(Editor’s note: What follows is an open letter written by Julie Beidler, who covered the Friday, Sept. 6th scholastic football contest between Annville-Cleona and Hamburg, during which one player ripped the helmet off another and then proceeded to smash him in the head with it. Beidler is a sports correspondent for the Lebanon Daily News and an English teacher at Northern Lebanon High School.)
I covered the now infamous football game between Hamburg and Annville-Cleona for The Lebanon Daily News and stand firmly behind my decision not to name either player who got ejected or the athlete whose helmet was ripped off and used to beat him over the head. The decision was made with about ten minutes to go before my deadline.
Reporting on high school sports can get a little tricky, especially with regard to injuries. Working as a teacher at a local high school has taught me that the medical information on ANYONE cannot be disclosed due to HIPAA. The last thing I want to do is get the paper or myself into legal trouble.
Make no mistake, the incident was terrifying. It is one that I have never witnessed before and hope never occurs again. Seeing it repeatedly on WGAL, the Internet, and other news and technology feeds is just as gruesome to me as seeing it occur live. It was honestly the proverbial “happened in slow motion” incident that left quite a few people wondering if what they saw actually happened.
It did as seen over and over again in the days since.
But let me tell you what you didn’t see on any of those clips.
You didn’t see the coaches from BOTH teams keep the melee from being worse than it was.
You didn’t see the players from both sides waiting on their own sidelines for the officials to make their calls.
You didn’t see the officials huddle in the middle of the field to discuss it.
You may have seen an official or two diving into the pile to keep the situation from escalating if you can drag your eyes away from the scuffle.
You didn’t see the fans from both sides remain firmly planted in their seats.
You didn’t see the coaching staff from Annville-Cleona huddle the team and firmly explain that they expected good, clean football the rest of the way. Ditto for Hamburg’s coaching staff and players.
You didn’t see the game continue in that fashion with both teams putting the incident as far behind them as possible and playing the game with the respect it deserved the rest of the way.
Finally you didn’t see the teams meet at mid-field to shake hands without incident.
So when you watch the clips and hope for or against punishments being doled out, remember that there were other players who deserve to be recognized for what they didn’t do. Remember those kids and know that sportsmanship is not dead.
Remember the coaches and officials who kept this from being worse than it was.
I firmly stand behind my snap decision not to use names and still won’t. It’s not who I am. I just hope I am never in that position again, but I would make the same choice if I am.