Local incidents vie for most unsportsmanlike vote

Tank McNamara, the nationally syndicated cartoon strip that focuses on sports and sports issues, created a contest several years ago, the “Sports Jerk of the Year” award.

The nominees and winners have always been national figures – NFL loudmouth Terrell Owens and baseball’s pretend commissioner Bud Selig have managed to capture the majority of fan votes twice – but it seems to me we could have a local version of it, with several candidates putting themselves on the ballot.

The first nominee would have to be Hamburg High School quarterback Joey Cominsky, who in a football game against Annville-Cleona on Sept. 6 tore the helmet off an Annville player and used it to beat his opponent.

That actually came up when I was chatting with sports talk host Jed Donahue on his Husky Hotline show last Thursday – and highlighted one of the gray areas in the world of sports administration.

The PIAA sets conduct rules – well, passes them on from the National Federation of High Schools – but once its rules are enforced, there’s little more the sports oversight body can do. Think of it like this: If a person goes to court, the judge can’t given them the death sentence for robbing a convenience store unless that’s the prescribed punishment – and for an infraction of unsportsmanlike conduct, the officials can throw the player out of the game (they did) and the player is suspended for the next game (he was).

But unless the school decides to drop him from the team, that quarterback could be back on the field Friday. Since police and the Berks County district attorney are investigating the possibility of criminally charging the player, I’m hopeful he’s still benched.

A smaller crime, but one that affected a whole lot more people, took place at a football game in our territory last Friday. During East Juniata’s Tri-Valley League contest against Pine Grove, Pennsylvania State Police Selinsgrove report someone broke into the locker area, stole money belonging to Pine Grove players and damaged other items.

Now here are a bunch of people who need to be hauled out behind the wood shed and beaten with a helmet. And to think when I left the field Friday I was lamenting the poor sportsmanship of the Pine Grove fan who was using an illegal noise-making device.

I’ve long thought it a shame that, as a society, we have to lock down our school buildings like Fort Knox (presumably, I’ve surmised, to keep parents out, but that’s another column). On Friday, though, the security tends to lessen a bit because we’re open to the public.

Maybe the back door at West Snyder Elementary School – Midd-West hosts the cooperative program’s games – is supposed to be locked during the game, to be opened by a game worker as the teams come off the field at the end of each half (the locker rooms are not directly attached to the football stadium; the doors to that part of the building are visible only to part of the field – oddly enough, the visitors’ side).

Oversight for a night or in the long-term, it’s still disgusting that anyone would treat an opponent so disrespectfully. That is the antithesis of what sports are all about.

And then there’s the PIAA itself, which takes a lot of flak it doesn’t deserve, but in a case heading into this season, showed a complete lack of sense – and compassion.

Numerous high school programs will be conducting cancer awareness and fundraising events in October, and thanks to the PIAA board, they will have to limit their spirit to socks and towels in lieu of the pink uniforms we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

Yes, there are ways to comply with the new rule, which says schools are prohibited from altering the contest uniform, but may provide ancillary equipment in various colors to signify certain causes.

An example cited in the bulletin the agency issued says, for example, that volleyball players cannot wear shirts that say “Dig for the Cure” because that is an illegal slogan (but it’s OK if the shirt says Nike). And the home team can’t wear pink at all in sports like field hockey, soccer and basketball because the rules require home whites.

And it’s clear to me that those uniform rules are far more important than people with cancer, right PIAA?

There’s your sports jerk of the year.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at jfishbein@lewistownsentinel.com.