LIFE is all about lessons learned, we are told. And one of the best places to learn those lessons is in the playing arena. Whether a cold November football field or a perspiration-dampened basketball gym, athletes learn all sorts of positive, life-affirming lessons.
Such lessons are now tumbling forth from two city high schools, after word got out that four Manchester Central football players received five-day suspensions for their actions during the city's traditional Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving Day.
No Trinity High School students or staff have been disciplined, and earlier this week, Trinity Principal Denis Mailloux said the game, which took place two weeks ago today, is ancient history.
The contest pitted Manchester's top two football teams against each other at Gill Stadium. The third-quarter brawl took place along the Trinity sidelines.
A video, available on YouTube, shows a lot of pushing and shoving between players. After you view it, here are the lessons:
Tell the truth
That's what we hear from our moms shortly after we start talking. Even if it hurts, tell the truth and things will work out in the end. Four Central students seemed to be speaking truthfully in interviews earlier this week.
"He was talking dirty to me the whole game. I got frustrated and then just did it," a suspended player said, explaining his late hit on a Trinity player that preceded the brawl. (Note: Three suspended players talked willingly and provided their names, but this newspaper is not revealing their identities.) Another admitted he ran up to a Trinity coach and pushed him in the back, worried about what was happening to a fellow player.As for Trinity?
"Some things happened that were outside the rules. We're leaving it in the past at this point," said Mailloux, the Trinity principal. Both Mailloux and athletics director Chip Polak said they viewed the film and saw no inappropriate action on the part of Trinity players or coaches.
Mailloux said he'd love to hear details about alleged assaults and swearing by his students and coaches ... but only if Central administrators bring it up.
"I don't listen to what kids say," Polak said. "Kids can say anything."
The real lesson:Tell the truth, and if it's what people want to hear, they'll listen.
It takes two to fight
"He started it."
We've all said it, and we've all heard it. It's a trap that draws you into a swirling back-and-forth that resolves nothing.
Polak noted the late hit by a Central player.
"Nobody's proud, but it was initiated by Central," he said.
Another suspended Central player said, "It wasn't just us throwing the punches. They threw the first punch."
The film shows a chain reaction that follows the late hit. Hit unexpectedly, the Trinity player falls into Central players and a referee. A Trinity coach grabs the arm of Central player Gino Otero (who was not suspended), and Otero pushes back.
From there, it accelerates. Trinity coach Steve Burns tries to keep two players apart. One Trinity adult goes face to helmet with a couple of Central players. Burns eventually jumps onto two wrestling players.
Polak said Burns was trying to pull the players apart.
"In any brawl, any altercation, there are no rules," Polak said. "You step in any way you can. There are no written protocols for a fight."
Football players on both teams tried to hold back their energized teammates. As for Trinity coaches? Otero's mother talks about bringing criminal charges against one who grabbed her son right after the late hit. (Police said they have received no such complaint.)
The real lesson:It takes two to fight, but only one will take the blame.
It's only a game
Football and Thanksgiving. You think of the Kennedys tossing the pigskin in a friendly family game. Then there's the NFL games on TV, always good for dozing off to with a belly full of turkey and pumpkin pie.
Manchester's football tradition is the Turkey Bowl. The victors gain city bragging rights. But the New Hampshire Athletic Association season is already over. (Both Central and Trinity had winning records and made their NHIAA divisional playoffs.)
The game was competitive at first. But by the third quarter, Trinity was up 30-8. Twice in the third, the Trinity Pioneers executed an onside kick, a special-teams play aimed at producing a turnover. Central received at least one call for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Ho-hum. A lopsided game is little fun. All but the most diehard fan is bored. Players lose their drive. A coach can put in his second string. Or he can always just pile it on.
"The (Trinity) coaches kept saying, 'Pound them, pound them; they're weak,' " one of the suspended players said.
The final score was 52-8.
"They played hard. Both teams played hard within the rules of the game," said Mailloux, who directed me to Polak for further comment.
"That's football stuff," Polak said. "In my mind, the story of the game was Division II Trinity upsetting Division I Central."
Upset, in more ways than one.
The real lesson: It's only a game if we crush our opponents.
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.