I’m going to contradict myself right off the bat.
An exhibition game in the middle of the summer, which exists solely to give recently graduated high schoolers one last chance to play football, should never end the way Saturday’s second annual Rhode Island Football Coaches Association All-Star game did.
But on the flip side? It really wasn’t as big a deal as people seem to be making it.
On a football field, a group of 17, 18 and 19-year-old kids got a little too fired up, pushed a little too hard, talked a little too much and a mild scrum ensued.
It wasn’t ideal, but it’s also not as if anyone was hurt, any real punches were thrown or anything other than some yelling really occurred. It was like a baseball “fight.” The benches empty, players start pointing at each other and acting like they’re going to make a run at somebody while other players hold them back. Then, a few minutes later, everyone goes back to his own side, no worse for wear.
For those who weren’t in attendance on Saturday, let me give you a little context.
Graduated seniors from around the state took part in an all-star football game this past weekend. They practiced for two weeks as separate teams – the East and the West – and then met at Cranston Stadium for a game to decide nothing, really, except for pride in whichever side of Route 95 you lived on.
It was competitive for a while, with the East taking a halftime lead before the West dominated most of the second half and led 27-17 with just under five minutes to play.
That’s when the antics started. West running back Randolph Zleh got the corner on a run and then stepped out of bounds, where he was hit late, sending him toward the bench area on the West sideline.
His teammates abruptly came to his defense. The players started pushing, the East team ran over from the other sideline, yada, yada, yada, nothing else happened.
The officials decided to call the game right then and there rather than trying to restore order, which made sense. The outcome was no longer really in doubt, it was almost over anyway, and there would certainly have been another altercation if play resumed.
Standing on the sidelines, watching and listening to the whole thing unfold, you would have thought someone got shanked. Fans behind me were aghast. There was a lot of “This is just terrible,” “How could this happen?” and “Do you believe it?”
I believed it then and I believe it now. Kids who are that age and end up in that sort of competitive environment are a highly flammable breed, and it showed.
“In things like this, where everyone is just competitive, it’s bound to happen I feel,” said Cranston East quarterback Alex Corvese, who played for the West side.
It’s football. For many of the kids playing, who won’t go on to play in college, it’s the last football game they’ll ever play. Everyone was emotional, it was hot and a few players let all of that boil over and manifest itself in a way that was less than flattering.
It’s a fine line. We always want our football players to play hard, to gain a mental edge and to use emotion to their benefit. Once in a while, someone’s toe steps over that line, and you get what happened Saturday. That’s just reality.
I’m not condoning the scuffle by any means. It’s a privilege to be able to play and represent your state in a game that should become a long Rhode Island tradition. Fighting isn’t part of that privilege, and it never will be.
But rather than rushing to our soap boxes and high horses, let’s just let it be, understand why it happened and try to take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Next year, the players should be told that in no uncertain terms that that sort of behavior won’t be tolerated, and that they’ll be ejected from the premises immediately if they step out of line. Referees – who didn’t seem to realize that tensions were high for most of the game – should be instructed to throw flags on players for language, for small post-play pushing, for anything that could lead to a fight. It’s an exhibition game after all – a 15-yard penalty isn’t going to cost anybody a playoff berth. But it might prevent a repeat of Saturday.
That’s all you can do.
I’ve seen some really bad scenes in the world of sports since taking this job. I’ve seen punches thrown. I’ve seen parents threaten the lives of umpires over 10-year-old softball. Those are terrible acts. This wasn’t that. This was just the rough side of football that happens every so often when a few players let their emotions get the best of them. Let’s work on it, and move on.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.