The first time Del Oro (Calif.) varsity football coach Casey Taylor received a threatening phone call to "watch your back," he was confused. When he was later told that he would encounter serious harm if he didn't resign, he was befuddled. When he found out that all those threats were the result of a simple miscommunication about a jersey number, he was completely incredulous.
Amazingly, as bizarre as that may seem, Taylor's turmoil was, in fact, the result of one of his players wearing a particular jersey number on the football field, years after one man alleged it had already been retired.
According to the Sacramento Bee's Joe Davidson, that man, 66-year-old Dennis McLin, has now been sentenced to six months in jail, five years of probation and (understandably) mandatory anger-management courses. The thrust of that sentence is that McLin will serve time behind bars over aggressive approaches made against Taylor, all the result of the uniform number 20.
"It never should have gotten this bad," Taylor told the Bee. "We never knew it was retired. No one knew it was retired."
McLin's quite unacceptable complaints all focused around former Del Oro star Butch Enkoji, who starred for the 1961 Del Oro squad. The Bee reported that it's unclear whether the number 20 was actually retired for Enkoji or not; a yearbook photo from his graduating class showed Enkoji being presented with his jersey, but the jersey was never displayed in any format, and players continued using it intermittently throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s.
Whether or not it was intended to be retired in the '60s will soon be a moot point, as Del Oro now plans to permanently retire the number in honor of Enkoji and the school's most recent number 20, Bryce Pratt, who set school and and area playoff records while wearing it.
Yet none of that helped ease the stress on Taylor's family for a prolonged period of time, none more nerve-wracking than the period after McLin -- who refused to identify himself throughout the period in which he stalked and terrorized Taylor over the phone -- threatened to confront the championship coach at a Del Oro game. After that initial threat, the coach had to be escorted by body guards t0 his team's football games, including a sectional playoff game in which he was surrounded by five hired security professionals.
"The guy told me to watch my back, to know that he was watching me and that he wanted me out," Taylor said. "We played Rocklin for the (2009) section championship, and I had five security people with me for the entire game. We weren't sure if he was going to be there, but he had left a message saying he was going to 'take me out.' I was worried for my family, my team.
"You can't coach like that. It's crazy. Coaches shouldn't have to deal with this."
It's nearly impossible to live under that stress, let alone coach. The fact that those life-altering threats came from a simple misunderstanding about jersey honorifics may be the most clear-cut proof yet that fans of high school programs can be just as emotionally unbalanced in their devotion as any of their collegiate and professional counterparts.