Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Think before sounding off

Enough is enough. Now it’s my turn to Sound Off.

As you can see, my name and photo (sorry) are below and to the left, attached to this column as it always has been for 29 years here at The Mercury. I am going to make a point or two, and I’m going to huff-and-puff a bit.

And whether my opinion is right, wrong or indifferent, right-on or off-the-mark, in-the-know or out-of-touch, realistic or naïve, remember one thing – it is my opinion.

Yes, like every one of you (the reader, or the one who doesn’t read but sure hears about anything and everything the least bit contentious), I have an opinion, too.

But unlike way, way too many people today – most of whom, surprisingly, are otherwise well-educated and well-spoken – I will not hide behind some mysterious moniker in a publication’s have-your-say column, nor hide behind some ingenious screen name on speak-out-dot-com-this or speak-out-dot-com-that web site. The anonymity, or the ambiguity, provides everyone the opportunity to convey facts, of course. But it also affords everyone a distorted freedom to put fiction and fantasy into words, or words that go well beyond insult and injury.

The difference here is that I’m held accountable for each and every opinion I make in print. The nameless aren’t.

So here goes…

* * *

It’s been nearly 20 years since Susan Powter, shaved head and all, sat on a chair in front of millions of television viewers and rose to fame with her catch phrase, “Stop the insanity.“ But her expression keeps coming to mind every time I read these anonymous messages about high school football coaches in newspapers – including our own here at The Mercury – and peruse the other unsigned letters and emails. What’s even more ironic is that most of them don’t even come close to the mean-spirited squeals coming out of the stands on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, so easily heard by anyone traipsing the sidelines during games.

You used to wonder how everyone (almost everyone, that is) became such an overnight expert. To a certain degree, we can credit ESPN, the innumerable radio and television talk shows, and the endless stream of dot-com-this and dot-com-that web sites for such schooling. And don’t forget instant replay. Heck we even have entire replays (what we used to call reruns of games), sometimes for two or three days on our screen. Certain plays, often the whole ballgame, are analyzed and psychoanalyzed, studied and scrutinized. Maybe it’s overplay?

But sitting on a sofa or up in the stands watching doesn’t quite provide the insight to be a high school football coach, nor does it give anyone the right to mock a high school football coach.

There aren’t too many men (or some ladies who have proudly joined the pathetic parade of moaners and groaners) willing to commit to all the hours coaches invest in their programs. The football season, some still think, only runs Mondays through Fridays or Saturdays from mid-August into November. Don’t forget those off days or nights spent scouting a future opponent, watching film, and devising offensive and defensive schemes for the next week. And those other eight months – mistakenly called the off-season – is time for conditioning, weightlifting, informal (but legal) practices and seven-on-seven passing drills, most if not all of which are supervised by the coaches.

Now divide all those hours into their salaries… Excuse me, but hardly anyone would wash one window on his or her fancy car in the driveway or sweep the kitchen floor for that hourly rate.

Also, don’t forget the coaches manage to juggle all those hours in and around their real jobs during the day (most teach from early-morning to mid-afternoon) and their families at night.

If all those hours don’t burn you out, dealing with 30-80 different personalities – that’s 30-80 players who think they’re better than everyone else – just may run you out.

Life rewards those who are dedicated, who work hard, who bring a level of talent to their endeavors. It isn’t, nor should it be, any different in high school football, which rewards the dedicated, hard-working and talented student-athletes with time on the playing field on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. But even that simple logic is unreasonable, or unacceptable to some athletes – maybe because mom, dad and everyone else told them how good they were from the moment they began talking and walking; applauded them for making every conceivable youth all-star team; showed off all their ribbons, medals and plaques; possibly even whispered in their ears that they’d someday be star professional athlete.

We should all have high expectations in life, for ourselves as well as for our children. But that’s expectations, not hallucinations.

Unfortunately, reality – who’s good and who’s not so good, or who is playing and who isn’t – can be awfully difficult to accept. And when there is interference, like the berating of a coach at the dinner table, on message boards and wherever else frustrations and anger can be aired or written, reality gets twisted and warped even more. And it takes little time to spread throughout a team and around a community, and eventually divides teammates, demoralizes their team, and deteriorates their program.

No coach, not even legends like Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi, could fix that. Not overnight, not in a week, and not over the course of a season or two.

But some try.

Imagine how Owen J. Roberts head coach Tom Barr must feel knowing there is a school board member with an agenda the past year to get rid of a him (we won’t mention who because five members of that board have embarrassed their district enough already). Yep, bar Mr. Barr even though he took the Wildcats to the playoffs for the very first time last November and is headed in that direction again this fall.

Imagine how Spring-Ford head coach Gary Rhodenbaugh must feel when reading or hearing about the long list of anonymous scripts bashing him for not winning. Well, despite what one „so-called“ coach of 22 years wrote – „I’d love to go over there and coach. With the bevy of talent on that team in that district I guarantee we would compete for the PAC-10 title within two years“ – it isn’t going to happen that quickly. First of all, no coach calls out another coach publicly, no real coach that is. And with all due respect to each and every one of the Rams in uniform, there hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot of talent, or „bevy of talent,“ for some time at Spring-Ford. Had some of the better players remained, had they committed to help change the program’s woeful ways instead of bailing out, maybe Rhodenbaugh – like that „so-called“ coach of 22 years – could help the Rams compete for another PAC-10 championship.

Imagine how St. Pius X head coach George Parkinson must feel when he listens to all the absurdities. The Lions program lost as good a coach as there was in Dave Bodolus eight years ago because of the narrow mind and ineptitude of an administrator or two. Three head coaches and two interim coaches later, Parkinson inherited a program that lost the support of the majority of its alumni; saw numbers dwindle down the record levels; and dealt with a lot of talent running off to enroll in neighboring PAC-10 schools. But Parkinson didn’t run away, and despite the callous comments that continue to echo around Mich Stadium, he’s as committed to each of his players – and the program – as anyone before him.

Don’t think Barr, Rhodenbaugh and Parkinson are alone, either. Boyertown’s Mark Scisly, Bodolus (now up at Daniel Boone), Methacton’s Bob McNally, Perkiomen Valley’s Scott Reed, Phoenixville’s Bill Furlong, Pottsgrove’s Rick Pennypacker, Pottstown’s Brett Myers, and Upper Perkiomen’s Keith Leamer have all been verbally whacked from the stands, as many of us have heard over and over again. And they’ve all been bashed in print, as many of us have read time and time again.

Maybe, just maybe, if everyone would take a moment and imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes for a day, week or even an entire season, they wouldn’t be so quick to criticize their every move.

If not, maybe they’ll be a day not too awfully far in the future when coaches – good coaches, that is – won’t be on the sidelines at all.

Then everyone loses, including the ones we never want to see lose – the student-athletes.



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