After Ketchikan High School football coach Jim Byron forfeited a Sept. 2 football game at Thunder Mountain High School citing concerns over “dirty, illegal” play by the Falcons, the Alaska School Activities Association has issued Ketchikan a $500 fine for an “intentional contract violation.”
Both schools are sticking to their versions of what happened during the forfeited game in the run up to a Sept. 23 rematch at Ketchikan, with parents and administrators backing two different stories.
“Game film is very subjective. I think anyone who looks at the film is just going to see what they want to see,” Ketchikan Athletic Director Jenn Smith said in a Tuesday phone interview with the Empire. “My coach, I trust him, we put that first and foremost, and I believe what he’s telling me.”
The Ketchikan Daily News reported that Kayhi principal Bob Marshall plans on having an appeal in writing by the end of this week. ASAA has said that an appeal would have to be directed to its board of directors, which next convenes Oct. 2.
As far as policy is concerned, ASAA’s hands are tied in issuing the fine, even if Byron’s intent was to protect his players.
“Our policy is pretty cut and dry,” ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland said. “Pulling a team off the field constitutes an intentional contract violation, and the penalty as such is a $500 fine. … That being said, I haven’t reviewed the game tape yet. If the game tape were to show dangerous conditions for a student athlete, then I think it would be very appropriate for the board of directors to waive policy. It is my understanding from Thunder Mountain that they have reviewed game film, and that was not the case, they are pretty adamant about that.”
“Football is a very rough game within the rules; there’s an inherent risk in some of our sports,” Stickland added. “A coach may be making the smart call to get them off the field, but it may still incur a $500 fine.”
Smith said she may not review the game tape. Thunder Mountain Athletic Director Jake Jacoby has combed over game film, saying nothing stuck out to him as malicious or dangerous.
“I have watched the tape a number of times and watched injury plays just to be certain,” Jacoby said. “I couldn’t find anything really unsafe or illegal. Maybe a few things could have been called here or there, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
The Kings walked off the field at the Thunderdome minutes after two players were hurt following a 36-yard touchdown run by Thunder Mountain running back Roy Tupou. Tape of the play shows one Ketchikan player, later diagnosed with a concussion at Bartlett Regional Hospital, being kneed in the head by a passing Kings player.
A second Kings player, suffering back spasms, was also treated at Bartlett after a teammate landed on him during the same play. Game tape didn’t reveal any obvious malicious intent by Falcons players, and referees didn’t call any penalties on the play.
So far, only Thunder Mountain administrators and parents as well as Ketchikan administrators and coaches have reviewed game film.
Following comments Bryon made after the game, parents of Falcons players say they are concerned that Ketchikan will target their kids during the upcoming rematch. The Empire quoted Byron saying “playing down here it is going to be a different ball game.” Falcons parents took this as a threat, and have called on Bryon and Ketchikan High School to make assurances that their players will be treated fairly when the take the field at Kayhi Sept. 23.
“Coach Byron for the Kayhi Kings was very public about threatening our young men,” a Sept. 7 email from the Falcons booster club to Jacoby reads. “Kayhi Kings Players were flipping off our community and players while departing the field. We heard the coach and players say ‘It will be different in Ketchikan’ and ‘See you in Ketchikan’ like threats. … Coach Byron demonstrated poor sportsmanship. His behavior was unbecoming of a leader and coach. He set a very bad example for his youth and ours. As parents, we want assurances that we are not sending our sons into a game that is driven by hate, anger, and poor judgement. We want assurances that the Coach is not instructing his players to intentionally hurt our sons as ‘payback.’”
Byron has said those concerns are “ridiculous.” Smith has said that she thinks Byron was referring to the officiating being different in Ketchikan and wasn’t communicating a threat.
“I don’t think an apology or reassurances are necessary. Every team that has visited us has had a positive experience. Our track record speaks for itself,” Smith said, adding that coach Byron’s decision to pull his players off the field proves that he has safety “foremost in his mind.”
Jacoby and Thunder Mountain Vice Principal Rhonda Hickok will travel with the team to Ketchikan for its next game, which is out of the ordinary — though Jacoby said he doesn’t expect any problems at the upcoming game.
“We’ve been in close communication with Ketchikan administration and the officials, and we’ve been given assurances that by no means is Ketchikan out for blood,” Jacoby said. “The officials have told us that they are going to call the game based on what they see on the field and not what has happened in the past, so we expect the game will be played as football games are meant to be played.”