Iowa coach accused of corporal punishment for forcing player to run after speaking out of turn

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

The most traditional of all high school sports discipline may not longer be allowed in the state of Iowa after the use of running laps for punishment by a head football coach was deemed to be akin to corporal punishment.

The Des Moines Lincoln football team — BeRecruited
The Des Moines Lincoln football team — BeRecruited

As reported by the Des Moines Register, Des Moines (Iowa) Lincoln High football coach Tom Mihalovich has been accused of violating school bullying and corporal punishment policies in connection with his rather standard practice of forcing players to run as punishment for their actions. In Mihalovich's case in particular, the coach allegedly forced a sophomore football player to run wind sprints, hills and laps as punishment for making negative comments about the school's varsity squad.

Those sprints apparently raised the ire of the school district, which launched its own investigation into the punishment and found Mihalovich to be in violation of its own procedures.

The days since that report was first released have given birth to a firestorm of controversy, with some groups finding fault with Mihalovich for trying to alter a player's behavior with overtly punitive measures and others simply arguing that the use of physical conditioning as a form of punishment is an outdated practice in American society.

"Good common sense would indicate we're past using conditioning and running in a punitive manner," Mike Dick, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union executive director told the Register. To use conditioning as punishment is "almost vindictive in nature."

Meanwhile, other coaches and athletic directors fell short of openly supporting Mihalovich's practices but still preached concern that banning running laps could be the start of a slippery slope that eliminates all disciplinary instruction from the ranks of high school and youth sports.

In fact, one athletic director went so far as to say that the safest approach for schools going forward might be to have a firmly established set of disciplinary procedures so that no student or parent could complain with the punishment facing them if they erred.

"I tell them to put it in writing," Des Moines (Iowa) East High activities director Ric Powell, a former baseball and girls basketball coach, told the Register. "If you're late to practice, then you run this much, and so on. That way everybody knows what the expectations are. I review these handbooks every year before they're distributed and sometimes you have to say, 'OK, this is too harsh. We need to back off here.'"

Still, Powell also said that concerns about forced running in practice might be a bit over the top, citing a former collegiate coach who truly was too harsh in his punitive measures.

"I never felt like I was Bobby Knight doing that," Powell said of when he had baseball players run between foul poles for failing to meet team expectations.

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