Friday, December 27, 2013

The Bully Coach and the Principal Enabler

Don McLean: A little too prescient.
There are a few songs in everyone’s life that speak to us in a particularly significant way. One such song for me was the Don McLean classic, “American Pie.” It was released at the perfect time for me—junior year of high school—and contained an intoxicating blend of catchy melodies and intriguing lyrics just begging to be deciphered. I remember sending away (there was no Internet, of course) for one critic’s interpretation, and being enraptured that pop culture could be used to critique pop culture (not the terms I’d have used at the time, of course). McLean himself wisely avoided commenting on what the song meant, supposedly quipping something along the lines of “it means I’ll never have to work again if I don’t want to.”

Anyway, when I read this story from Annandale, Virginia, about a football coach literally trying to throw the marching band off the field in the middle of their halftime show, part of the third verse of “American Pie” swarmed into my mind:
Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield…
I’m sure there’s a name for the linguistic phenomenon at play here: a literalizing of an expression meant to be figurative. I remember using this device, whatever it’s called, when I lit a production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood many years ago. There’s a song near the end of that musical that starts “I have read the writing on the wall”; we provided some actual writing on an actual wall for the title character to reference.

But I digress. What happened here was, at one level, simply the normal tensions between the jocks and the band, exacerbated by two things: 1). the football team finished the season at 1-9 (0-6 in conference) and the band is good (national award-winning good), and 2). the football coach is a moron of the first order. Of course, in one sense I could easily have included this story in yesterday’s piece about the real problem being administrators who don’t do their jobs. But there’s something about this business that makes me think it’s worth its own article.

I turn to someone who was there, Megan Ryan and James Barker, who wrote an editorial in the school newspaper. One or both of them seem to be band members, so that should be taken into account, but whereas some commentators have suggested that band members should “know their place,” I find no one who actually disputes the facts as enumerated here:
“GET THE DAMN BAND OFF THE FIELD,” a parent of one of the football players said at the AHS Marching Atoms “mid show” of their Senior Night performance on Nov. 8.

The Annandale Atoms faced South County in their last game of the season. The night began as a typical Friday night football game in the fall would; cold and under the lights in Bolding Stadium but then turned sour for the marching atoms. In the beginning of the game, the band stood out in the cold weather, making a tunnel for all the seniors in the football team, dance team and cheerleading squad to walk through for their senior night. At halftime, all of the seniors were announced, the band started performing their show, “Music of the Night” with 7:36 left in the halftime period. As they played their first song, the football coaches brought their football teams back on the field to start to warm up for second half. At first, the teams stayed in the end zone, however, that changed when the band began performing their second piece, when both football teams entered the field by going past the goal line in the direction of the performing band students….

Then the unspeakable happened. Coach Mike Scott and a few other coaches as well as some players began yelling at the band and Band Director Adam Hilkert to “get the band off the field.” According to the game clock, we had about 4:30 left and halftime wasn’t over.

The screams from the fans and coaches became more intense, and Coach Scott resorted to his own measures by shaking the podium of junior Assistant Drum Major Douglas Nguyen, and then yelling at the other Assistant Drum Major, senior Noah Wolfenstein, to stop conducting and get off the field. Yells came from the stands and the coaches to the press box and the field.
If there’s any good that comes out of this story, it’s that high schoolers are learning research skills. Hence this:
Before the game, Principal [Vincent] Randazzo discussed with the referees that due to it being Annandale’s Senior Night, halftime might run over and that we needed extra time, and fortunately South County agreed to the time allotment during halftime.
And, more importantly, this:
According to the National Federation of Schools Football Rule Book, on page 19, rule number three says “As the teams leave the field [at the end of the first half], the timer places 20 minutes on the clock and upon reaching 0:00, places three additional minutes on the clock” to allow the football team to warm up for the second half.
The students muddy the waters by suggesting that the unsportsmanlike penalty if the band really did play too long would be “only 15 yards,” and, frankly, the reminders of the qualitative superiority of the band to the football team come off as a little smug.

But if, in fact, there were still four and a half minutes left on the halftime clock when Coach Scott started behaving like a particularly petulant 3-year-old (a 3-year-old losing 35-7 at the time, to be more precise); if, in fact, the referees and opposing coaches had signed off on a little extra time for Senior Night; if, in fact, the rule book actually says the three minute warm-up time can come after the halftime break (I think it does, [well, technically the case book does], but it’s incompetently written [go figure], so I’m not sure)… If all of these things are true, then there is no excuse for Scott to even be upset, let alone throw a temper tantrum. If he, in fact, shook the podium the assistant drum major was standing on, well, there’s a word for that: assault.

A reasonable response by the Principal, who had, at that night’s Band Senior Recognition Ceremony, told the band that they “[embody] what this school is all about,” would have been to suspend Scott for long enough to get his attention or, given that he appears to be no better a football coach than a person, fire him. That didn’t happen, of course, because: Football. ‘Murika. Freedom.

Instead, we get an open-letter apology six days after the fact, and an assurance that “Coach Scott has offered to apologize to the band members for his actions.” Of course, if the coach felt the slightest degree of contrition for behaving like a total jerk, he’d have apologized to the band, not offered to do so. But he’s a high school football coach in a school with a great history of gridiron prowess (two state championships under the previous coach). The fact that he’s 4-26 over the last three years doesn’t change his sense of entitlement in the slightest. Nor does the fact that it was Senior Night for the band, too, and that a lot of people in the stands came to see them, not the football team. He is, in short, a walking cliché. So, alas, is Principal Randazzo.

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