It was a memorable week for members of one Utah high school football team and it had everything to do with learning a life lesson and not on but off the field.
Leading into the team's Friday night game 10 days ago, head coach Matt Labrum learned that some players had cyberbullied a classmate. Because the site Ask.fm. allows users to remain anonymous, Labrum wasn't sure which players were involved.
This wasn't the coach's only concern. He also learned that players were slacking off in their classwork, skipping classes and disrespecting teachers. The coach determined that the bullying and attitude problems required swift justice and the punishment was an eye-opener. He suspended his entire 80-man squad.
After the game last Friday - a 40-16 loss - each player was handed a piece of paper in the quiet locker room and it had nothing to do with their game performance.
"Gentlemen, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing OUR family, school, community, alumni, and yourselves," it stated.
The letter spelled out the consequences.
"First, the jerseys. Turn them in," it said.
To get them back, and to get reinstated to the team, players had to perform service for their family and for their community which was to be done during the team's regular practice time slot on Monday and Tuesday.
To shore up their sloppy classroom habits, players had to report for a two-hour study hall after school. Part of that time required memorizing and reciting a quote to a member of the coaching staff.
"Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent," it said. "Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it, piece-by-pieceby thought, by choice, courage, and determination."
The coaches returned team jerseys to 32 of the 41 players, who were able to play in last Friday's game, a 41-21 homecoming loss. The other nine players can still rejoin the team if they complete everything on the list.
Labrum explained to the press that he didn't want this story to be about him but on getting the football program back on course.
"Overall, our program wasn't going where we wanted it to go," he said. "We weren't reaching the young men like we wanted to reach them. We want to help get them back on the right path."
The coach had the total support from both the school administration and parents. Principal Rick Nielsen backed the coaches 100 percent.
"They are just excellent men. Sometimes we do think we're bigger than the game," Nelson said.
This story renews hope that some of the old school discipline and values we knew growing up are still being shared. The coaching staff delivered a great life lesson on humility and dealing with adversity, not only on, but off the field as well.
It's a teaching moment that needs to be shared with others.
By Jim Zbick