ROOSEVELT, Utah — Fifty football players on a Roosevelt high school team are trying to earn back their jerseys after their coaches suspended them for misbehaving and getting bad grades.
KTVU-TV reported, head coach Matt Labrum, along with other staff and administrators, asked all upperclassmen on the team to hand over their uniforms after losing a game on Friday so that they could focus on “building character,” just a week before an important homecoming game.
“We hate to lose,” Labrum said, “but we all felt that the biggest lessons that we learned through football were about how to be good men.”
Instead of practice, Labrum had the boys do community service, cleaning up the grounds of the junior high school and volunteering their time at local senior centers. They also have to spend study periods actually studying.
“Being pulled off the team was a horrible feeling for all of us,” said team co-captain Jordan Gurr, who was upset at first, but now fully supports the coach’s’ call. “Absolutely one of the best decisions that could’ve been made.”
A guidance counselor informed the athletic department that football players were believed to be cyber bullying another student. Jordan’s co-captain, Gavin Nielsen, a running back on the team, said he heard that the kids used an anonymous user name online to tell another boy to kill himself. Nielsen, the school principal’s son, agreed with Coach Labrum’s call.
“Getting my jersey taken away. That kind of sucks. You’re like, ‘What are we going to do without football?” Nielsen said of his disappointment, despite understanding the need to focus on what’s important. “I wake up because I want to go to football.”
Some players were skipping class, performing poorly on tests and disrespecting teachers and classmates, Labrum said. Although most of the students perform well and have no behavioral issues, the actions of just a few reflect on the entire team and require everyone’s attention, Ross explained of the staff’s reasoning for suspending all of them rather than individuals. Freshmen, however, were still allowed to practice.
In the small town of about 6,000 residents, football is huge, and canceling practice ahead of Friday’s homecoming game against Emery High School was tough, especially since the team needs to win to have a good shot at the playoffs.
“The football game on Friday is the only thing in town,” said school athletic director Mike Ross.
But the feedback from players, parents and even other school districts has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The entire community has responded well,” Labrum said. “It’s been a very humbling lesson for all of us.”
If the players carry out all their responsibilities, memorize a statement about character and perform a service project for their families, they can get their jerseys back. They also need to keep up good grades to stay active on the team.
Practice for those who earn their spot back on the team begins on Thursday morning. So far, the players are doing well, and the coaches are encouraged, but they are looking well past Friday’s end zone.
“We’re building character to make these young men, men so that they can give back to their families and their society,” Ross said of building positive futures for the players.
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