Bullying in Texas high school football game?
FORT WORTH, Texas — There’s a daddy out there somewhere in Fort Worth who I’d like to meet.
It wouldn’t be a social visit. But it’d be worthwhile to hear his answer to one question:
What the heck, sir, were you thinking?
There was a high school football game played in Aledo on Friday night. The home team won, 91-0.
That score will obviously grab some local attention. If you didn’t see the game, and know the circumstances, some might even be inclined to ask, “Did Buck run it up?”
Tim Buchanan is well-known and well-respected in high school circles as the builder of powerhouse teams in Aledo. And he has another one this season, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A. The Bearcats’ opponent in this particular game was Fort Worth Western Hills, which came in winless.
It made no sense for Buck to intentionally run it up on a totally outclassed opponent.
But on Saturday morning, Buchanan discovered via email that a father of a Western Hills player had filed a complaint with the district.
The complaint charged Buchanan and the Aledo coaching staff with “bullying.”
After the fine reporting by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Ryan Osborne in Monday’s newspaper, the story blew up, not only locally, not only statewide, but it has become a prime national topic this week.
Here’s the problem, of course.
Bullying in schools, even in the workplace, is a sensitive, serious issue of highly legitimate concern. For someone to apply it to the final score of a football game, well …
This guy has trivialized bullying.
In making his formal complaint, the father, who has not been identified, complimented the Aledo players for displaying good sportsmanship, but, according to Buchanan, said the coaching staff was at fault for not instructing the Aledo players, meaning second- and third-teamers, to “ease up and not play hard once the game was out of hand.”
When to say when in blowouts, and how to say when, is another longstanding debate in sports, and there is no definite answer. But the bottom line is “continually taking a knee” is a bigger disgrace to the losing team than the actual score.
“I do know I don’t want these kind of scores,” said Buchanan, who has been doing national TV shows all week and sounded weary Wednesday morning, “but I’ve got our backups getting the crud knocked out of them all week, being our scout team against the starters.
“So when our backups get in the game, and get in the game as early as the second quarter like was the case (against Western Hills) and lately, do you tell them to stand around out there and not try to compete?
“By rule, we put 6 1/2 hours a week into practice. Friday night is the payoff. When you get to play, you want to play, and you deserve to play, even if it’s just running the ball, and even with a running clock (clock doesn’t stop for timeouts and for first downs) the whole second half.”
All of this is just common sense.
But more interesting has been the national reaction to the “bullying” charge.
In a pleasant surprise, the support for Buchanan and the Aledo coaching staff has been overwhelming from more venues than just all-sports ESPN.
I was watching Good Morning America out of New York on Wednesday, which explained the details of the Aledo-Western Hills game, and then had six people, including the show cast and a national “bullying” expert, discuss the situation.
All were in agreement “bullying” did not apply in the case of “A-lay-do” (the New York City pronunciation on GMA).
But in full personal disclosure, I have a home in east Parker County, and have four grandchildren attending Aledo schools, including one in high school who is a member of the girls golf team.
Buchanan is a friend I have known for nearly a decade. John Naylor, the Western Hills coach, is also a friend, going back two decades.
Naylor, asked about the bullying report, told Ryan Osborne in Monday’s story in this newspaper, “I think the game was handled fine. They’re No. 1 for a reason, and I know coach Buchanan. (Aledo) just plays hard. And they’re good sports, and they don’t talk at all. They get after it, and that’s the way football is supposed to be played in Texas.”
OK, I agree, except …
When Texas’ University Interscholastic League placed Aledo two years ago in the same district with mostly Fort Worth Independent School District schools, it was a problem waiting to happen, particularly in football. It’s, well, different worlds. Real different. Atmosphere, involvement, finances, the works.
In moving to Parker County nearly a decade ago, I had a parent tell me, “In Aledo, band is a contact sport. So is theater, choir and, certainly academics.”
I go to Aledo football games. I was there two years ago when powerful Lake Travis came in and “bullied” the Bearcats by scoring 62 points. I was also there when Aledo beat FW South Hills, 77-16, a couple of weeks ago. And beat FW Arlington Heights, 84-7, before that.
“The problem (with 91-0) is we’ve had four straight weeks of these kind of district games,” said Buchanan, including an 84-7 win over FW Wyatt, when Aledo led 70-0 at halftime.
“We’ve got tough district games coming up (FW Southwest this week and unbeaten Granbury), and we are trying to be ready for those, plus be ready for the playoffs, and we’ve had to try to play our starters, but, under the circumstances, not play them too much.
“Any coach will tell you these kinds of games don’t do you much good. We like winning, but it’s not like we like these kind of scores.”
For what it’s worth, Aledo also hung 44 points on Highland Park this season and 56 on Stephenville, both traditional state powers. And it’s not a case of all Fort Worth ISD teams being unable to compete against the Aledos. Southwest is a good club, plus Buchanan was raving Wednesday about unbeaten FW Dunbar, maybe a future playoff opponent for Aledo. The Wildcats, however, are in a different district.
But after personally seeing the South Hills and Arlington Heights games (at least for the first half before departing), I was already thinking something I thought I’d never think:
A mercy rule in Texas high school football is needed. Sixteen states have a mercy rule, ranging from 30 points to 50 points. But in Texas? Man, that’s not Texas. But should it be?
Peter Contreras, the assistant athletic director of the UIL, said Wednesday from Austin, “What we have now, by rule, is both coaches can agree to stop a game at any point after halftime. But that’s tough on the coach on the losing end, to have to tell his kids, we aren’t going to play anymore because you aren’t good enough.”
Contreras added there’s been no recommendation among coaches for a mercy rule. “In fact,” he said, “we had a 91-0 game, the exact score as the Aledo game, in the Austin area a month ago, and not a word was said by the losing team.
“This bullying complaint, now that did break some brand new ground for football, unfortunately.”
Unfortunate, yes. But so has been the competitive aspect thus far of these district games for Aledo High School.
Mercy rule, anyone?