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‘That’s football’? No wonder why numbers are dropping

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POSTED August 29, 2017 12:40 a.m.

As a sports reporter, I see a lot, both good and bad. There are people who will say, “I have seen it all now,” but not me. Because I know that I never know what is going to happen next. 

I have seen some pretty revolting exhibitions along the way, and I saw another on Saturday when the Manteca Jr. Buffaloes faced off with the Oakdale Stampede in youth football. The junior varsity Jr. Buffaloes had 12 players suited up and Oakdale had at least 30. Someone told me there were 42 in uniform, but I cannot attest to that.

Personally, I would not have taken the field with 12 players — especially on a 102-degree day where giving young boys frequent breaks is something that simply makes good sense. Apparently, there are nine more players who will be eligible to play this week, but that did not do anything for the shortage on Saturday.

Midway through the first quarter Oakdale led 24-0, and as the old adage goes, it was not that close. Manteca had problems even getting the center-quarterback exchange down. Oakdale would capitalize with a fumble recovery and then a touchdown within just a few plays. 

The Stampede kept doing everything possible to score, running sweeps and pitches to get the first-period score up to 38-0. At that point the Jr. Buffaloes requested a running clock, and Oakdale refused. (A running clock is mandatory with a 35-point differential at any time in the fourth quarter or upon mutual agreement between the two teams.)

The Stampede rationale was that all the players needed to get in. Balderdash. The time to start substituting was at 24-0 or even earlier. With a squad that big if the football gods give you a gift like Oakdale was handed Saturday, then the second- and third-tier players need to and deserve to get maximum playing time. 

But that is not the culture of a lot of football communities. There is a desire to punish and humiliate opponents, and that is not necessary. I have been on the wrong end of more than one of those shellackings, both as a player and as a coach, and it is no fun. And as a coach I never, ever inflicted that sort of humiliation on anyone. Once that game was well in hand – with no pre-determined threshold to begin substituting – I would modify my play calling to keep the ball between the tackles and substitute freely. 

The game Saturday was called at halftime because the Jr. Buffaloes were down to 10 players. (Oddly enough, they got their lone score in the 38-6 loss with only 10 players on the field.) 

But Manteca is not the only program in town hurting for numbers, and sad to say, that predicament is largely self-inflicted. Even before the concussion crisis came to the forefront, there were numbers shortages at multiple programs in town. At least one organization needs to fold, but egos trump common sense sometimes and the ones who suffer are the players. Oakdale does not subdivide itself, and look at the results. 

But Saturday’s was not the worse example of coaching discretion I have ever seen – that title goes to Robert Cendro, formerly of Sonora High. When the Wildcats came down the hill in 2005 to play East Union, a player for the Lancers had just died due to an injury sustained in a game two weeks earlier. 

Now 99 times out of 100, Sonora was going to win that game. (East Union went 1-9 that year and the Wildcats made it to the Sac-Joaquin Section finals where they were humiliated by Manteca after Cendro had talked trash about the Buffaloes defense.) But on that night, there was no way the Lancers were going to win. They were like a flock of deer caught in headlights. I felt so bad for them.

They were losing 28-0 late in the first half and Sonora was on the march. I assumed the Wildcats would let time run out and head into the locker room. Not a chance. Cendro called timeout so he could make the halftime score 35-0. 

I was appalled. What purpose did that serve? So after the game I asked Cendro if it was really necessary to get that fifth touchdown before halftime and he did not even bat an eye. His did not bat an eye in responding, “That’s football.”

That might be his and his ilk’s football, but it darned sure is not mine.

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