Prep athlete's mutiny on the ice is familiarMARK STODGHILL COLUMN: You may have heard about the Farmington High School senior hockey goalie who was mad at his coach, put the puck into his own net and skated off with a middle finger raised. As a former immature high school athlete myself, I had to feel bad for the kid.
You may have heard about the Farmington High School senior hockey goalie who was mad at his coach for playing a sophomore in place of him, so when he got the chance he purposely put the puck into his own net and then skated off the ice with a middle finger raised toward his team bench and coaches.
What a selfish, vulgar, arrogant, mutinous act.
But I felt for the kid because of his obvious immaturity. I was once an emotional, perhaps immature, high school senior athlete, who didn’t get along with my coach, and I was guilty of a mutinous act.
I, too, walked away from my coach and team. I’ve always regretted it.
However, I didn’t purposely help an opponent, and I didn’t extend a middle finger to anyone. I would have had to face the man who headed my household. It wouldn’t have been pretty.
That was a long time ago, but I think I’m in a position to comment on the Farmington, Minn., goaltender’s actions, just as I did about 15 years ago when I wrote a column about a Northeastern Minnesota athlete who complained about being a senior and losing playing time to a sophomore.
Here’s how I jumped my high school basketball team’s ship:
Like the Farmington goalie, I thought I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved from my coach.
It was a rebounding drill, and my coach didn’t think I was putting out. He said I was coasting and not jumping. Not working. I had scored 20-some points the Friday night before and saw my last name in a headline in the Minneapolis newspaper. I was leading the Missota Conference in scoring. Maybe I was a little full of myself.
Since I wasn’t reacting to his screaming oral message, the coach kicked me in the rear and slapped me across the back of the head. I looked at him and said something like: “If you don’t think I’m putting out, why don’t you kick me off?” I had never talked back to him before. He sneered. I then said, “I quit,” and walked from the court. Retaining an attorney or taking the matter to the school board because of his physical abuse never entered my mind. It was 1965.
I left practice, went downtown and tried to make myself sick drinking cherry colas at the soda fountain. A teammate found me there. He said the coach held a meeting after practice and had the team vote on whether they should take me back. My teammate said it was unanimous that they wanted me back. I told him I wasn’t going back unless the coach apologized and asked me to come back. More immaturity on my part. I wasn’t smart enough to know that the real world never operates that way.
One of my school’s intramural basketball teams asked me if I would play on their team. It created a controversy. Some of the school’s coaches didn’t think I should be allowed to play intramurals. It went to a faculty vote and, thanks to my journalism teacher and people like her, I was allowed to play intramurals.
One day I was wearing the varsity uniform of my hometown Rosemount Irish playing Lakeville before a full house, and the next day I was slipping on a T-shirt playing an intramural game for the Burgundys against the Heaven’s Devils with only a handful of people looking on.
As I warmed up for that first intramural game, I saw my varsity basketball coach and his B-Team assistant standing on the balcony watching.
Moments before the game’s opening tip, the B-Team coach came down and told me that the head coach wanted the basketball shoes I was wearing. The shoes were provided to varsity team players. I took them off and handed them over. One of the players on the intramural team we were playing loaned me a pair of shoes. They had practically no tread, and there were knots where the shoelaces had broken. I didn’t care. The floor could have been covered with white-hot coals and broken glass, and I would have played barefooted.
Despite my high school mutiny, I went on to play college basketball. Those college games have all run together over the years. Only a few stand out. But I remember every detail of that high school intramural game.
As humorist Dave Barry sometimes needs to say, I’m not making this up:
The guy who loaned me his beat-up shoes made two free throws with four seconds left in the game to put the Heavens Devils ahead of us by a point. I took the inbounds pass and drove up court counting off the clock in my head: One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand ... I launched the shot from between half-court and the top of the key. It was in the air when the horn went off. It wasn’t a prayer. I knew it was going in.
The net went “chooomp!” The ball went straight through the basket. We won by one.
No cheerleaders or fans were there to run onto the court. My intramural teammates were in shock. I looked up at the balcony and saw the two coaches walking away. The opposing team’s players were shaking their heads. Two of those players told me that my shot was at least five feet off line and curved into the basket. I willed the ball through the basket. I wanted it that bad.
That was my only reward for quitting the high school team. My glory soon turned to grief. I went to only one varsity game after I quit. It made me sick to watch from the stands. Rosemount wound up tied for the conference championship, and I can’t remember how far the Irish made it in the tournament. I wondered if we would have won the conference championship all alone if I had stayed on the team. Could I have helped them get to the state tournament, or a step closer?
There certainly was a flaw in the way I handled my high school predicament, and there were more than a few flaws in the way the Farmington goalie handled his. But we were teenagers who were trying to live our dreams and didn’t want anyone to get in the way.
From the day I quit the team, the basketball coach and I never exchanged
another word the rest of my senior year.
I saw the coach at the Rosemount football homecoming game the fall after I graduated. I walked up, stuck out my hand and thanked him for all that he taught me about basketball. He shook my hand. I don’t remember him saying anything. I don’t know what my words and handshake meant to the coach, but they made me feel good.
I wonder if that Farmington goalie will ever be able to shake his coach’s hand. Or if the coach would be able to shake it back. I think the goalie would first need the maturity to apologize. Maybe he already has.
The goalie should take at least one valuable lesson from his hockey coach: Seniority doesn’t count for much in today’s world. And as hard as it may be for him to see now, he can thank his coach for what he taught him about life.
Mark Stodghill is a reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.