Officially speaking, I have heard it all now

BY JOE B. COATES – [email protected]

“This can’t be happening,” is probably what Ennis Proctor, director of the Mississippi High School Athletics Association was thinking when he awoke Saturday morning.  Officials at the Leland-Walnut North 2A playoff game had badly erred Friday night, giving Leland a victory that wasn’t earned.  Walnut coaches undoubtedly had been burning up Proctor’s phone line throughout the night on Friday and into the day on Saturday and Sunday–and, for good reason.

Here’s what happened:  Walnut was leading Leland with seconds to go 21-18.  Leland had the football and was driving to take the lead.  On what wasn’t the final play of the game, the Leland quarterback–out of desparation and probably disgust–threw a forward pass–approximately 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage–that fell incomplete, bouncing into the hands of one of his receivers some few yards further down the field, who eventually ran the ball across the goal line. 

The game officials properly ruled the play an illegal forward pass, which by rule carries a ‘loss-of-down’.  Instead of ending the game at the point of the incomplete illegal forward pass, the officials erred and gave Leland an untimed down, extending the period for one play.

Of course, you know what happened next…Leland scored to ‘win’ 24-21.

After reviewing the game tape, on Monday Proctor and the MHSAA properly awarded the victory to Walnut because of the rule misinterpretation.  They–not Leland–will play Friday night in the next round.  The officials have likewise been disciplined by the MHSAA and will be under high scrutiny during the 2009 season.

Since then, parents and other supporters of the Leland football team have protested at the MHSAA offices in Clinton and have even filed a motion with Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas to have the team reinstated in the playoffs, undoubtedly with vigor.

The issue I have is this: Yes, the game officials screwed up.  Yes, the wrong team won the game.  Yes, Proctor made the right decision in awarding Walnut the win they earned and in disciplining the game officials.  Yes, Leland players, coaches, parents and supporters have a right to be upset–but, not to the point their ire has been taken.

A trip to Clinton may have been in order.  Parents stand up for their kids in a lot of instances.  It’s only human nature.  But, to file a temporary restraining order over a football game that your team didn’t truly win is going beyond the realm of parental support and into the world of the disturbed.

One parent even said that the kids would have to be counseled for possible depression!  Come on!  All this about a game for which your team was awarded a victory that by rule they didn’t earn?  What kind of parents are we raising?

To say that these Leland parents are wrong is a gross misunderstatement.  The example that you are setting for your children is highly disturbing.  Instead of trying to fight for a win that your team–and children–didn’t earn, you need to be teaching them that rules are rules, even when they are misinterpreted, and not playing by them has consequences.

The other life lesson you parents of the Leland players need to be reminding your children is that life may not seem fair sometimes.   It sure wasn’t fair that Walnut lost the game, even though by rule the game should have been over with Walnut leading 21-18.  But, it is not unfair that Leland’s ‘win’ was ‘taken away’.

Whether the parents of the Leland players like it or not, justice has been served.  The officials at the game may not have made the correct call, but Proctor and the MHSAA stepped in and did.

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