From the Sidelines: The narcissism of small differences

Rarely is a game just a game.

When Ketchikan’s players and coaching staff packed up their gear and stormed out of the Thunderdome Sept. 2, ending their conference game against Thunder Mountain due to what they saw as dirty play and unfair officiating, I knew this wasn’t just about a game anymore. I threw away my statsheet immediately because the score hardly mattered; it was clear my coverage of the game would need to focus on Ketchikan Coach Jim Byron’s accusations.

I pride myself on not having a hometown bias, so I viewed the game tape several times. I strained my imagination to see if there was anything illegal or dirty happening that I didn’t catch live. After multiple viewings, I didn’t see anything dirty.

Stomping on somebody is dirty. Poking somebody in the eye is dirty. Hitting out of bounds, spearing, going low — all dirty. Nothing happened at the Thunderdome on Sept. 2 that even skirted these lines. On the play that sent two Kayhi players to the hospital, one was kneed in the head by a Kings player, causing a concussion. Another Kayhi player landed on a teammate, resulting in a back injury. The Falcons obviously did not plan to hurt either player nor did their play appear malicious. These were accidents.

Whether you agree with my reading of the game or not, continued accusations that TMHS is a dirty team need to be addressed. To accuse TMHS of playing dirty and to be unwilling to provide evidence from the film sends a terrible message to players. It teaches them to make excuses when they lose, and it will lead to a toxic environment at every contest between these football teams in the foreseeable future.

According to Thunder Mountain coach Randy Quinto, Kayhi has accused TMHS of dirty play before and likely will do it again. Leaving this as a he said, she said disagreement allows such accusations to snowball into community resentment. Our sports communities have been there before; let’s not go back.

The Alaska School Activities Association or a team of Kayhi and Thunder Mountain administrators needs to look at the game tape and conclude whether or not Byron’s accusations have anything behind them. If somebody in authority doesn’t issue an opinion on the tape, I fear things will only get worse every time these two teams play. After speaking with administrators and coaches, I am convinced everything will go smoothly Sept. 23 when Thunder Mountain heads to Ketchikan, but fans and family will still harbor resentment.

Right now Thunder Mountain players and fans feel Byron drug their name through the mud. Ketchikan’s players are suffering some loss or reputation for being perceived as quitters. Neither one of these things is true and those who espouse these ideas are only indulging in a narcissism of small differences: We’re two communities with almost everything in common; it’s safe to assume our football players aren’t assaulting anyone, and their football players aren’t coddled babies. Kayhi’s coach made a commendable call to end what he saw were unsafe conditions, he just made the heated and boneheaded decision to blame it on something other than being outplayed.

I understand Ketchikan athletic director Smith sticking by coach Byron. It’s commendably loyal, and if Byron hadn’t accused TMHS of foul play, I would agree with her position.

But Byron is levelling an accusation and refusing to back it up. If TMHS’ play was as unsafe and illegal as Byron is claiming, there should at least be some evidence on film. The fact that Kayhi officials might not even look at the film just tells me they’re unwilling to consider that they might be in the wrong. Thunder Mountain administrators looked at the film before coming down either way; Kayhi should do the same.

Byron can make a simple statement to clear the air. It doesn’t have to tarnish anyone’s reputation, and I think it would put any concerns to rest. Here’s what I suggest Byron say: “I don’t know if coach Quinto coaches his players to play dirty because I am not at their practices. I can’t say with certainty that they did anything intentionally to hurt our players. What I do know is our players were unsafe in that game, and I would make that call every single time.”

So far, the only people willing to weigh in on the game film are Thunder Mountain administrators, parents and coaches — whose opinions I trust but will necessarily be perceived as biased. If a coach has instructed his players to play dirty, that needs to be investigated by the ASAA or administrators from both teams.

Principals at Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain have worked hard to steer this rivalry in a healthy direction, and they have done great work. There was a tremendous amount of respect between players on Juneau-Douglas’ state championship basketball team and Kayhi, who were likewise talented enough to win it all last season.

