Football coaches are always under pressure to win. Their win/loss record is publicized. Winning is important. But does scoring the most points always determine the winner? Here is an illustration that helps you answer that.
The 6A high school championship in 2016 was played between Opelika and Ramsay. I had a special interest in the game because I graduated from Opelika and played quarterback on the football team my senior year. Opelika had lost in the state championship game in 2012 to Hoover. This made the fan base for Opelika even more excited about this year. They estimated that 20,000 people from Opelika were at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the championship game.
It was a close ball game with Opelika leading most of the first half. An extremely interesting play occurred in the fourth quarter. Ramsay, holding 21-14 lead, was on its own 14-yard line and had a 4th down and 27 yards to go for a first down. The Ramsay quarterback was also the punter and decided they didn’t need to kick and called for a fake punt. Who would ever expect a play such as that! Because nobody was expecting it, it was the reason it worked, and the pass was completed and covered 29 yards to get the first down.
The play occurred so unexpectedly and so quickly that it caught everybody off guard, including the Opelika defense and the game’s referees. When the fake kick ended, everybody raced to the 43-yard line. Ramsay lined up, snapped the ball before anyone could comprehend what had happened. Actually, the player who received the pass was an ineligible receiver, but the referees didn’t stop the game to analyze it. Ramsay went on to win the game by 5 points, 21-16.
After the game, the referees were very apologetic and admitted they had missed the call. It should have been a penalty instead of a game-changing play. The referees even reported their mistake to the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Brian Blackmon is the head coach at Opelika. He is a winner! At the post-game interview when everybody conceded that a mistake had been made on that fake punt, Coach Blackmon could have been angry and blamed the referees for causing Opelika to lose the game, and that could have been justified. But instead, he took the high road. Even though most of the fan base was vocally lamenting the fact of the bad call, he elected to show the kind of character that he teaches his players.
He calmly said that all of us make mistakes. He said he had made a couple of mistakes in some of the plays that he called during the game. The referees made a mistake. He said that he taught his boys to respect authority, and the referees are the authority, so they were going to respect them and accept the bad call they made. He handled it with class! He lived out what he taught his players. In my book, he is a winner even though my team scored the fewer points. I am proud to be an alumnus of a school that has a coach like that!
High school referees have a tough assignment. They have to make instant decisions and don’t have the advantage of a replay camera. They need to be respected, not booed and criticized by the fans.
This year showed a marked decrease in people who applied to serve as referees in the Alabama High School Athletic Association. It’s the first time that has happened. I understand that the same trend has occurred throughout the nation. Less people are applying to serve as referees at the high school level.
I played sports throughout high school and college. Referees are human. They, like athletes, make mistakes. We need to create a culture where they are affirmed and encouraged. Thank or hug a referee today!
Thank you, Coach Blackmon, for winning in the category that most of your players, fans and fellow coaches will remember for a lifetime!