Some victories are bigger than others.
Armwood High School head football coach Sean Callahan has won two 4-A state championships — and could win a third this season. But even if he does, he likely will never have a more satisfying win than the 26-7 one his Hawks pinned on Plant High two Fridays ago. In effect, Callahan won a double-header.
He won big on the scoreboard and even bigger on principle, a rare parlay.
Faced with having to punish eight players, including five starters, for skipping class, he opted — amid much speculation — for their suspension for the much anticipated season-opener against Plant, the cross-county rival and defending state champion. It was a game that had been hyped all summer because the perennially powerful Hawks were looking to avenge last season’s playoff loss to Plant. Now they would get the South Tampa Panthers at home in Seffner in front of a packed house and regional television audience.
A lot of coaches, especially at highly successful, high-expectation programs such as Armwood, would have found a rationale for not having to play such a mega game minus five starters, including the quarterback. There would have been extra wind sprints; a come-to-Jesus session with parents, teachers, coaches, administrators, a guidance counselor, a preacher and the school psychologist; a humbling apology to teammates for “letting them down”; and more wind sprints. Then they would have played — even if they didn’t actually start.
Not only did the Armwood 8 not play, they were not allowed on the premises. If they wanted to follow the action, they could see it on TV like other non-participants.
What Callahan did was win one for standards.
Even at the high school level, the better players are often catered to, especially in the high-profile programs. A lot of the double standards, dubious behaviors and marginalized academics you see at the collegiate level, began in high school. And all that trash-talking, strutting, boorish “look at me” conduct you see on Sundays and Monday nights didn’t start with the NFL.
Callahan sent a signal to those too arrogant to follow rules that apply to everybody else. He sent a signal to those who don’t understand the words respect and accountability. He sent a signal while there was still time.