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Puskas: Suspended seasons can teach lessons

Two high school football teams stopped playing this week for very different reasons, but lessons can be learned in each instance.

The players at Westfield-Brocton High School in western New York voted to cancel the rest of the season after running back Damon Janes died following a helmet-to-helmet collision in a game.

This wasn’t a decision made by the coaching staff or the school administration. The players, according to published reports, knew Janes was the kind of player who might very well want them to play on and keep going, but they just couldn’t do it.

“I wanted to play, I love the game,” Wolverines quarterback Stevie Wisecarver III told reporters. “But it just wouldn’t feel right without him. The team just didn’t feel right.”

The players learned a painful lesson far earlier in their lives than anyone should.

“It feels like there’s more to life,” Wolverines cornerback Joey Villafrank told reporters. “Before, football used to be life for me; it was the only sport I played. But now I realize that there’s more than just playing the game.”

It was a bitter lesson for those kids to endure. But even in the wake of their decision — an exceptionally difficult and poignant choice — some in the community criticized them for calling the season.

It wasn’t their call to make. The Wolverines took the field daily with Janes and couldn’t imagine doing so without him.

There seems a larger sense of community in the small villages of Brocton and Westfield, if that makes any sense.

Westfield-Brocton school officials should be commended for standing by their players.

Let’s hope officials at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah also stand by someone who made an extremely tough decision.

Union coach Matt Labrum didn’t let his players vote. He simply decided to suspend his entire team — all 80 players — because he was appalled by their collective off-the-field behavior .

Labrum told The Deseret News problems from cutting class to cyber-bullying brought on his decision.

The day after Labrum announced the suspension and collected the players’ uniforms and equipment, he passed out a booklet entitled, “Union Football Character,” which instructed the players about what they needed to do to resume the season.

This seems more like something that might have happened 30 years ago. It’s refreshing to know there is a coach out there willing to stand up for discipline today.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Some Union parents did not take the news well. But there seemed few, if any, complaints from the players.

Maybe Labrum’s lesson has already taken root with them. It’s a difficult one, but others can be much more painful and permanent.

Write Vindicator sports editor Ed Puskas at and follow him on Twitter, @edpuskas85.


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