“Give me back my ball.”
With those words Oak Ridge Military Academy head football coach Bryan Pallone ended Northeast Academy’s Homecoming game Friday night.
As the Cadets headed toward their bus, a packed house of Northeast Academy students and alumni were left wondering what would make a coach forfeit a game with 6:32 left in the second quarter. Was it because they were losing 36-6 (and hasn’t Northeast been there before)?
Was it because they had planned to walk off the field early ahead of time? Were they just poor sports?
Like everyone out there I had my opinions about what happened.
I was at the game and couldn’t think of any one thing that might have triggered a coach to pull his players. I even watched the game tape to see if I missed something.
I talked with several players and Northeast Head Football Coach Collin Sneed. Our sports editor talked with the referees, who went to Northampton-East after their short night.
Then I decided to go to the source.
Monday morning I called Oak Ridge Military Academy and left a message for the athletic director.
I told him I was the reporter covering Friday night’s game and wanted to talk with him before I wrote an editorial.
Coach Pallone called me back Monday afternoon and was very pleasant to talk with, but his explanation didn’t do much to ease my confusion.
He said in his 18 years of football he had never seen a team walk off the field before the game was over. He didn’t want to call it a forfeit, but acknowledged you had to call it something.
He was very complementary of Northeast, saying they were one of the better schools on Oak Ridge’s schedule.
He talked with me about the four hour drive and how the teams were warmed up one hour before the scheduled kick-off of 7:30 p.m. Pallone thought the game started at 7:00, even though on their website it is listed as beginning at 7:30.
He told me he was in no hurry to get home as he wanted the kids to get the experience, yet according to several people I talked with, Pallone was complaining about the late start time from the moment he arrived in Lasker.
According to the schedule on their website the Cadets home games start at either 4:00 or 5:00, but three of their away games (NEA, Hobgood and Parrott) started at 7:30.
Pallone described the first series, which ended with a Cadets touchdown. On the second play one of his players was whistled for holding. When asked for the number the referee gave Pallone a number he didn’t have on his roster.
That’s football, that’s fair, (the referees) will miss some calls.
What Pallone did complain about in our conversation was “hits after the whistle, piling on (the ball carrier), hitting in the back of the knees after the play was over.”
He called it “dirty football” yet later in the conversation said “the kids weren’t dirty, the whistle was late”.
We talked about the player ejected. Pallone said a Northeast player took a swing at his player, but didn’t connect so “No harm, no foul.”
Yet, according to Pallone, the rules state if you take a swing you get ejected and Northeast didn’t get a penalty.
He attemped to talk to the referee, but according to Pallone the ref would not talk to him.
His player had to be held back by several teammates before he was ejected.
Then his team was flagged for a personal foul.
Pallone talked to the parents that made the trip and his athletic director and decided to leave.
“It was getting dangerous.
Basically I was looking out for my guys.
I hadn’t been able to talk to the officials.
I told the white head (head referee) “You need to protect my players n this is (expletive) and the referee called an unsportsmanlike on me. When it’s at that point I had no choice.
It was out of control.”
What was out of control?
There were no injury timeouts and no player, on either team, had to be helped off the field.
From where I stood the game was called tight so that it wouldn’t get out of control.
“I’m worried I should have handled the situation differently,” he said. “Maybe called a timeout and pulled the other coach and the referee and talked. Protecting my kids was the first thing and that (walking off the field) was the only way I could see doing it after not being able to talk to the ref.”
What Oak Ridge did was the most blatant show of unsportsmanlike conduct I have ever seen.
These players, military school students, showed no respect for the game or Northeast.
I watched Oak Ridge players, after being flagged, dancing on the field or turning to walk off the penalty and talking over their backs towards Northeast players.
I expected more from the nation’s third oldest military school. I expected a disciplined team and coaching staff. I expected players that would say “Yes sir” not “I’m going to beat your …” (vulgarity I can’t print).
I expected a team that would line up and shake hands, win or lose, not a team that walked off the field without an explanation.
According to a letter on their website from the academic dean Oak Ridge is a “school with a long and proud tradition of preparing students for success in college and beyond.”
How does quitting in the middle of a game, essentially taking your toys and going home, prepare students for life?
Coach Pallone said it was no disrespect to Northeast, but that is exactly what it was. What he taught those players was that it’s okay to walk away if things aren’t going your way, not the lesson high school kids need to learn.
I’ve covered Northeast for five years and during the first three years they routinely lost by 40 or more points. Even with just enough players dressed out to play, they never quit. That shows not only pride in your school and your team, but in yourself.
Also on the website are pictures from their Homecoming game. I wonder how they would have felt if Cresset Christian left before the game was over.
Heather Odom is a Sports Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.