Matt Labrum, the head football coach at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah, has taken the concept of character-building to a whole new level.
Amid reports of cyberbullying and other off-the-field problems plaguing his team, Labrum suspended his entire football team—80 players in total—after a loss last Friday to Judge Memorial Catholic High School.
UPDATE: Thursday, Sept. 26, at 10:35 a.m. ET
Lauren Zima of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirms many of the team's players have been reinstated:
Wednesday night the team found out all but 9 of the 41 varsity players had been reinstated.
On Friday, they’ll play in their big Homecoming game.
---End of update---
According to Amy Donaldson of the Deseret News, Labrum and his entire coaching staff sat the team down and instructed them to turn in their equipment, including uniforms. He then made it clear the team would not be allowed back on the field until they proved themselves—not as players, but as human beings:
“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” said Labrum, an alumnus of the program he’s coached for the past two years. “We felt like we needed to make a stand.” [...]
“We looked at it as a chance to say, ‘Hey, we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game,” Labrum said. “We got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. There was none of them that fought us on it.”
Labrum made the decision after increasing reports from school officials and fellow students alerted the staff about his players' unbecoming behavior.
Guidance counselors at the school came to the staff last week, indicating that multiple football players were using social media site ask.fm to bully another student. Because the website is anonymous—users can mask identities via usernames if they choose—Labrum was unable to identify the culprits who harassed the unnamed student.
Labrum then met with the student, apologizing for his players' actions, and came up with the idea of a team-wide suspension soon after.
“We said, ‘We’ve got to make a change,’” said Labrum. “We were pretty open with (the players) about what we’d heard. We don’t want that represented in our program…Whoever it is (doing the bullying), we want to help get them back on the right path.”
Players on the team had other troubles, which included academic shortcomings and disrespecting teachers inside the classroom.
Although the "suspension" lasted just one day—the team was reformed after a meeting this past Saturday—Labrum's scare tactics apparently worked. Union High elected five new captains and will perform community service this week in lieu of practicing for their upcoming game against Emery High.
Amy Donaldson interviewed many of the players while they were cleaning up weeds in a residential neighborhood.
“I still have the love for it and everything,” senior running back Gavin Nielsen said of playing football after the suspension. “But it helped me realize, it’s not all about football.”
Union High is 3-2 this season heading into Friday's game. Labrum has been the school's head football coach since 2012, and it's evident he cares just as much about his role as a coach as he does about his players' development as people off the field.