High School Team Tests 50-Point Run-Up Rule

Connecticut's high school football teams started off the fall season with a new rule designed to protect tender feelings. A coach found to be running up the score when his team is already 50 points ahead could face sanctions. One case is testing the new rule. John Dankosky reports.

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In Connecticut, high school football teams are playing with a new rule this year. Teams are not allowed to win a game by 50 points or more. Coaches who break the rule could face a game suspension. John Dankosky of member station WNPR reports.

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JOHN DANKOSKY: The Gilbert School Yellow Jackets are hosting the Valley Regional Warriors on a Friday night in Winsted, Connecticut. These two small town schools are evenly matched, and Valley battles to a 10-6 lead. The crisp air, big crowd and tight score is everything fans and state officials could ask for. While most games in the state are competitive, a handful of lopsided scores in recent years prompted action by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The new rule is meant to restore sportsmanship to the games. Gilbert athletic director Mike Gamari says the state looked at other factors, too.

Mr. MIKE GAMARI (Athletic Director, Gilbert School): Well, I think they're looking at morale. And I think they're looking at people getting hurt. If you're beating somebody 70 to nothing, let's say, you're keeping your regulars in for most of the game, and if you're that talented, there's a chance - pretty good risk of injury to the kids that aren't as strong as you are. Because this is a dangerous sport.

DANKOSKY: But neither Gamari nor most of the football coaches in the state support the rule. He says it's aimed at a few bad apples: coaches who don't know when to let up on a weaker opponent.

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DANKOSKY: Parent Ted Rine(ph) is close to the field, watching his son Matt play defense. He says he sort of likes the rule, but only for coaches who are clearly out to destroy another team.

Mr. TED RINE (Parent): If the coach puts in different players than a starter, and you go over 50 points, well, I'm okay with that, because he's playing the kids who don't normally get a chance to play, and they're going to play as hard as they can play.

DANKOSKY: When Derrick Sheeby(ph) was playing on this field for Gilbert a few years ago, he says he learned to take his lumps when playing bigger, better schools.

Mr. DERRICK SHEEBY (Former Gilbert Player): I know we got beat up by over 50 before. It happens, you know. It's nothing you could do. Fifty points in football is nothing.

DANKOSKY: But not to Tony Mosa, assistant executive director of the rule-making conference. He says a 50-point win is evidence of a coach running up the score and has no place in the sport.

Mr. TONY MOSA (Assistant Executive Director, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference): It's not within the realm of appropriate high-school sports to humiliate another team or to be humiliated by another team. Coaches should be able to make sure that that 50 points doesn't occur.

DANKOSKY: Other states and other sports have so-called score management or mercy rules, but Connecticut is the first to penalize football coaches. When Bridgeport Central High beat cross-town rival Bassick 56-0 in the first game of the year, Central coach Dave Cadelina was suspended. He appealed the decision and won, proving that he had tried to keep the score down. He told his team to stop passing the ball, he put in his reserve players, and he agreed to keep the game clock running, even during time-outs. Cadelina says he understands the intent of the rule but thinks coaches can police themselves. And he says real football people know that the game's highs and lows are what develop character in young athletes.

Mr. DAVE CADELINA (Football Coach, Bridgeport Central High School): You know, I don't want, for example, my own kids, my own children, getting beat by more than 50 points, but you know, sometimes life beats you by more than 50 points.

DANKOSKY: And no one knows that better than the man he beat, Bassick coach George Loughrey. His team hasn't won a game since 2001, but even Loughrey doesn't like the rule, in part because it's kept people talking about the loss.

Mr. GEORGE LOUGHREY (Football Coach, Bassick High School): And every time it's brought up, my kids have to live through it again. It's like opening the wound, right?

DANKOSKY: Loughrey says a good outcome for his team is when they don't need any help from the other coach to keep the game close. For NPR News, I'm John Dankosky in Hartford.

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