Over the past couple years, I’ve written over 2,200 political and religious commentaries. It would be safe to say that at least 95% of them have been negative or criticizing someone or something. That’s why I’m overjoyed to write this one on the positive effects one high school football coach is having on his team.
Meet Matt Labrum, football coach at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah, about 100 miles due east of Provo. Roosevelt is a small community of about 4,300 people that lies in the marginal oil field area of eastern Utah and western Colorado. When oil prices are up, the small town prospers, but when the prices come back down, the town struggles along like most other small towns. Besides oil, there is some farming and ranching in the area. Basically, Roosevelt is a town where everyone knows everyone else and only has one high school.
When the fall football season starts, Matt Labrum is the center of attention. Not long into this year’s season, Labrum heard that some of his players were involved in cyberbullying and others were cutting classes, were already getting failing grades and were being disrespectful to teachers. He had had enough with the team’s behavior at school and off the field so he decided to take a drastic step to get their attention.
Last Friday night, the team lost to Judge Memorial Catholic High school. After the game, Labrum gathered the 80 members of his team and told them to turn in their jerseys and equipment because he was not pleased with their conduct off the field. Then he told them that if they wanted to earn their jerseys back and get on the team that they would have to comply with a set of rules and requirements. If they wanted to play, they would have to show up the next morning at 7am to find out how.
Many of the players were in shock and left the stadium in tears, fearing their football careers at the school were over. Jenn Rook, the mother of Karter Rook, a member of the team commented about that night:
“They were in the locker room for a really long time. They came out, and there were tears. Those boys were wrecked. My son got in the car really upset and (said), ‘First of all, there is no football team. It’s been disbanded.’”
Commenting on his actions, Labrum said:
“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.’ 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.”
On Saturday morning at the team meeting, Labrum handed out a letter titled ‘Union Football Character’ to each player. The letter stated that they had to attend all of their classes and start treating others more respectfully. They had to make passing grades, spend some time each week in community service and a special study hall. The next week, they spent the first two days of football practice doing community work of cleaning up the area, pulling weeds and even spent some time at a nearby nursing home.
Labrum garnered the support of parents, teachers and school administrators. The boys have been towing the line and many of them have earned back their jerseys and are looking forward to their homecoming game. Several have not yet met all of the requirements and until they do, they will find themselves relegated to the bleachers with the rest of town. He plans on keeping his character policy in place and if team members fall back into old habits, they’ll also find themselves in the bleachers instead of on the field.
I wish more high school and college coaches had the same set of values as Coach Matt Labrum and instituted the same policy he did. This one man may have just changed the lives of nearly 80 high school boys for the better. Instilling a sense of pride and respect is important, especially at that age. The way I look at it, even if it saved just one boy from following the wrong path in life, then Labrum’s actions were a complete success. Regardless of the win-loss record, I give my vote for high school coach of the year to Coach Matt Labrum of Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah.