There comes a point in every coach’s career when he or she must chose between winning and doing what’s right.
In the professional ranks, and often in college, winning always wins.
A player gets arrested for driving under the influence: He plays.
Another player gets into a domestic scuffle with his wife: He plays too.
But in high school, when players violate team rules, they need to sit. Playing high school athletics is a privilege, not a right, and some kids need to learn that the hard way.
Two such athletes from Gainesville had to deal with that harsh reality last Monday during the first round of Lanierland. While I won’t name names – they know who they are – these two players violated team rules and sat on the bench throughout the duration of the Red Elephants’ thrilling come-from-behind win.
Sitting these two players was not easy.
With his team struggling mightily against the Spartans, Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell could have easily thrown his morals to the side and inserted two of his better players. When the Red Elephants got down by 26 points, it would have been tempting to look at one of your best shooters and tell him he could go in. What he did to earn the disciplinary action was forgiven. Winning this game was much more important.
But that’s not what happened. That’s not what high school sports are all about.
As much as winning this prestigious tournament means to all the teams in Hall County, it’s imperative that it doesn’t come with a win-at-all-costs mentality. Sometimes lessons need to be taught at tough times. That’s what makes high school athletics, specifically the role of the high school coach, much more important than its collegiate and professional counterparts.
High school coaches are there to teach not only the game, but also life lessons.
When asked why he kept two of his star players on the bench while his team was basically getting waxed, Cottrell made his stand clear in just five words: “We have to do right.”
Those words might not seem all that powerful, but the actions were.
With two of his best players on the bench, the Red Elephants rallied from a 26-point deficit largely due to the play of two guys, senior Javez Warren and sophomore Tray Harrison, whose playing time would have decreased exponentially had the other two players been available.
Sitting the stars not only set an example, but it also instilled confidence and displayed trust in the rest of the team. It proved they could get it done, no matter how large the deficit, no matter how talented the opposition.
That lesson could prove to be more important basketball-wise to a team with playoff aspirations, but I can guarantee you it’s not as important as taking the stand for what’s right and what’s wrong.
I have no idea what these two players did to violate the team rules, and frankly it’s not important. What is important is that they learn from their mistakes and never do it again.
After watching their looks of utter disappointment before, during and after the game, something tells me they will.
Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesjzopf.