Saguaro’s 65-0 loss sends wrong signal for prep football

When does a high school sports program become more about winning than just playing the game?

How about when a football coach keeps his best players out of an important game because he wants them to be ‘rested’ going into the state playoffs and make a run for a state title?

We’re talking about John Sanders, the head football coach at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, who decided to throw away the final game of the regular season and let his players take a 65-0 beating rather than risk an injury to a key player that might hamper his quest for a state championship.

His questionable decision has received a lot of publicity since the game last Friday against in-town rival, Chaparral High School.  None of it very good.

Since both teams were ranked No. 1 in their divisions and hadn’t met in three years, it was a rivalry game that was much anticipated by not only the players, but the students and parents as well.  It was supposed to be a ‘happening’ that the high school football community across the state would be watching.

But when the game got underway, just about all of the regular starters stood on the sidelines.  And stayed there the rest of the way.

Paula Boivin, sports columnist for The Arizona Republic, wrote a great article this morning, calling out Sanders for putting his own personal agenda ahead of what the kids wanted, especially those seniors who thought they would be closing out their final regular with a game that would be remembered as one of the biggest games of their prep careers.

It will be remembered all right, but not for the right reasons.

Boivin is limited by the space she’s given in the print edition, and she was sharing the column with (another) Tim Tebow-related story.  So she wasn’t able to elaborate further on the ripples of disappointment that emerged from that game.

So maybe we can help her here.

First, there is the double-whammy effect on the kids.  You have the ones that didn’t get a chance to play, even though they deserved it as much as those that did play.  Their only transgression was being talented at a higher level.

Then, there are the kids that did play.  Sure, they welcomed the opportunity for some game time, even though they were torn in their feelings for the team that was unable to compete at its usual level.

But how fair is it to put those same kids in a situation that was hopeless from the starting kickoff?  What did it do for their self-esteem to get blown off the field, despite the fact that they were playing hard on every play?

And, finally, what about the fans – particularly the parents and family members that showed up expecting to see a ‘real’ game?  Those whose sons were expected to play, but sat on the sidelines, were cheated out of watching them play.  And those whose sons got a chance to play more than usual had to feel badly as they watched them get beat into the ground.

Taking parents for granted is a personal issue with me.  I recall all too well when I took the high school varsity basketball team I was coaching to play a school that was on the other side of town.  It was an hour’s drive for the school bus, and almost as long for the parents.

We were down by 14 points going into the second half, and the other coach decides to stall to preserve his win.  Not a tactic you’d find under “sportsmanship” in the high school handbook.  So, for most of the second half, the parents audibly expressed their displeasure for a game they were looking forward to watching – and paid not only the price of admission, but two hours in the car as well.

The bottom line is that high school sports are beginning to blur the line between providing an opportunity  for a youngster to participate in healthy athletic competition, and winning at all costs.

Coach Sanders is just a manifestation of that mindset that is becoming all too prevalent.

To quote Paula Boivin… This is just HIGH SCHOOL.

Someone needs to remind them of that over at Saguaro.