Robert Winner


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What is high school about

Matt Labrum, the head coach at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah, benched all 50 of his players last weekend because of character issues. Fed up with poor grades, attendance and attitude problems, in addition to learning that one or two players may have been involved in cyber-bullying another student, Labrum ordered all of his players to turn in their jerseys and equipment.

To get back on the team they had to do two days of community service, not be late to any classes, show grade improvements ... in short a character building effort that was fully supported by parents.

So the question is ... did this coach do the right thing .... is it the job of schools to develop character .... should schools only concentrate on the academics .... would you have supported this effort as a players parent ....

See story at:

High school football coach benches entire team for character ...

  • Sep 30 2013: I believe that school is to inspire higher learning and to promote moral integrity and social responsibility. I understand that these parameters are ambiguous and differ from school to school depending on its curriculum, resources, and administrative focus. (I know it sounds political) Involvement in sports is not an excuse for poor grades and poor attendance, but what I see more fundamental are the attitude problems, which underlie the other two. These all together violate the spirits of sports and teamwork and reflect a lack of responsibility.
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  • Oct 3 2013: my 2 cents:

    a school is a training ground for academics. It is where we learn facts, data, things we need to survive and navigate for a future vocation.

    a school is also a a place for learning basic social behavior.
    THAT future vocation that i was talking about earlier requires dealing with people, talking with people, working with people... the only way you can get students to learn how to do those things is in a school because there are lots of people to "deal" with, lots of "social rules" to navigate with..

    You cannot teach certain things in a home because it involves family. NOT everyone in the world is "family" and therefore requires more delicate social maneuvering.

    You can only learn these things from dealing with "strangers" referring to classmates, "people of authority" referring to teachers, "people that are almost family" referring to friends, "people that have a common goal or desires " referring to school groups or organizations..etc..

    A school therefore must make sure that the behavior that arises from such social maneuvering is FAIR and JUST. Remember that a school is a learning ground for social behavior.. if you don' t correct it NOW, you will be dealing with a group of people with problematic behavior later.
  • Oct 3 2013: In olden days, the mission of school activities was clear and simple; to teach literacy, the new knowledge, civil duty and building good characters for the students. I don't see why it should be changed. But as time goes on, the school just morphed into a political football, under the influence of many governments, school boards, district administration, teachers union and interfering parents (at least a portion of them) as well. Sometimes, the parties involved are so convoluted that they are interested only on some superficial "improvement", but ignored or neglected the very important school missions, such as student characters or conduct.
    I can't imagine that forefathers who first established the school system would anticipate, and probably be horrified at, the current existence of such decaying establishment which have evolved.
  • Oct 1 2013: this not the 1st time this has happened. Richmond High 1999 and the basketball team at the time was undefeated.

    I was for it then and I am for it now. Academics come first. Unfortunately we do not know the background material on what the Administration and teachers tried to do. This may well be a shock treatment decided upon by both the coach, teachers and administration.
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    Oct 1 2013: A contemporary way to deal with raging hormones attempting to direct the young to buy into culture norms regardless how dysfunctional they maybe, Sports is prep for soldiers and war. The question remains can we understand why so many are lashing out? Could it be they know the path forward isn't the path they are taught? Just wondering...if..
  • Sep 30 2013: I'm not sure anyone is sure exactly what school is for anymore.
    The answer used to be simple, it was there to keep the kids out of their parent's hair so that they could work longer hours. Over the years however, its slowly grown into a lot more than that.

    Your average school, as far as I know, doesn't really have a stated goal that it adheres to. Its something of a toss up between teaching the students basic general knowledge (which most schools do quite poorly), instilling some manner of discipline in children (for better or worse, as it comes at the cost of personal initiative), brainwash them through very selective history and literature classes (teaching the US-Mexican war in school? too ambiguous, it'll confuse the kids), and perhaps most importantly, allow children to interact with other people their age in large groups they don't necessarily want to be a part of (a crucial life skill, and the only one of the lot handled properly).

    Like most enterprises without a clear objective, the result is something of a fizzling out of the effort, and a failure to have your priorities straight (because you don't know what they are).
    A re-examining of the educational system's goals may be necessary, seeing as quality of education appears to be on the down trend in much of the world (or perhaps standards keep rising while education is left behind; either way, a problem in need of solving).
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    Sep 30 2013: The only part of this that is questionable is benching the whole team rather than only those who had committed the offenses in question.

    Outside of this aspect, I thought that not meeting standards of academic performance, attendance, and discipline have always been cause for benching. Is it uncommon?
    • Sep 30 2013: Perhaps it's the notion that if you work as a team, you suffer as a team, the notion to embrace group identity in a sports setting rather than to create segregation amongst what you call a team?
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        Sep 30 2013: I know that those in authority will often use peer pressure as a form of control and treat people in a group the same, even when their behavior, needs, and so forth are entirely different. Still, I find group punishments that include kids who have not done anything wrong to be questionable. Here the teacher knows which kids were in violation and which were not. If someone commits a crime and one knows who it was, would it be right, do you think, to levy a penalty on everyone in their circle of friends or neighborhood so as not to treat these closely associated people differently?
        • Oct 4 2013: What if punishing just the said participants single them out? Perhaps the coach knows, but what is the rest of the team does not and would this widen the gap between the students and the rest of the team?
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        Oct 4 2013: At a school where I taught, a student was suspended from school for cyber-bullying. He was the one who did it. By this act, he singled himself out. The members of whatever athletic team he may have been on did not do it. They were not disciplined.

