two undefeated teams was already heated.

“It was a big region game. There was a lot of conversation and talk, banter going back and forth between the two teams on Twitter, you know, social media stuff, and I think our kids took exception to it,” said Brandon Maditch, coach of East High School’s football team in Salt Lake City.

Two weeks ago, as the players from Woods Cross High School went to shake hands with the captains at East, they were rejected.

“Sometimes emotions get involved,” Maditch said. “This is a high emotion game, football is, and they are teenagers, and sometimes, emotionally, they need a little direction.”

Maditch apologized to the coach at Woods Cross the following day and addressed the issue with his players. However, the simple gesture on the field highlighted a greater issue that athletic departments around the state are tackling.

“I think we’re getting there, but I think we can always improve on anything,” said Darby Cowles, who is the athletic director at Copper Hills High School.

A week ago, a heated argument with referees cost one Copper Hills coach his job and gave another a suspension.

“There’s room for improvement, I think, around the entire state,” Cowles said.

But scenarios like that in Utah are rare, according to the Utah High School Activities Association.

“We may go weeks without ever having an incident, so, I would say, the vast majority of times, the coaches behave exemplary,” Assistant Director Kevin Dustin said.

Dustin points out that in some cases like that of Union High School in Roosevelt, where a coach suspended his entire team and made them earn their jerseys back, sports are teaching some of the most important lessons, on and off the field.

“That was a great example of how schools can be a force in making change,” Dustin said.