EAGAR — There is a big problem at Round Valley High School.
Head football coach Marcus Bell and at least two of his assistants have established a climate of bullying at the school.
And it’s time for them to go.
This was never more evident than Friday night, as the Elks hosted the St. Johns Redskins in a renewal of one of Arizona’s oldest rivalries.
The first thing I saw when I walked into the Round Valley Ensphere to cover the game was a sign, placed below the student section, that read “Pansies only grow in Saint Johns.” This was one of many things I believe set the tone for what was to follow.
Things turned ugly late in the second quarter with the Elks leading 34-0.
Round Valley snapped the ball past quarterback Nate Gutierrez, who promptly ran back and recovered the ball. Since Gutierrez was down, the play was over. This is the rule in high school and college, but not in the professional ranks.
But St. Johns defender Brandon Naegle, a junior, rushed in and touched the quarterback’s helmet. Touching a player on the ground would be required to end the play if it was an NFL game. This is not out of the ordinary — we often see high school and college players make this mistake, and this play did not look intentional to me.
Gutierrez remained on the ground, squirming and holding his back. After 20 or 30 seconds he got up and appeared OK.
This lit the fuse for the Round Valley coaches. St. Johns head coach Mike Morgan said he and his players were accused by the Elks’ staff of trying to intentionally hurt Gutierrez.
According to a witness, a Round Valley coach yelled obscenities at the Redskins’ bench and allegedly displayed a rude gesture.
"They called me a f—ing p—," Morgan said.
Morgan went onto the field and retaliated with a similar rude gesture before officials got control of the situation and ejected Naegle from the game.
“None of our coaches instructed a player (to target Gutierrez),” Morgan said. “(Naegle) was just over-rambuctious and went flying in there. He said he never heard a whistle (stopping the action). He said he was sorry.”
Morgan said he thought Gutierrez was playing hurt.
“I thought some of it was theatrical,” Morgan said. “When he got up, he was better than ever.”
Now I know Gutierrez had some back trouble a couple of years ago, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But this has to be mentioned since so much inappropriate behavior stemmed from that play.
Bell kept almost all his starters in for the entire game, most notably Gutierrez, who ran for five touchdowns and threw for two other TDs in a 62-0 Round Valley win.
I don’t have a problem with a team running the score up when it is bench players doing that against another team with plenty of reserves.
But St. Johns, which dressed only 18 players for the game, is barely able to field enough players for 11-man football. Redskin quarterback Riley Raban played with a foot injury on Friday. With about half the enrollment of Round Valley, St. Johns is small enough to play eight-man football. But the Redskins, who compete with the smaller schools in other sports, have a proud tradition and want to play the regular game of football.
And what is baffling is that, except for assistant Robert Haws, all the Round Valley coaching staff grew up in St. Johns and played football for Morgan. It seems they owe much of their careers to their former coach — or at least some respect.
The final score of Friday’s came with 6:52 to play with Gutierrez running 1 yard for a touchdown, one play after a 26-yard pass completion.
“I thought it was wrong to throw the ball with (a few) minutes left,” Morgan said. “I had about 10 kids ask me ‘why would they do that? They are from St. Johns. Their pictures are on our football Wall of Fame.”
I agree. For the Elks to keep pouring it on in the second half was disgusting. Their coaches proved absolutely nothing except they have no class.
But the worst thing that night happened after the game, deep in the bowels of the dome where it was just me, Marcus Bell and his brother.
The game ended at 9:18 p.m. after the most penalties I’ve ever seen in a football contest. My back was hurting and I wanted to put my heavy camera down.
But the stadium lights were turned off and the darkened field was full of folks milling around.
I went back to the locker room and to the football coach’s office, saw an Elks’ assistant coach and said “I’m going to leave my camera here so I can go out and catch Nate for an interview.”
I felt my gear would be safe there. After all, schools should acommodate the media and help us secure our equipment as a professional courtesy.
But my leaving it there was a big mistake. I should have had a sheriff’s deputy keep an eye on it for me or I should have just toughed it out and kept carrying it myself.
After the interview, I returned to the coach’s office and found the head coach’s brother, Brian Bell, who is an assistant coach for the Elks, holding my camera and going through the pictures I took, with Marcus Bell also in the room.
