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09/15/1999  Notebook: Schulenburg penalty is too stiff  Football

September 15, 1999, 09:31 p.m.

Notebook: Schulenburg penalty is too stiff


Schulenburg's forfeiture of last week's football game gets a mixed review from this corner.

The school made a strong stance in suspending a majority of its varsity football players for "violation of team policy." The even stronger stance of forfeiting the game is particularly questionable.

Second-year coach Don Wild suspended 15 of his 23 varsity players for violating the team's alcohol consumption policy. The school's policy is a one-game suspension for the first violation; the second offense requires the player's suspension for the season.

With the size difference between subvarsity and varsity so extreme, Wild did not pull up junior varsity players, and the game against Smithville was forfeited.

Wild, who led the Shorthorns to a 7-4 record in his first season, took a tough stand that should be commended, especially in a town with such a football tradition.

The Shorthorns, who had to change their Superman logo because of trademark infringements last season, have played like the comic-book hero for years, winning more than 100 games this decade.

There have been cases of suspensions that caused hardship, but none so much as Wild's decision. He could have staggered the suspensions, as the NBA did for the New York Knicks in the playoffs. He could have even modified the penalty to running laps. But he stuck to the original policy.

As a result, it's unlikely another Schulenburg student-athlete will be anywhere near alcohol during their sport's season. Furthermore, the adults who provided the alcohol will give careful consideration before doing the same thing again.

The result of the players' actions was two small towns left idle on a Friday night.

This is where things could have been handled differently.

Smithville knew of the pending suspensions on Monday. The two coaches had a "gentlemen's agreement" for Smithville not to use its first-team varsity. The teams would scrap their Thursday night subvarsity games and use a combination of freshman and junior varsity players in the Friday night varsity game.

Smithville coach Wade Birchum said he wasn't going to take a loss because of Schulenburg's troubles, and if his subvarsity players got behind, he planned to use his second-team players to regain a lead.

Schulenburg superintendent Michael Bonner put the kibosh on the agreement, and the game officially became a forfeiture Wednesday.

The forfeiture cost Schulenburg a little bad PR. It cost Smithville High School, the home team, approximately $5,000 in lost ticket, program and concessions sales. The loss to the city itself -- gasoline sales, restaurant sales, etc. -- was high.

Wild kept his word when he suspended the players. The hardship should not have transferred onto Smithville. The game could have been played, and it may not have been pretty.

Wild was comfortable playing his subvarsity players. Why was he overruled?

He had the most to lose by jeopardizing the health of his subvarsity players. He is no doubt an unpopular man in Schulenburg right now, so imagine the further embarrassment Wild would have suffered if he had to cancel subvarsity games for lack of players (assuming they were injured in the varsity game).

The forfeiture seems to be an easy decision when you're not the home team. If Bonner thinks that Schulenburg's "visiting team" status had nothing to do with the decision, then he should be happy to hand over the gross sales from this Friday's home game against East Bernard.

In a day and age where everybody seems to have a sliding sense of values when faced with the consequences, Wild's strong decision should not be trivialized. It's nice to see a coach, in football no less, stand by his rules and the predetermined consequences. Those consequences just shouldn't negatively affect the opposing team.

Sarah Hornaday covers high schools for the Chronicle. Her column appears on Thursdays.