That’s the kind of thing I would like to see on the football field between these two teams. Thunder Mountain football spent several seasons getting beat badly. Now that they have earned some respect in the conference, a coach says they are playing dirty.

That’s not right, and simply ignoring this and hoping for the best is not a healthy option.

• Contact Sports and Outdoors reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com.

More in Sports

Barn swallows firmly attach their nests to walls, so they support the weight of nestlings and visiting adults.  (Photo by Bob Amrstrong)
On the Trails: Spring to summer

Spring temperatures were cool this year, but the lengthening days gave birds… Continue reading

In the spirit of Dolly Parton’s country music roots, race participant Mendenhall River Community School Principal Eric Filardi runs in costume with young Lucy Vogel wearing heart-shaped sunglasses as they enjoy the sunny Saturday weather on the Airport Dike Trail race course. About 85 runners participated, many wearing pearls and pink hats provided at the starting tent. (Laurie Craig / Juneau Empire)
Busting out the pink and pearls at the first Dolly Dash

Dolly Parton-inspired fun run raises funds for free books for kids.

People often use sea ice, as seen here off Alaska’s northern coast outside the town of Utqiagvik, for travelling. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Did sea ice help populate the Americas?

Human footprints preserved in mud at White Sands National Park in New… Continue reading

A cruise ship makes its way through early morning fog last summer. The passengers who have been arriving lately have not been experiencing similar tranquility. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: Racing the weather

Daylight is unstoppable this time of year. Not like up in the… Continue reading

Juneau’s Nate Fick leaps to make a catch while another Eagle River run scores during the opening game Thursday of the Division I Alaska School Activities Association Baseball State Championships. (Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report)
Crimson Bears finish sixth at state baseball tournament, coach calls season promising for young team

JDHS loses to Chugiak in consolation finale; scenarios for next season expand due to TMHS merger.

Brown-headed cowbirds are professional egg-dumpers, always parasitizing the nests of other species. (CC BY 2.0 public domain photo).
On the Trails: Egg dumping behavior

Egg-dumping refers to the behavior of a female who puts her eggs… Continue reading

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School softball team pose for a shot following their 18-0 victory against North Pole High School on Friday during the Division II Alaska School Activities Association Softball State Championships in Fairbanks. (Thunder Mountain Softball photo)
Final flight of the TMHS Falcons ends with 6-4 loss on final day of state softball tournament

“It’s been a fun ride,” coach says as team wins conference title, goes 29-12 during its final season.

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Landon Simonson is greeted at home after hitting a grand slam on Friday during the Division I Alaska School Activities Association Baseball State Championships in Anchorage. (Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report)
JDHS baseball, TMHS softball teams make it to final day of state tournaments

Crimson Bears play for consolation title after grand slam win Friday; Falcons still in title hunt

The Fairbanks Experimental Farm on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus opened in 1906. (UAF photo by Todd Paris, taken in September 2014)
Alaska Science Forum: The gardening potential of the Last Frontier

More than 100 years ago, a man traveled north on a mission… Continue reading

Thunder Mountain High School’s Ashlyn Gates, seen here pitching against Sitka High School during the Region V softball conference tournament last Saturday in Juneau, was named player of the game in an 8-0 win over Delta Junction High School to open the state softball title tournament on Thursday in Fairbanks. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire file photo)
TMHS wins state softball tournament openers 8-0, 16-1; JDHS falls short in baseball title quest

Falcons face Kodiak High School on Friday, Crimson Bears play consolation game against Colony.

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s Ida Meyer (301) and Etta Eller (294) lead the 3,200 at the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Track and Field State Championships on Saturday. (Pete Pounds / Alaska Sports Report)
JDHS’ Etta Eller takes gold, Ida Meyer silver in 3,200 at state track and field championships

Eller also wins 1,600; Wilder Dillingham wins 200 during event in Anchorage.

An orange-crowned warbler looks for bugs on a willow (Photo by K.M. Hocker)