It may not be popular, or easy, but we have to stick to doing what’s right for our students’ sake.
The Battle Begins
“You’re not going to tell us what to do. You’re not our f’ing coach!”
My heart quickened. My eyes widened as a lump formed in my throat.
“Excuse me?” I drooled out.
As the new Principal, I would lie awake at night trying to find more hours in my days to unravel the mess I had inherited. I had no desire to be the football coach. I had no choice. The coach I hired wouldn’t be available for a few weeks, and no one else was available. But I did have the choice to end this bad behavior.
“That’s it, Dustin. Leave your gear on the sidewalk.” I stated.
Play by the Rules or Don’t Play at All
I gave him 30 minutes to decide if he would return, under my leadership, or leave the team.
I waited, with a watch and a behavior contract in my hands. 28 minutes passed until he and his grandma appeared.
“I’m not signing your dumbass contract. You need me.” He snarled.
Without raising my voice, I insisted he sit and listen.
I explained how we wanted him, but not his nasty behavior. He could sign the contract or leave. His shoulders drooped and he flicked away the contract.
His grandma asked, “What happens if he quits? Will he still be able to play basketball?”
She knew the school policy. Anyone who quits football can’t play basketball. She was testing me because I was the new guy. My response was to the point. “You won’t play. Period.”
He rose and a slur of obscenities spewed from his mouth. Grandma ordered him to sit down and sign the contract.
Sportsmanship isn’t Negotiable
Coach Frank was new to the community and new to coaching high school football. But during his six weeks, he had won over most of the kids.
I had concerns.
It was our seventh game at home. My head swam in a blur as I bounced between the sidelines and the bleachers. Our team was being destroyed. Again. Tempers and foul language raged. Behavior became chaotic and disgusting, on the field and in the stands. I warned Frank to get his team together. He couldn’t.
The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly
With 2:52 left in the second quarter, Dustin threw off his gear and stormed off to the locker room. I jogged in after him and drew in a deep breath. My hands clenched.
“Lord, give me patience.” I prayed quickly. With my back against the wall, I watched his right knee bounce up and down for a minute. I took a deep breath and then instructed him to return for the third quarter, apologize to his team, or leave for good. He muttered something without looking up.
I smirked, a little, as he moped past me and onto the sidelines as half-time ended.
Later, for a moment after the game, Dustin made me think he might make it after all.
Without my knowledge, Coach Frank told our players not to shake hands with the opponents at the end of the game. Dustin was the only player who disregarded that order.
“Dustin, wait a second,’ I called out, ‘I’m proud of what you did.’” His reply: “F-off. I didn’t do it for you.”
Poor Choices Have Consequences
I also found out our coach attempted to pick a fight with the visiting coaches.
Two days later I brought the team together to tell them that I had fired Frank. Dustin jumped up on a chair and with his middle finger raised in the air, he led half of the team away. He didn’t think I would take over and finish the season. He was wrong. That act of defiance ended Dustin’s chance to play basketball. Well, that’s what I told him at the time.
I’ve always believed that discipline is about making positive changes. And rewards, when earned, are necessary. Dustin’s improved behavior in his classes earned him a reward in my mind. Another second chance.
The deal was simple. He would sign a new contract. One chance. Break it and he’s done.
A new Season Cut Short
It was the third basketball game. Our home crowd was yelling louder than ever. I paced backed and forth in front of our stands. Then it happened.
My feet stuck to the floor and I shook my head when he vomited the vile words from his mouth. “You’re an F-ing idiot. You suck, ref!’”. Game and season over.
A message sent
That was one of the most difficult years of my educational career. Dustin was one of many students, teachers, parents, and community members who put me to the test. I fired two coaches and wrote up a teacher. I expelled and suspended students. I ended seasons early for several athletes. Every week someone had cursed or threatened me because I stood firm with discipline. Day after day my head was in my hands, elbows on my desk, and the words, “make it stop” hopelessly dribbled out.
Mrs. Miller is one of my outstanding, and outspoken, teachers. She is also Dustin’s mom.
A few days before school opened to start my second year there, she marched into my office and closed the door.
“I have to tell you this, Steve. Dustin and I were talking the other night,’ she chuckled, ‘when he said you’re the best Principal this school has ever had. He respects you.’” She then added that he grunted and said he would deny ever saying it.
She went on to tell me, “Dustin has a good job. He’s taking college classes, and, is, well, a lot nicer.”
I straightened and smiled as she thanked me. She then told me how, for the first time in a long, long time, how excited she was about the new school year.