A sportsmanship controversy has laid siege to one of the top small football programs in Oregon after a coach continued to play his starting players during the fourth quarter of a blowout victory. In response, the coach in question cited a perfectly plausible defense: He claims that he simply doesn't have enough players at his disposal.
The controversy in question, which has been covered by the likes of the Oregonian and a handful of other Oregon media outlets, involved Milwaukie (Ore.) Rex Putnam High and Liberty (Ore.) High, with Putnam rolling out as 63-0 victors. That the Putnam Kingsmen would emerge victorious was rarely in question. The final score was, however, and Liberty players, coaches and fans were plenty upset when the final whistle sounded.
"Right now, they are hurting inside," Liberty coach Eric Mahlum told the Oregonian. "They care. They've got great character. They're just hurting. They'd like to take this one and play it over. Not necessarily to change the scoreboard, but change the way we played tonight."
While Mahlum was most critical of the effort of his own team and himself, he and other Liberty supporters had plenty of reasons to be upset with the final scoreline. The outcome of the game was well out of question when Deshawn Stephens, the star wide receiver and kick returner for Putnam, scored his sixth touchdown of the game during the fourth quarter.
Yet, despite criticisms aimed at Stephens and other Putnam stalwarts, Kingsmen coach Brad Lewman steadfastly defended his decision to play a majority of his starters throughout the game, citing the ability for the blowout to serve as a pseudo practice and an overwhelming lack of varsity depth as significant motivation to push a general tenet of sportsmanship to the side.
"I think the Liberty coaches were a little bitter about it, and I see their point," Lewman told the Oregonian. "On the other side, for me, we only have 26 kids that we dress down on a Friday night. We don't have a ton of numbers, and I wouldn't have been able to make wholesale substitutions.
"If I take the starters out, I'm really putting in junior varsity starters who have one quarter of eligibility left. If one of those kids gets hurt, then I may have to forfeit a JV game, because that's how low the numbers are."
Incredibly, the final scoreline could have been even worse, too. The final quarter and a half of Putnam's 63-0 thrashing was played with a running clock, a move instituted after the Kingsmen built up a 42-0 lead.
Regardless, the blowout game has sparked a legitimate statewide debate about the ethics of squad staffing in one-sided contests. While no one would ask Lewman to knowingly forfeit a future junior varsity game in favor of playing younger players in a blowout victory, some might encourage him to consider the option, for reasons of both sportsmanship and player safety.
Those calls may fall on deaf ears, however, as Lewman sounds like he's having none of that logic.
"It was a chance to have all the varsity starters continue to work together," Lewman said. "We get terrible scout team looks Monday through Wednesday in practice. And I hate to say that it was a chance to try to make ourselves better against a quality defense and offense, but really that's what it was."