Sadly, sports page becoming crime blotter

If you’re looking for the day that the sports page became the home of the police blotter, look back to July 1991.

It was in that summer that boxer Mike Tyson was accused, then charged, with raping beauty queen Desiree Washington, the reigning Miss Black Rhode Island, in an Indianapolis hotel.

News editors across the country, not wanting boxing in general or Tyson in particular to sully the A-section, shifted the story to sports.

I’m pleased to say that my sports editor at the time stood up and said no – rape, he accurately pointed out, is not a sport. And I’ve tried to live by that philosophy as a sports editor myself, as professional athletes of all stripes have gotten involved in any number of unsporting activities, up to and including murder.

Young athletes, we often notice, tend to follow the path blazed by the professionals above them. And the kids have never been perfect – we all made mistakes when we were young, some in sports and some not, some worse than others.

Parents fuel some of the youthful fire – I know personally of coaches who have been threatened, and we have seen that escalate to the point where game personnel have been the victim of crimes of violence. All in the name of doing what’s best for the kids, of course.

And so it should be no surprise that, right here in small-town Pennsylvania, we have seen an outbreak of student-athlete violence.

Let’s go back beyond the football season, back to last March, when in a first-round state basketball game a brawl erupted on the floor over a loose ball in a game between Coatesville and Lancaster’s McCaskey high schools. But it wasn’t just players – and not even limited to those on the floor. Players came off the bench; fans came out of the stands.

Another fight broke out after the game, according to reports in Lancaster newspapers. But all that came from it were a couple technical fouls and one ejection.

Move forward to the fall, and we have the Hamburg quarterback who ripped a player’s helmet off and beat his opponent with it, which on top of the PIAA’s mandatory one-game suspension was increased by the school to a Tom Osborne-like two games. That’ll teach him.

In a Philadelphia Public League game later in September, a bench-clearing brawl ended up as a double forfeit – losses both ways – for Del-Val Charter and Roxborough; Del-Val’s coach lost his job and the team, which already had one such scrap on its team resume, was threatened by District 12 with a season of forfeits.

Just last week, a Mid-Penn Conference game between Steelton-Highspire and Susquenita (the latter soon to be a member of the Tri-Valley League) had a similar ending; the league decided this week that, too, would be a dual forfeit.

Youthful fire is one thing. Rampant stupidity is another. And we seem to be spiraling downward toward the latter.

But, as another Mid-Penn school taught us this week, winning is so important that we will overlook almost anything to reach the pinnacle of success. Boiling Springs reinstated its wrestling coach, despite the fact that he was charged earlier this year with possession of drug paraphernalia.

The coach – I’ve met him, and agree he’s both a great teacher of wrestling and a decent guy – claimed he was set up by his estranged wife on the drug charge, which is possible. And, he’s hoping to be approved for the state’s Advanced Rehabilitative Disposition program in January, which would expunge his record (though the rehire date notably precedes the hearing date).

He’s back because parents of successful wrestlers demanded it; because they were more concerned with winning than the higher standard of appearance of propriety that many feel should be the standard for those in the teaching and coaching professions.

Mifflin County isn’t immune from this, nor Juniata County (where Steel-High, just a few years ago, was subject to “unintentional” racist taunting at a basketball game) nor any of the other areas we report from.

But for all the wrong reasons local fans have offered up as grounds to take Mifflin County High School out of the Mid-Penn, here’s a real one – our kids shouldn’t have to be exposed to that kind of behavior, lest they make the mistake of repeating it.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at