by David Tesitor
ORDWAY- As many of our readers know by now, the events following last Friday’s football game were all over the Facebook pages of students, players and yes, even the World Journal’s Wall postings. I also got caught up in Facebook postings and made comments which at the time seemed to come from a reliable witness. Those accounts were not credible and I apologize for contributing to the rumor mill.
As we posted earlier, the term ‘riot’ may have been harsh, but it was not far from the truth. When we researched the facts ourselves, the information we discovered told a far different story from the Facebook postings and this article is an attempt to set the record straight.
To set the stage, it is important to report the facts. The Chargers and Panthers played one of the best games of the season, well deserving of a conference championship title match. John Mall lost 19-14. In the end, Crowley earned the win that night. John Mall’s assistant coach, Dave McGraw told the World Journal, “It was a very good game, both teams played hard, both teams made mistakes. Both teams missed opportunities, and the score indicates a very well played, very physical and hard fought football game. The nonsense at the end is very, very unfortunate for both sides. It was probably the best game our kids played all year, because they had to. And it was good.“
What happened after the game was a disappointment for both schools, their players and their fans. “Several of our players were instrumental in getting Panther players off the field and to the locker room, which is a credit to the way Ken Berger coaches,” McGraw said.
George Purnell, RE-1 Athletic Director, also spoke at length with the World Journal. He would rather not have spoken about the events and felt frustrated and embarrassed the school was involved in anything like this.
One of the functions Purnell takes upon himself is to ask the officials how the players and coaches presented themselves during the game. After this game, the officials’ response was “they all behaved well.” Other than that, the officials were off the field and did not see the commotion. When Purnell turned his attention back to the field, there was pandemonium. Purnell and Darrell Granger, the Charger Athletic Director, both of whom represent CHSAA and must adhere to their guidelines in the field, spent several hours Saturday through Monday seeking a resolution to the events.
This being said, here’s the rest of the story according to Purnell. The chaos began to unfold with players and coaches getting involved in a shoving match because “someone said something” to their opponent when the teams met at midfield to shake hands. Both sides claim the other started the melee.
Whatever was said, according to Purnell, “Crowley coaches confronted one of our coaches about the comments.” This resulted in a shoving match. Purnell said the coaches got “physical.” The players then got involved in the scuffle before, as Purnell put it, “the coaches did a remarkable job of getting their respective teams to the sidelines to restore order.”
By then, fans from both schools had crossed the fence line and were on the field further escalating the tensions. Purnell claims he had no reports of punches being thrown, but in the chaos no one could be certain. Purnell also said, “This was the disappointing part, the fans getting involved.” Purnell also commented that Crowley County officials “feel awful about the reaction of their fans.”
Because of the tension, the police followed the John Mall bus out of town because it passed through student hangouts and no one wanted to have the tensions escalate.
While it is not totally clear what started the affair, this is certain: it tarnished what had been an exciting game. Since the officiating team was off the field at the time, they were not witnesses and could not report the episode to the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA).
After meeting with the head coaches from both schools, the athletic directors made disciplinary recommendations and self-reported the event to CHSAA late Monday afternoon. Harry Waterman, the CHSAA football commissioner, “felt comfortable with the way the two communities settled with the possible options” although he wanted to see something stronger than a verbal reprimand. In the end, both schools agreed there will be some absences on the sidelines for tomorrow night’s games.
Waterman also said, late Tuesday afternoon, after both schools had a chance to send in their final analysis, “Both schools have been very cooperative and we at CHSAA stand behind the decisions of both schools as agreed upon.” He considers the case closed. He told the World Journal, “the results of the game will stand and what happened Friday will not affect any possible post season play. That is up to the selection committee.”
Because CHSAA asked to see a penalty stronger than a verbal reprimand, Coach Ken Berger has been suspended for tomorrow night’s game against the Thunderbolts. Crowley’s assistant coach has also been suspended for one game. Purnell’s decision to suspend Berger came after the internal investigation showed Berger to be in the middle of the fracas.
At the RE-1 school board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25, two members of the community addressed the board testifying on Berger’s behalf. Yvonne Griego presented a dozen letters cataloging testimony as to the events in question, all indicating that the Crowley County team members and assistant coach started the chain of events.
Assistant Coach JoeHibpshman also addressed the board detailing his recollection of the night’s events. A motion was subsequently made to the board to rescind Coach Berger’s suspension. The board adjourned to an executive session to discuss the matter further. After over an hour of discussions, the meeting was reconvened. In the end the vote to rescind was two yea’s, two no’s and two abstained and one absent. As a result, Berger is still suspended for Friday night’s game.
The eyewitness testimony presented to the RE-1 board in Berger’s defense raises this question: did Purnell, Granger and CHSAA jump the gun and act too quickly to recommend suspensions without a proper and more detailed investigation? One thing is certain; fans feel the decision robbed the football team a chance to be on the field with their coach in this important last game of the season.
On Tuesday night Coach Berger told the World Journal, “I am extremely disappointed with George Purnell. I feel he did not handle the investigation well and as a result the team will pay for his decision.”
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