There is a carefully cultivated party line among the West Springfield High School family, a family that simultaneously feels abhorrence, embarrassment and compassion for its embattled ex-football coach, Jim Jensen.
They say Jensen's planting of a tape recorder in rivel Lake Braddock's locker room before their Oct. 31 game was a grevious, unforgiveable mistake. But, after conveying utter horror, they change gears and talk about the background. They want everyone to know the history behind the act.
"I don't think the tape had anything to do with attaining victory," said West Springfield Principal George Stepp. "He (Jensen) was trying to prove two things. One: a master key was being used to get into his office by Braddock coaches. Two: The Braddock coach was inciting his players to make derogatory remarks to incite our players."
Another party line is silence.
West Springfield played at Chantilly Friday night. The teams's coaches and players were not talking to reporters. They were referring all questions to Stepp. After the game, a reporter told running back Jack Brooks he would ask only about his performance against Chantilly, Brooks was whisked off by an assistant coach. "Talk to Stepp," was the coach's repeated refrain.
Brooks, a talented, congenial senior, said "Sorry, they want us to get the tape thing off our minds. No hard feelings."
Stepp was brutally honest. "Sick," was how Stepp felt when Braddock Football Coach Stan Kemp handed him the tape during their game. "When the coach brought me into the locker room to show me the tape recorder you could see the seriousness of the situation where two coaches have absolutely no trust in each other."
Jensen was not available for comment yesterday.
Ironically, Stepp and Braddock Rpincipal John Alwood had prepared for problems after the Spartans beat Lake Braddock, 8-7, last year in a game marred by numerous penalties for unnecessary roughness. In a scheduling quirk, the teams had played each other the week before with the Spartans mauling Lake Braddock, 37-0. The score became a theme for the Bruins.
In the 8-7 brawl, Brooks was ejected after the second play for fighting, allegedly incited by derogatory remarks from Lake Braddock players. Fearing a possible melee, Jensen would not allow his team to shake hands with Lake Braddock players after the game. "Coach Jensen felt he was unjustly and unfairly treated when people criticized his action as unsportsmanlike," said Stepp.
Based on these circumstances, Stepp and Alwood met at a luncheon at the Springfield Country Club on 29 with two athletic directors, four coaches, eight players and student government presidents representing both schools. Stepp said it was emphasized that football is a game, a game you try to win but not at the expense of sportsmanship. "That's what made the whole thing (the tape recorder) so surprising to most of us," said Alwood. "The luncheon was very congenial."
In a freshman game the next day, Jensen claimed there was a flood of antagonism from the Bruins. Alwood maintains the game went without incident
Before the varsity game, the Bruins unveiled the slogan, "Smash the Pumpkinheads." The game was on Halloween night; Springfield wears orange helmets. West Springfield interpreted the phrase as a precursor to more violent football.
At halftime of the Chantilly game, the father of one West Springfield player, said he was sickened by the needless brutality in last year's year's game. He said he became so uupset he wanted to run out and do something about it.
"A locker room is a private place," he said. "It's like going into someone's bedroom. The taping thing is so crazy. It's sick. I don't think it'll be a bad influence though. There kids are pretty smart."
On the Saturday after the taping incident, Jensen admitted everything to his team and explained his motives.
"As God is my judge, I believe what the man says about his motives." said Stepp.
Stepp said he listened to the tape and found nothing inflammatory.
Stepp added: "What could create a psychological condition in a man that would cause him to believe that someone is so out to get him that he'd go to that extreme is something our community is concerned about . . . how the environment could create such an unhealthy situation."
Stepp said Jensen owned up to the situation honorably and was allowed to resign.
Friday night, Chantilly fans around the snack bar could be heard making jokes like, "Of course we're losing, they taped all the team meetings."
Late in the game, Spartan senior Bill Harvey, standing just outside the 30, said, "I feel bad for him (Jensen)," adding that the incident was out of character for Jensen.
Senior Rich Meredith said, "Coach Jensen was protecting us. He knows what kind of football Lake Braddock plays. He knew they'd play that way last week. He used the tape recorder so he'd have something to back up what he was saying."
Meredith said the taping was a bad idea, but he did appreciate his coach's concern. "He'd lay down in the street for us."
On the field, where Jensen has been described as being verbose and obsessed, Meredith and Harvey both characterized their former coach as "all business but a great coach."