When I approached him to retreive my equipment, he said, “You’ve got some really good pictures here.” He kept holding my camera.
And since I was also there to interview the head coach about the game, I replied, “Yeah, and I’ve got a picture of Coach Morgan flipping you guys off.”
At this point, Brian Bell came across that photo, and Marcus Bell came over with a cell phone to take a picture of the display on my camera. It is important to note here that Marcus Bell is a former starting linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks who is still in good shape. His brother Brian and Haws — who was not in the room at this time — are both much bigger even than Marcus. So it was a bit intimidating.
I again reached for my camera and said, “Don’t do that! It will be blurry anyway. I’ll send it to you if you want it.” But really, I just wanted my gear back. I certainly never intended for anyone else to touch my equipment.
But the Bell brothers, acting like teenage punks, crowded me out, kept the camera away from me and took the photo they wanted. It was soon posted online by a Round Valley parent.
This is another example of disrespecting an elder they should have some respect for.
Brian Bell has a history of inappropriate behavior in a school setting. And I’m not the only one who has seen Haws try to start trouble at high school events either. The White Mountain Independent will be investigating these and other similar incidents and we’ll hopefully have more on this later.
After talking to Morgan on Saturday and a St. Johns parent on Sunday, I was notified of some other shocking behavior allegedly perpetrated by these Round Valley coaches.
St. Johns senior Sherod Bride, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Redskins’ game against Morenci on Sept. 12, attended Friday’s game and sat in a chair on the sidelines. He recently had surgery on the knee.
Bride’s father, Shawn Bride, said, “After the game Sherod was walking off the field when Brian Bell screams at him ‘Get off my sideline!’
Sherod looked at him funny and said, ‘I’m heading to the locker room.’”
Shawn Bride said at that point Bell comes over and gets right in Sherod’s face and said, “I thought you were gonna beat us!”
He said Sherod replied, “Well it’s gonna be a little hard since I got that knee injury.” Bride’s father said Brian Bell then looked down at Sherod’s knee and laughed.”
Shawn Bride said he was upset with how the Round Valley coaches handled things during the entire week leading up to the game.
“The coaches said they were going to run the score up as high as they can get it,” he said. “That grown adults can take a bunch of kids and use them to humiliate other kids just to get under a coach’s skin — it has bothered me all weekend. It turns my stomach when I see that sort of behavior.”
Bride said he saw Haws help instigate the second-quarter incident and start to charge toward Morgan.
“I saw him scream at Mike and he flipped the finger first. Maybe Mike does retaliate. But the only thing I would have done differently would be to use both hands,” Shawn Bride said.
Bride also said the game was a disappointment for some Round Valley players.
“These kids look forward to this game,” Shawn Bride said. “I have a friend whose son is on Round Valley’s second string. He stayed on the sidelines when it was 48, 55 and 62 to nothing, and he never got into the game because the coach wanted to rub it in St. Johns’ face, all for his personal gratification, at the expense of the kids. It’s embarrassing and despicable. He never saw a second on the field. He wasn’t celebrating a victory (after the game), he was devastated.”
Coach Morgan said that after 36 years of coaching, he is going to resign at the end of the season.
“I just hope this mess can be fixed,” he said. “I’m done in three or four weeks. I don’t want Round Valley’s kids hurt from it.”
Yes, it is about the kids. They are watching to see how these things play out.
I urge Morgan not to step down. It sends the wrong message. You confront a bully, you don’t run away and let them get away with it.
I talked to and observed many people after the game. Most of them, including law enforcement personnel, just stood there in shock and disbelief.
It is also important to note that despite all the drama, there were no fights that I know of Friday night. That is a testament to the good folks, both young and old, of both Springerville/Eagar and St. Johns.
Morgan’s wife Dianna, told me she was scared to move toward the door and she requested a police escort out of there.
Most of the St. Johns folks left as a group. I joined them as well, trying to figure out what the hell just happened to me.
THIS IS NOT RIGHT!
Marcus and Brian Bell, and probably Haws as well, should step down or be fired before they destroy our communities.