Kids deserve cheers, win or lose

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Ironton Fighting Tigers were demolished Friday night, 62-6, by a dominant Columbus Bishop Hartley football team.

And it took a volleyball coach to put the lopsided loss into perspective.

“So what?”

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Midway through the second quarter, as the stands began to empty, some Ironton fans were grumbling, saying things about the Tigers such as “They can’t block,” “They’re scared,” “They don’t play with heart,” “They don’t act like they want to win,” etc.

The most absurd excuse I heard was that IHS Athletic Director Mark LaFon was to blame for scheduling two Columbus schools back-to-back. (Ironton was defeated 42-8 the week prior by Columbus Bishop Watterson).

But at no time did I hear anyone utter the obvious, that the Tigers have been beaten the past few weeks by exceptionally good football teams.

That changed a few minutes after the scoreboard went blank.

Following the game, no excuses were heard from IHS volleyball coach Beth Campbell, sister of Tiger assistant football coach Mike Freeman.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen Ironton get beaten,” I said to her as she passed by me outside the southeast end zone.

Beth, who had obviously heard the same complaints I had heard…and now appeared to be repeating…stopped in her tracks and gave me a lecture I wish everyone who calls him/herself a Tiger fan could have absorbed. Her rapid response, most of which I cannot recall verbatim smacked me in the face with perspective.

But I do remember two things she said very clearly: “Are we supposed to win every game we play?” and “If we don’t play the best teams, how are we going to know how good we really are?”

I thought about Beth’s rant on the drive home. How does anybody know how good they are at anything unless they are challenged by others with equal or greater talent?

Our greatest lessons in life come through failures.

While Friday’s game was not a success for the Tigers on the football field, what lessons did these young men learn…not just about football, but about life?

And what lessons can we, as fans, learn with them?

Midway through the third quarter, before most of the starters were removed from the game, I noticed Aaron Stephens continuing to play with intensity, as though the outcome was still in doubt.

I greatly admired the play of Tristan Cox, a 15-year-old sophomore thrust into the most high-profile spotlight in Lawrence County, quarterback of the Ironton Fighting Tigers, on Bob Lutz Field in the most storied stadium in southern Ohio.

And I inwardly laughed at the jeers from the sidelines, mostly from grown men who obviously felt their pride was on the line in a contest played by adolescents.

Which leads me to another question: Do we love our kids less when they lose a ball game?

In the grand scheme of life, the final score of this game means nothing. A loss is a loss.

As the Tigers head into their game with Oak Hill this week, Mark Vass and his staff will certainly be working diligently to correct flaws in the game plan that have become obvious the past few weeks.

Too bad we fans don’t have a head coach who can help us overcome our mistakes. If we did, I’m certain his or her overarching message would be, “If you expect perfection from teenagers, or if your self-esteem is determined by a scoreboard in a game in which you didn’t participate, you need to reexamine your life.”

Root for our kids, win or lose. And when they lose, show some class and give the other team props instead of blaming our coaches and players.

And then, let life continue.

When it comes to football, Ironton is known throughout the state as knowing how to win.

But we appear to have major issues handling losses.

I nominate Beth Campbell as head coach of the fans. She is one of the few I encountered Friday night whose priorities were in the right place.


Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at