Pursuit of Record Brings Sportsmanship Into Question
Friday, October 6, 2006
Dave Hunt coaches football players so humiliated that they dread walking through the halls of Burch High School in West Virginia. Two of them thought about quitting last week. The rest considered starting a fight. "They want to get even," Hunt said, "because what happened to them is so unfair."
Yogi Kinder, the coach at rival Matewan High School, ignores his phone messages because he's tired of hearing strangers berate him for greed and selfishness. He's led a successful program for 20 years. Now colleagues call Kinder an embarrassment -- all because, he said, he wanted to do something nice for his senior captain. "I can't understand it," Kinder said. "You'd think we stomped on somebody's cat."
In a 64-0 win over Burch last week, Matewan running back Paul McCoy made a calculated assault on the national high school record for rushing yards in a game, amassing 658 yards and 10 touchdowns. McCoy and his coaches thought it would be fun for a small kid from a small school near the border of Kentucky and West Virginia to own the official, single-game rushing record.
But in the last week, Hunt and Kinder have learned that, in high school sports, individual records sometimes become a mark of infamy, not achievement. The two men -- once friends and co-workers at Burch -- refuse to speak to each other. Hunt says both his team's morale and the game's integrity were trampled in pursuit of a meaningless record; Kinder says records are sometimes worth pursuing, sportsmanship be damned.
Their argument -- one echoed in high school sports dozens of times each season -- has left both coaches pondering the same question: How important is an inscription typed in size-10 font that's buried in the middle of a record book?
"If you have 100 coaches, you have 100 different philosophies on how and when it's okay to break a record," said John Gillis, editor of the national high school sports record book. "There's no doubt that some of our records happened with a disregard of sportsmanship. We're judging the statistics, not the intent. It's up to the coaches to make the right decisions."
Last Friday night at Matewan, Kinder never so much made a decision as followed an impulse. He had always coached on intuition, guiding his team to a win in the 1993 state final while rarely looking at his playbook. He had an intuitive sense for the game, other coaches said, and it rarely betrayed him.
Kinder called a simple hand-off on the first play against Burch, and McCoy raced 69 yards for a touchdown. Three more basic running plays to McCoy yielded similar results in the first half -- scoring runs of 20, 52, and 56 yards -- and Matewan went into the locker room with the game in hand. McCoy had more than 300 yards rushing, and he guessed he would watch the second half from the sideline.
"I always come out in a blowout," McCoy said. "I was like, 'That was fun, but I guess my night's over.' "
Kinder had studied high school rushing records after McCoy ran for more than 500 yards in the season opener and, at halftime, he couldn't shake the official national rushing record -- 619 yards -- from his mind. A few weeks earlier, Matewan had been forced to forfeit two games for playing an ineligible player, a debilitating blow to the team's playoff chances and its morale. Now Kinder identified a panacea: He could lift his team's spirits and commemorate a great player, all at once.
Kinder had never coached a player like McCoy. The senior had unspectacular talent and minimal prospects of playing for a Division I college, but those realities never impeded his work ethic.
McCoy's parents grew up near Matewan, a mountain town of about 500 people located two hours from the nearest airport in Charleston. They owned a local barbeque restaurant, and McCoy had promised them he would somehow earn a college scholarship. At 5 feet 8 and about 160 pounds, McCoy could squat 500 pounds and bench 350. He had given up his dreams of playing running back in college and signed up to be a cornerback at summer football camps, hoping college recruiters would notice him at that position. They still said he was too small.