BY JEFF FALK
There are certain inherent and unspoken duties that come with being a coach. Things like assessing talent, formulating game plans and running a clean program.
But first and foremost, a coach’s number-one responsibility is assuring the safety of his players.
A week ago, Lebanon Christian Academy girls’ basketball coach Craig Griffiths faced a situation where he feared for the physical well-being of his charges. And while his response to the circumstances was founded in emotions, ultimately his decision-making was clear and rational.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, during a home game with Emmanuel Baptist Academy, Griffiths pulled his team off the court because, as he put it, the contest had become so physical that he feared his players could get hurt. Griffiths actions resulted in a forfeit and cost his team a victory.
“That is, absolutely, how I feel,” said Griffths. “That’s the obvious thing. It wasn’t like we were losing and quit. The thought was, ‘My girls aren’t going to be protected. And I’m not getting a response from the people who are there to keep order.’ I thought that trumped trying to get a win or my girls returning the physicality.”
When Griffiths pulled his players off the floor, about three minutes into the third quarter, the Panthers were leading 30-19. To this point, that forfeit loss remains the only blemish on Lebanon Christian’s 4-1 record.
“The first half, in my opinion, was very physical,” said Griffiths. “A lot of my girls complained to me. And several times, my girls were knocked to the floor. At halftime, I approached the officials and expressed my concern. I told them, “I think it’s too physical. Will you tighten it up?’ They just walked away and didn’t acknowledge my concerns.
“My girls were frustrated,” Griffiths continued. “My point guard didn’t want to go out for the second half. And in the second half, the pattern was still there. I didn’t debate what they called, but what they let go.”
Early in the second half, Griffiths said Panther Rachel Neuin suffered a concussion, after bumping her head from a fall that resulted from to a collision with an Emmanuel Baptist player. According to Griffiths, Neuin saw a doctor, had a CAT-scan of her head and has been diagnosed with headaches and post-concussion symptoms.
It wasn’t too long after that incident that Griffiths pulled his team off the court.
“Maybe a minute or so later, the officials called a foul on one of my girls,” said Griffiths. “I thought it was in response to the other team’s physicality. I suggested the call was unbelievable and that earned me my first technical. At that point, I spoke to the other official and said, ‘I believe the game is too physical.’ They suggested I was crying and whining. At that point, I didn’t think they (the officals) were going to do anything. This physicality was being encouraged.
“So I pulled them off the court at that point,” Griffths added. “I took them (his players) back to the locker room. They didn’t recognize at that point that we had forfeited. But later they thanked me for taking a stand and sticking up for them.”
A former official himself and a coach for 18 years, Griffiths said he had never experienced anything like that before. And this reporter has never heard of a team being pulled from a contest for those specific circumstances.
“It’s strange,” said Griffiths. “It was a surreal moment. But in that moment, it was very clear what I had to do. Generally, we had the game in hand. The physicality was being allowed. But the touch stuff was being called. No one wants to lose a game. I think we would’ve won that game.
“I’ve had those officals before,” Griffiths added. “I don’t want to relay that they were bad officials. It was a bad night. They weren’t acknowledging me or tightening it up.”
Griffiths said that after the game he was approached by parents and fans and that he was supported in the stance he took.
“Enough was enough,” said Griffiths. “When I look back, I regret nothing. We were the better team. I haven’t heard anything but positive responses. I protected them.”
Lebanon Christian will play Emmanuel Baptist again, later this season.
“We have to play them again,” said Griffiths. “But the girls are apprehensive. Yes, my girls would say that they always play physical. We don’t like playing this team because they always play like that. They’re coached to play physical.”
Griffiths also said that, as a rule, his Panthers don’t shy away from physical play.
“I try and coach the girls that way,” said Griffiths. “We have to match other teams’ intensity level. We’ve played physical games, but it was all in the context of the game. We’re used to hitting the floor. We’re used to bumps and bruises. We don’t back down.”
What the incident could do for Lebanon Christian is provide it with a rallying point, and thus bring it closer as a unit.
“We’ve moved on as a team,” said Griffiths. “It’s built a unity right of way. The girls know I’m there for them as a coach. They’re a very determined group. Their focus has been heightened.”