Sometimes it can be really hard to do the right thing.
Take Jake Eisenbarth for example. During the semifinals of the Montana Class AA football playoff in 2012, Eisenbarth suffered a concussion.
He could have kept quiet about the injury and played in the championship game, which turned out to be one of the best nights in Butte sports history.
Instead, a few days before the game, Eisenbarth told his coach that his head hurt.
Butte High head coach Arie Grey could have just sent the running back to the locker room. He could have said “Ix-nay on the concussion-aye.”
No coach would want to lose a player of Eisenbarth’s magnitude heading into the championship game. Earlier in the season, Eisenbarth scored four touchdowns in a win over Missoula Sentinel.
The junior running back was a perfect complement to senior Zach Bunney, a 1,000-yard rusher in Butte High’s potent offensive attack. Losing Eisenbarth hurt Butte High’s chances in the title game.
Sending the running back to the athletic trainers meant he would go into concussion protocol, and it would take about three weeks before he would be cleared to return to play. Grey and the Bulldogs did not have three weeks. They were facing the Bozeman Hawks in four days
If doing the right thing was hard for Grey, though, he never showed it. The coach responded to his player by immediately sending him to the athletic trainer.
Eisenbarth had to watch the Bulldogs beat the Hawks 38-36 thriller while wearing street clothes. When Eisenbarth goes to his 20th class reunion, however, he will remember the game because his coach valued his well being and safety more than he did a win, even a championship game win.
Doing the right thing is often the unpopular thing to do. It can cost you friendships. It can cost your school tuition dollars. It can cost you votes.
Take Butte Central football coach Don Peoples Jr. for example. He took a public beating when he made the call to forfeit Butte Central’s season-opening game at Hamilton.
Peoples knew that his team was not ready because of the strict limitations put on his team because of the coronavirus pandemic. He knew putting a young and not-ready team on the field would mean seeing players get hurt.
So, Peoples took the criticism from fans and fellow coaches because he valued the health and safety of his players more than he did a win or a loss.
Later in the season, Peoples and the Butte Central administration demonstrated that value once again when they canceled the Maroons’ final two football games because one player tested positive for COVID-19 and several others were in quarantine.
Central played just five games on the season, though the school is trying to get one last game set so the players can have one more experience with Friday night lights.
That game, though, would have to be played after the Maroons are out of quarantine during the first week of November. It would also need a team that missed the playoffs to stick around and practice for nearly two full weeks just to play that game without playoff implications.
It’s worth asking, though, because the BC players deserve it. They put in so much hard work only to see it wiped away because the wrong person sat next to the wrong person.
What they had taken away from them can never be replaced.
The majority of Butte Central’s varsity volleyball players are also in quarantine, which means coach Becky Hancock and the BC administration had to make the tough call to cancel the final three games of the regular season.
That means six seniors will miss out on their final home games as Maroons.
Butte Central’s sports have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus. Part of that stems from the fact that the Maroons have a very high percentage of students who also play sports.
Part of it comes from being such a small school. Butte High had a couple of senior captains out for their season opener in football. Sure, that hurt the Bulldogs, but it was not as obvious because the Bulldogs have more than 100 players on the team.
Butte Central has less than 20 varsity players, and they cannot add a secondary or offensive line from the practice squad.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, the Maroons have been honest and transparent about the virus.
As sad as it sounds, there have been lots of whispers about schools and towns that have not been the same. Really, it has been remarkable that some schools, cities and towns have been hit hard by the virus, but it somehow missed the football team.
Yes, some schools and athletes are going above and beyond to try to avoid the virus, but the numbers just do not add up. We have just heard too many stories of players being told to avoid taking tests because it would sideline them for so long.
Last week, the superintend of schools in Bigfork sent an email to the parents of students because he is “aware that many Bigfork Middle School and High School students and their families are currently choosing to not get tested for COVID-19.”
That sad statement comes as 12 percent of the staff at the schools has tested positive for the potentially-deadly virus.
It seems impossible to believe that it is only people from Bigfork being that short sighted. You probably own a bridge or two if you think that is not happening all over.
Other superintendents just have not written letters yet.
It might be a while before we have the capability to test every athlete on a regular basis like they do in professional sports, but high school athletes and their families should get tested whenever they have a symptom or come in contact with someone who might have the virus.
That should go without saying.
Avoiding taking a test for such selfish reasons is criminal. Such actions could lead to the sickness and even death of others. Undoubtedly, they have.
Eisenbarth was not going to give his teammates and opponents a concussion simply by being out on the field with him. If he wanted to be quiet and play that championship game, he would have only been hurting himself.
The coronavirus, on the other hand, is a different story. Players who avoid the test because it is an incontinence or because they do not want to have to miss some games might actually kill another player. Or, they could kill their parents and grandparents, or the parents and grandparents of their teammates and players.
They could kill their coaches.
It is bad enough that we have a leadership vacuum at almost every level when it comes to the coronavirus. On top of that, having parents and coaches telling their own players to not get tested because they are valuing a win over safety is just unfathomable.
It is great that the superintendent in Bigfork sent out that email. It is a crying shame that he felt that he had to.
Sure, doing the right thing is not always easy. When it comes to the coronavirus, however, it should be.
Unfortunately, it seems too many people are working too hard to do the wrong thing.