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October 23, 2012 - John Stack
Last night I was talking to my son about the Saranac Lake football team. I said ‘Yeah, Coach Bennett only cares about winning “. My fiancé, a counselor, says questioningly ‘Did you just say the coach ONLY cares about winning?’. I did, and I meant it, but not in a bad way, but in a flattering way.

This year, the Red Storm has steamrolled the competition. Winning by 30 points every week. Our 1st string defense wasn’t scored upon until the last regular season game. And that’s my point. ‘When the first string is out there’. Most of the starters don’t even know what it’s like to play in the fourth quarter. Why do we win by 30? Because if we left in the starters, we’d be winning by 50 or 60 every week. If coach Bennett let it happen, Matt Phalen would be leading the league by twofold in passing yardage. Mike Burpoe might have the highest yards for receivers. If we wanted, we could run Lance Ackerson 25 times a game and he could probably lead the league in rushing by far. But we don’t. Matt throws 10 times a game. Lance might have a heavy day with 10 carries. Seth Pickering might have 2 catches and a touchdown and 100 yards. Kevin Morgan might have 100 yards combined on 5 or 6 touches.

No. This isn’t a star making team when it comes to statistics. That was evident last week against Moriah. The Vikings running back had 20 carries in a futile attempt to keep our offense off the field. But you know what? We are ranked third in the State in Class C, and we all expect another deep run in the playoffs. That’s what counts.

But its also more. Saturday, we didn’t play well in the first half. Clinging to a 20-16 lead. Not executing. On any other team, that halftime talk from the coach was going to be a bruiser. My son told me what it was like in the shed. He said the varsity players were IRATE. They were mad, disappointed and angry at how they had played. They were yelling and hollering at themselves. Coach Bennett didn’t need a Knute Rockne speech or a Woody Hayes beat down. The players knew. They came back in the 3rd quarter and executed. How bad did they take out their frustration? By the end of the third quarter, my son, as well as a number of other kids just called up to varsity from JV were playing against the Vikings starters.

I believe this is very important to build a classy, successful team. It starts in flag football. All of us parents are told how to behave, and what is expected out of us. We don’t berate coaches or other players or our own players. In turn, the coaches don’t scream at the kids and mock them on the field. Last time I heard one of our coaches call someone out on the field was to yell at an opposing coach to not treat his own players so poorly!I remember a tackle B game with my oldest son. Tim Burpoe was the db coach, out on the field in a game. A kid just blew a coverage and got smoked for a TD. Tim didn’t raise his voice, yell or get on the kid. Just patted him on the back and told him to get them next time. One time, in a PAL game, the coach from the opposing team was also the qb’s dad. He had fumbled or whatnot. The coach went out and grabbed him and berated the kid on the field. I have never seen that or anything close to that in my kids 12 years playing here. And that’s important.

As a player, would you be in fear every single snap that you were going to get reamed out by a coach if you made the slightest mistake?Would you want to continue to play on that team? What if you only got to watch every game from the bench, even if you were up by 40? Our JV players got quality time last week on Varsity. That pays huge dividends down the road. Kids want to play for SL. Kids know they will actually see playing time. If a kid gets injured, the backup has played against the best players and its not a big step down. Kids that might not have grown to their bodies yet stay on the team and make big contributions later.

I’ve written before about how the kids have responded to coaches with a very positive attitude. I’ve written about how Johnny Muldowney coached my son a couple years back and the kids would run through a brick wall for him. He’s now on the varsity staff. Kids give the coaches the respect they deserve, and the coaches give it back. Do the coaches yell? Of course. That is the nature of football. But, do the coaches denigrate and put the kids down? No. Someone might say ‘well, a good team needs some tough discipline and screaming and such. Well, my son has played on teams here for about 10 years. He has rarely tasted defeat, from flag, to tackle A,B, Modified and JV. On JV this year, the opposing teams almost always had bigger offensive and defensive lines than us. Guess what? We shut out 3 of the last 4 teams we played. Teams found it a victory just getting a first down. My response to this? We must be doing something right. That’s what it means to only care about ‘winning’.


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