Time to dispel rumors from brawl aftermath

Police and league handled tough situation admirably (Reprinted with permission of The Charlotte Observer)

In 14 years as a sports reporter, I've seen plenty of cheap shots, several ugly moments and a handful of fights. But I've never experienced anything quite like the events that unfolded at District Three Stadium on Sept. 13. I stood amidst several hundred people on the sidelines watching Northwestern football coach Jimmy Wallace as the final second ticked off the clock during the Trojans-Marlboro County game. Northwestern's euphoria in the 14-10 win is the first thing I remember. The spontaneous, collective roar of Trojan players mingled with something less appealing. Trash talk. But the roar and the talk lasted only a few seconds. As I closed in on Wallace, hoping for a quick postgame interview, the pile of huge players in front of me began to move. Soon, a Marlboro County helmet whizzed through the air, not far from me. I moved away, only to see a fan and a Northwestern coach tussling. I saw the one big pile becomes three separate piles of people. I saw stun guns drawn, pepper spray used and Marlboro County quarterback Syvelle Newton lying motionless on the ground. On Thursday, the S.C. High School League announced both teams were barred from the playoffs. In addition, the league suspended 16 Marlboro County players and four Northwestern players for all or part of the rest of the season. Rumors have been rampant since the brawl. Hopefully this will clear up some of them. • Newton was never unconscious. Two medical personnel say he was exhausted. He was administered oxygen. He was helped off the field by teammates. • No coach for either team ever was the aggressor in any confrontation involving players and coaches. I saw two Northwestern coaches punched by Marlboro County players, but both coaches continued to diffuse the situation by removing their players from the melee. • The video footage of the event was comprehensive. Reports that only snippets of video were shot was incorrect. Nine different camera angles captured the event in its entirety, from the time Newton's final pass of the game fell incomplete to the time players from both teams were finally separated. • Law enforcement officials performed admirably. They weren't perfect. But given the circumstances, the event could have been far more severe. Because of the police presence, order was restored relatively quickly. • The fight did not start because of dirty play during the game. There were no personal fouls in the game. There were no penalties of more than 5 yards. I've got several gut feelings about the whole ordeal. I believe Northwestern may win its appeal and be reinstated for the playoffs. My hunch is that Marlboro County will not be reinstated. When one-fourth of your team is disciplined by the league office, my guess is that players should consider themselves lucky to be playing any more games. Second, the way both schools handled things after the altercation was admirable. They cooperated with one another and with police and the high school league. Third, the punishments doled out fit the crime. Northwestern's role in the altercation was clearly not as extensive as Marlboro County's, and the high school league's ruling supports that, with just four of the 20 disciplined students being from Northwestern. It's unfortunate when the actions of a few negatively affect many. But nowhere is the team concept more accentuated than in athletics. In high school sports, the field and the court are extensions of the classroom. Thursday's ruling was the most effective lesson many of the student-athletes will learn. If you don't play by the rules, you lose. Finally, two practices employed by area schools have long addressed issues that came to the forefront this week. Lancaster coach Johnny Roscoe has, at times, been accused of poor sportsmanship because he didn't allow his players to shake hands after games. He did so because he never wanted a situation to happen like the District Three episode of Sept. 13. Also, a former area coach would, on a weekly basis, spend practice time dealing with how his coaches and players should react in case a fight broke out during a game. It was a preventive measure that the coach never had to test. Reprinted with permission of The Charlotte Observer

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