MONROE — It was supposed to be a semifinal showdown to see who would advance to the Central Utah Football League’s eighth grade championship match.
In the end, however, a football game between South Sevier and Juab in Fillmore Saturday became a lesson in what not to do when it comes to sportsmanship.
Head official Skeeter Stermer called the game in the final quarter, saying it was in the best interest of the children playing on the field.
“Both sides were heated. They were flustered with some things that happened, which then turned to exchanges of shouts and it escalated,” Stermer said. “I don’t want kids at that age to endure those kinds of negative exchanges of that nature between coaches or fans, and that’s when we determined that we had to end it.”
According to Stermer, the discontent initially started when Juab, up 30-6, attempted an onside kick after a score. He said the ball went out of bounds and South Sevier got possession, but some fans from Monroe were upset with the call for the kick from Juab, which is usually used to try to regain possession when a team is down.
South Sevier coach Ryan Tobler said for him and his team, the onside kick was not an issue. He said going into halftime, he simply tried to get his players fired up to play hard in the second half to play their best football.
“[The onside kick] meant nothing to us,” Tobler said. “We didn’t play our best football in the first half, and in the second half we stepped it up.”
During the third quarter, Stermer said play became somewhat physical, and he pulled in the team captains and reminded them they needed to play with integrity and sportsmanship. He said that lasted for a while, but, after a couple of shots by South Sevier defenders took out both Juab quarterbacks, one of which included helmet to helmet contact, which was penalized, people began to get upset again.
“There was nothing illegal about what we did,” Tobler said. “We played hard and it was blown out of proportion.”
Stermer said Juab’s coaches said South Sevier was intentionally taking shots at their quarterbacks, which he said he did not think was the case. He said that resulted in some discontent from the sidelines.
“I don’t believe as an official that was done, it was an aggressive player playing aggressively,” Stermer said. “Football is a tough sport.”
With about six minutes remaining, Stermer said coaches began shouting at each other and some fans began yelling, which caused him to bring the officiating crew together to decide what they needed to do to keep things under control.
“I got Juab’s head coach and South Sevier’s head coach out onto the field, and, when I tried to talk to them, South Sevier’s coach wasn’t real cooperative,” Stermer said. “He was too frustrated, and I could see in his eyes there was no way we were going to be able to get things settled down to get this game going again. That’s when I made the decision to call the game.”
Tobler said he doesn’t quite see things the way Stermer and his officiating crew did with calling the game. He said none of the coaches were ever given a sideline warning or tossed from the game, which he said he believed should have happened before calling the game early was ever considered.
“I guess I don’t know that I support how the ballgame ended,” Tobler said. “I’m not saying I was an angel, I was mad. They claimed we were playing dirty and hitting late, it made one of their coaches mad and then I got upset, and it got out of control. I think it’s been blown way out of proportion.”
Juab coach Mike Bowring said he supported the officials’ decision to end the game when they did.
“It was very unfortunate that the events unfolded the way they did,” Bowring said. “Nobody wants to see a game end the way it did, [but] … because of the circumstances, we support the officials’ decision to stop play at that point.”
Stermer said despite what the score might say about the game, before people got frustrated, it was actually a great battle between two talented teams. He said in this case, things just got a little too heated between the two sides and they lost sight of what really matters, which is teaching their children how to play the game and how to exhibit good sportsmanship.
“Do you want to end a season like that, absolutely not, but if we had continued, things could have gotten uglier and it would have ended worse,” Stermer said. “These are eighth grade kids for crying out loud. If we don’t have sportsmanship, what do we have we have mad people.”
According to Stermer, neither side was blameless in what occurred. He said coaches and parents on both sides lost sight of what really matters in little league sports, and let their tempers get the best of them.
“It’s a problem we have that parents and coaches get too into the game and about winning is everything, and we get too caught up and forget about the sportsmanship regardless of whether we win or lose,” Stermer said. “Sometimes, we need to step back and say winning isn’t everything.”
Tobler said after this experience, he doesn’t plan to return next year to volunteer to coach with South Sevier’s football program.
“I’ve made it clear I’m never coaching again,” Tobler said. “The kids are done for the year, and are moving into high school next year. I hope they continue to play and work as hard as they did this year. It’s frustrating that our kids are getting beat up [by the media] for what happened. This is all a great big nothing that never should have turned into this.”
Bowring said Juab has had a good standing relationship with South Sevier in the past, and hopes that everyone can put this situation behind them and continue that friendship.
“We appreciate our relationship with them and hope that it continues,” Bowring said. “We have many friends in the South Sevier community and in fact South Sevier High School has attended our summer football camp over the years. We are looking forward to moving on and putting this behind us.”
As an official certified with the Utah High School Activities Association with 16 years of experience, Stermer said he realizes officials aren’t perfect, that they miss calls and don’t see everything. He said above all, however, his job is to maintain control of the action — of the players, coaches, parents and spectators — and, ultimately, to do what is in the best interest of the children.
“In this case, I called the game because it was in the best interest of those kids,” Stermer said. “I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and replayed it in my mind. Every time, I would have made the same decision.”