Week 9: Coach Otto’s creed

I fear this blog of mine has become a bit of soap box. I regret that. One look at my high school and college transcripts, or a long look at my game film, or a five-minute conversation with my mother, and one would quickly come to the conclusion that I'm not qualified to pass judgment on some of the topics we broach here.

I grant you all that and still choose to climb on the soap box one last time. The past couple weeks we have been reminded that in addition to all the other problems our schools are dealing with, the serious issue of hazing is ongoing.

I'm not here to discuss the specifics of what happened at Oceanside or Castle Park. I don't claim to be in possession of all the facts. Frankly, I don't want to be. What I know to be true turns my stomach.

1) Both schools have experienced embarrassing incidents of hazing recently that have resulted in student suspensions, employee terminations, and likely lawsuits.

2) These incidents are not limited to Oceanside and Castle Park.

3) Student athletes were involved in both incidents.

First and foremost, my heart goes out to the victims. Schools are supposed to be sanctuaries for learning. No kid should be afraid to go down a hallway, sit in a classroom, or enter a locker room.

I also pity the kids who ganged up their fellow students. It's a cold, hard fact that “in life, all you have is your reputation.” If these reports of hazing are accurate, the perpetrators in both incidents have done as much damage to their reputations as they've inflicted upon their victims. In both cases, it's the kind of damage that takes years, even lifetimes, to repair.

My message here is to the student athletes reading this. Whether you're aware of it or not, as a student athlete you are a role model within your community. Like it or not, your choice to take on the responsibility and make the sacrifices required to compete in high school athletics puts you on a pedestal. That means there is no acceptable reason to haze your teammates.

In fact, it's your responsibility to step in and stop such senseless behavior. Years ago, I watched a classmate get strung up by his underwear on his locker. I remember the sheer terror in his eyes and the hyena-like squeal of the mob. But, what I remember most is the fact that I just stood by and watched.

Thirty years later and I'm still dealing with flashes of guilt for not trying to intervene. I've come to realize that I would've rather been strung up along side that kid than continue to be haunted by the memories of my own cowardice.

When I was a boy, my father took me to a high school football game in Madison, Wisconsin. The Madison Lafollette Lancers were taking on Madison East in a game that would decide the Big 8 title. My father took me into the Lancers' locker room moments after a heart breaking 10-7 defeat. I remember all the crying, the slamming of helmets. But the thing I remember most is the post-game speech by late football coach Otto Breitenbach. He called his kids together and reminded them that every win and every defeat is a life lesson. And he finished his talk with this gem:

“I expect you to be gentlemen first, students second and athletes third.”

A twelve-word lesson in handling life priorities. Being an exceptional athlete is not always within our grasp. To a lesser extent, the same can be said about academics. But, when it comes to conducting yourselves like gentlemen or gentlewomen, there are no excuse for anything less than exemplary behavior.

At the end of the day there is right and there is wrong. As student athletes, you're expected to be on the right side of the line, and you're expected to help steer your classmates in the “right” direction as well. Coach Otto wouldn't have it any other way. Nor will I. Nor should you.


Paul Rudy
Creator of the Prep Pigskin Report

Email me at ppr@kusi.com


Categories: KUSI