Eliot Hopkins, director of educational services for the National Federation of State High School Associations, said coaches are considered an extension of the classroom. “They are the teachers, so this is quite concerning,” he said.
With nearly 8 million boys and girls participating in sports across the country, things happen – the ugly ones become big news -- but most are usually dealt with swiftly and resolved. Hopkins doesn’t see an uptick in violence in high school sanctioned sports, although it could be more pervasive in travel team or club sports, where there is less game supervision and oversight. School boards and administrations normally step in and address negative issues quickly.
The two Alabama schools have also had to deal with harsh publicity, both inside and outside the state. Some sportswriters had called on the two schools to be suspended from the state playoffs. That would have been harsh, especially for the players who weren’t involved in the melee. Then again, outrageous acts deserve strong sanctions.
Both Cullman and Walker had to know severe penalties would be forthcoming. In August, the AHSAA issued a stern report about the growing prevalence of poor sportsmanship. The survey noted an increase in fines and ejections among coaches and players in 2012. According to the report, in the 2012-13 school year there were 684 ejections – including 50 involving coaches – compared to 153 the previous year. The AHSAA’s Savarese said reducing those numbers was a priority.
Clearly, there was growing tension between the two schools. Cullman Times sports writer Rob Ketcham wrote that the “brouhaha was not all that surprising considering the bad blood that has arisen between the rivals in recent years.” Last season’s 30-0 playoff victory by Cullman produced a “near brawl” late in the game. Given all that’s happened, maybe the time has come to shut down this rivalry, at least for a while.