High school football coaches are always worried about taunting, but their concerns usually start and end with keeping their players from receiving 15-yard penalties from verbal or celebratory outbursts against opponents during games. Last week, Paulsboro (N.J.) High coach Glenn Howard was facing a much more extreme case of taunting, when a video of his star players profanely insulting Paulsboro rival Woodbury popped up on YouTube long before the game.
According to the Newark Star-Ledger and Philadelphia Inquirer, the brief online rap clip -- which has since been removed from YouTube -- led to suspensions for 12 players, which set the stage for an embarrassing 56-0 rout at the hands of undefeated West Deptford (N.J.) High, a huge disappointment from what was expected to be a titanic tilt between two of the state's best teams.
"We did the best we could with what we had," Howard told the Star-Ledger after the loss. "We tried to prepare the guys as best we could. We tried to get them ready offensively and defensively in a short week. ... We had defensive ends play (cornerback) and guys who never played any varsity at all except for scrap time at the end of games with a big lead."
The video first popped up on the radar of Paulsboro officials Tuesday when a counterpart at Woodberry was told about the clip and contacted Paulsboro. After the video was shown to Howard and Paulsboro Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Scambia, the two called in all the different players who were involved, talked to each of them and handed down a three-day school suspension, forcing the players to miss the West Deptford game because of the extended holiday weekend.
"I spoke to the Woodbury superintendent and apologized on behalf of the kids," Scambia told the Star-Ledger. "What was done on the video was in poor taste. There's some cursing and other things in the video that were totally inappropriate. I don't think it was supposed to be as [insulting] as it got. It was inappropriate, but more inappropriate was posting it. The students were talked to and suspensions were issued. We have good kids, decent kids that work very hard, but some of the kids just did not think at the time."
The Paulsboro YouTube incident isn't the first brush with aggressive social media use during the 2010 high school football season. In fact, it isn't even the first incident that has emerged in the greater Philadelphia area. Earlier this year, Imhotep Charter (Pa.) High coach Marc Wilson issued a Facebook curfew for his players, reacting to inappropriate comments made by his players on the night before games. A similar YouTube incident also occurred in Maryland, where St. Vincent Pallotti High briefly cancelled its entire football season after a handful of players participated in an "inappropriate" rap video which was filmed on campus after a team practice.
The Paulsboro players who missed the loss to West Deptford will get the chance to return for the team's South Jersey Group I final at Glassboro, with their suspensions scheduled to end Monday. Still, Scambia hoped the brief suspensions would make a broader statement about the inappropriateness of inciting opponents across the social media spectrum.
"Sports isn't only a win-or-lose situation, it's to teach sportsmanship," Scambia said. "We're teaching them skills to help them along into adult life. (Sportsmanship is) one of the key components of any game. When that doesn't happen, it pulls you away from one of the goals of participating.
"Cyberspace is a wealth of this kind of stuff that we don't want our kids to participate in. We expect them to know better and to do better, and because of this it won't happen again."