Football is a violent sport. Over recent years, we've come to understand more and more just how violent it can be.
That violence, though, is supposed to take place between the whistles. After, a sense of competition and sportsmanship should take over with an underlying level of respect governing actions between players.
Occasionally, that goes awry, as was the case last Friday in Michigan City's home football opener against South Bend Washington at Ames Field.
You know the story by now. Late hit out of bounds on a City runner. Minor pushing and shoving. Major pushing and shoving. Melee. Game over.
This week, a series of IHSAA- and school-induced punishments were handed down. I'll admit that I thought the punishments given — specifically by the IHSAA — were a bit light. I assumed that, at a minimum, each team would receive a one-game suspension. I had good reason to believe that, after all.
Several individuals, both an and off the record, told us Friday night that the game was stopped, at least in part, because so many players would have to be ejected that neither team would have enough players left to continue.
To be clear, from my vantage point, a majority of the players actually weren't engaged in fisticuffs. But yet, we were told the ejection number would be large.
When suspension numbers were handed down this week, however, the total between both teams was six. My math skills may not be great, but that wouldn't seem to impact either team's ability to field a team for the remainder of Friday's game.
So, the real reason the game was stopped is because there was fear of another incident. That's acceptable to me. Why we were told the other thing, I don't know.
Make no mistake, though, this was not a typical on-field incident, for football or any other sport. The IHSAA, in the statement announcing probation for both programs, among other punishments, took issue with — presumably — The N-D and other media outlets using the term "brawl" to describe what happened. Since we were the only media outlet there that night, we definitely set the tone for coverage.
"After reading reports, analyzing video, and discussing the incidents with school administrators, the IHSAA does not
believe or agree that the game reached the level of a brawl as some have suggested," the report said.
Well, that's fine. But, nobody from the IHSAA was there and the only video that I've been privy to was very short and toward the end of the incident. I also find it odd that the IHSAA would even include such a statement in the report, but I suppose that's beside the point.
I'm not very interested in semantics. Call it what you want: brawl, altercation, brouhaha, clash, disagreement. I don't really care. Point is, the incident that took place had everybody spooked enough to cancel a game. It wasn't exactly an unprecedented action, but I couldn't find anyone in attendance who had seen anything quite like it, and most of the people in my informal poll have been watching high school football longer than I've been alive.
The point is, it was bad.
Now, all that said, I'm glad the IHSAA didn't lose its mind and kill two schools' seasons over this. It didn't seem like that would be an appropriate course of action. I wouldn't have had an issue with each team taking a week off, but I don't get paid to make those kinds of decisions.
I want to also point out that I thought the Michigan City Police Department — who had uniformed officers on hand, and at least one other came onto the field from the stands, where he watched the game as a fan — did a dynamite job keeping the peace. They were on top of things quickly and diffused the situation. So, kudos.
Also, though he was suspended for Friday's game by the school, I thought City coach Michael Karpinski did a good job in the immediate aftermath. He gathered his team on the sideline and delivered a loud and clear message, easily heard from the press box, that this kind of behavior was not acceptable.
Looking at this from a broader perspective, though, I was most disappointed as a citizen of this community. Look, kids will be kids and they make mistakes. Everybody knows that. And I've heard — both in person Friday and via social media — the sentiment that Washington antagonized the situation with the numerous unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, of which there were four before the late hit.
An aside, that number is actually misleading. One of the flags was for a sack of the City quarterback that the referee thought was a bit too rough. I did not agree. A second was for arguing about that penalty. I digress.
I even heard someone associated with the school making that point afterward, which was disappointing to me. Whether or not Washington started it or not is really not the point at all. In football, or any other sport, if the other team is being undisciplined, you fix that by beating them on the scoreboard, not with your fists. It's actually quite simple.
This community and this school fights an unfair perception from the outside. You hear it when you go out of town or when you tell people where you're from. When something like this happens, it only serves to reinforce the arbitrary stereotype. Those that live here and go to school here know the reality, but this story made national news. Michigan City, for now, is the place where the football fight happened.
Nothing we can do about it except move forward and learn from it. I'm hopeful the kids on the team have learned and the community as well.
Maybe it's actually a good thing there's a game this week so the focus can return to the field, where it should be.
Contact Managing Editor Adam Parkhouse at email@example.com or 1-219-214-4170.