High Schools

Utah coach suspends all of his players to focus on character

tstevens@newsobserver.comSeptember 30, 2013 

A Utah high school football coach suspended all of his players last week and told them that they’d have to earn their way back onto the field.

Matt Labrum, the coach at Roosevelt (Utah) Union High, didn’t think his players were taking their off-the-field responsibilities seriously enough. Some were cutting class. Others were accused of cyberbullying. In general, he didn’t like a lot of things was he seeing.

So after a 40-16 loss to Judge Memorial Catholic High School Sept. 20, he had the players turn in their equipment. Each of the 41 players was suspended until further notice.

Those interested in playing football were invited to come to a meeting at 7 a.m. the next day where they could begin earning the right to represent the school.

“We looked at it as a chance to say, ‘Hey, we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game,’” Labrum told the Desert News. “We got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. There was none of them that fought us on it.”

The players did community projects, wrote a paper, memorized a quotation about character and were held to a higher standard academically throughout the week.

Thirty-two of the players earned their jerseys in time to play in Friday’s 41-21 loss to Castle Dale (Utah) Emery High.

Labrum is not the first high school coach to take such drastic actions. A girls’ basketball coach in California stopped his season a few years ago after reviewing academic records and a North Carolina girls’ basketball coach once canceled the rest of the season after players drank alcohol on the team bus.

Several area coaches have suspended players or permanently removed them from teams when the coach felt they were not representing the school in a good way.

The Deseret News prints online comments from readers and the Labrum story has received about 75 comments. The vast majority were supportive of the coach and school, but about 10 percent disagreed with the coach’s actions.

Some of the dissenters said such drastic action was a result of the coach losing control. One suggested the players who earn the right to play and get their jerseys back should turn in their jerseys and not play for someone who doesn’t trust them.

And, of course, one writer decried the lost opportunity for the players to earn scholarships. Another implied that the school was breaking a contract with other schools if games were not played.

But Labrum, 41, has emerged as a hero in Roosevelt, a town of about 6,100 that is about 150 miles east of Salt Lake City. Roosevelt was carved from land on the Ute Indian reservation and is off the main roads.

Nevertheless, television commentator Anderson Cooper called requesting an interview.

Labrum said it has been wonderful to see the support, but he wants to make sure the focus remains on using athletics to build character, not on him.

“We’re isolated out here,” Labrum said. “This is all new. We didn’t want the media exposure to make us lose sight of why we were doing this.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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