        The student was held accountable for what HE did. Others were not penalized for what they did not do.

        This seems fair to me. What do you think? Should the whole team, who did not, as you write, know about the offense, have been disciplined?

        If you sit on a jury, you are asked to consider what the person before you did. If his friend did something, but he did not do it, or a member of a club in which he belongs did it, the judge will make clear to the jury that you cannot punish someone because of what his friend did without evidence of his participation.

        Many people are not invited to sit on a jury precisely because they appear willing to punish someone for something in which he personally was not involved, even though he knows the person who was. I have seen this and others I know have in jury selection.
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      Sep 30 2013: Fritzie, I cannot speak for college sports but there are many indicators that winning is THE thing. That few football players graduate ... that losing coaches are replaced immediately (as USC coach was this week after losing three in a row) ... coaches are paid millions and receive big perks ... winning teams also boost enrollment thus endorse the "cash cows".

      I have been guilty of group punishment .. When someone misses the snap count I have the team do ten push ups. I do this to get their attention as to the importance of the basics. After a few times it always stops. If one individual continues then that person is addressed.

      I admire this coach ... my question is why did he have to resolve the problems that should have been addressed by the teachers and the administration. The story said that players were talking back to teachers, getting poor grades, bullying, late to classes ..... If the coach found out about this then why was it not corrected by the teachers and the administration through detention / suspension / ineligible / etc ...

      To me he said that education and character are more important in life than the game. Show me that you understand this and we will continue the season.

      The best part of the story is that the parents "got it" and supported the coaches efforts.

      I would be interested to see if the administration "understood" what happened and takes action to resolve the issues that the coach had to address.

      Perhaps I over thought this ... but I like this guy ... he chose the right path .... in my eyes.

      I celebrate the coach's decision ... when I should be mad at the administrations failure.

      As always, thank you for your thoughts. Bob.
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        Sep 30 2013: We do not know, I think, what sort of interventions by teachers, counselors, and administrators preceded his action. There may well have been a conference among the adults in the building about the most effective strategy (given what has not thus far worked) to get through to a particular cohort. Sometimes it is an administrator, but kids often respond best to a PE teacher, an athletic coach, or the band leader. These are people who have in their hands access to a privilege the kids at hand value most. In my experience, there is often an invisible team or sequence of intervention strategies that we do not see.
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          Oct 1 2013: Your right of course, we do not know. As a rule, a decision of this magnitude would have shown a united front with the administration making an announcement on behalf of the administration, teachers, coaches, and staff that such actions would no longer be tolerated by ANY students. Since it only affected players directly under the control of the coach ... it would appear to the casual observer that the coach has said the administration did not take action ... so if you are in my program ... it stops here and now for my players.

          When I first read the article I thought that the teachers and administration lacked the courage to enforce rules. The coach made the decision within his area of responsibility.

          I would be interesting to revisit this school in a follow up one year from now. It would answer many questions as well as measuring the success of the effort.

          If the coach is qualified ... I bet he just became the front runner for the next Superintendent / principal.

          As always your response keeps me grounded and inspires further thought. Thank you.

          I wish you well. Bob.
      • Oct 1 2013: Robert...I agree.

        The message that being a great athlete somehow entitles you to live a different character standard is unfortunately something people more interested in making money than building or associating with men of good character have created in society. It is disgusting at the professional level, unfortunate at the college level, but intolerable at the high school level or below. The transition point where the entity responsible for allowing a person to represent them on a field of competition cares more about winning than the development of young men of good character should be post academic.

        Fritzie's point about the coach's decision being unfair to those who might be acting is certainly valid, but without all the details associated with what led to the decision, I will not judge. I will say that the coach had to know his decision would be unpopular and made a tough call.

        If I was to be held responsible for the actions of my players on and off the field, and I did not feel confident that under the stress of competition that they would behave appropriately, I hope I would have the strength to not permit the competition to occur. I am sure his decision was not perfect, I am sure it was not popular, but I support the coach. If he took the extra step to engage and talk to parents, then in addition to being a good coach, he genuinely cares about the kids he is coaching.The administration selected the right person for the job. Well Done!
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        Oct 1 2013: My speculation of what may have taken place behind the scenes comes from discussions in which I have been a part in which teachers, administrators, and counselors have met to address such issues. My secondary school had three PE teachers, a female former college basketball player and two men. I distinctly remember the female teacher putting forward her offer to handle the situation at hand in the context of her frequent contact with the students in question.

        What I do not remember was whether in that instance it was considered the best course.
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      Oct 1 2013: Coaches bench for a variety of reasons ... administration decides eligibility. Being benched does not restrict you from playing or traveling ... being ineligible does.
  • Sep 30 2013: There are many problems in schools. One of them is the extreme lack of Calm, Alpha, Adult Males who provide modeling for adolescent males. The coach's extreme behavior is symptomatic of that fact. Clearly, he knows he swims in a sea of mediocre males.

    It's always important to remember:

    We, as a society, do NOT value education. Our priorities are elsewhere. In that sense, we are quite primitive.
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      Sep 30 2013: Perhaps you are right ... however, I see this coach as a excellent role model who saw a problem and used the resources at his disposal to resolve the issue. His action were strong and decisive.

      He demonstrated to the players that education was important as well as character and integrity. I do not consider these actions extreme at all.

      Thanks for the reply. Bob.