Thursday, May 23, 2013
Faced with the sudden resignation of its head coach, the Messalonskee High School football team did what it had to do on Friday night. The Eagles rallied around each other and played their best game of the season, beating Oxford Hills, 41-0.
It was the kind of game that will only help the Eagles put a difficult week behind them and focus on the rest of the season.
Something happened during the Eagles' practice Wednesday. Details have not been made public. Former head coach Wes Littlefield, who resigned Thursday, called it "a little incident with a kid that was blown out of proportion." Somebody disagrees, because whatever happened, it was investigated by the school. Oakland Police are investigating an incident at the school, but will not confirm it had anything to do with Littlefield.
Littlefield was in his 10th season as Messalonskee's head coach. He was known as an intense coach, but more importantly, the intensity was genuine.
Very few people on the planet have a nonsense detector as finely tuned as the high school athlete's. What they want out of a coach is knowledge, instruction and most of all, sincerity. A coach can push a high school athlete to the brink of exhaustion, and if the kid sees the results of the hard work, the kid will accept it, every time.
If a coach is loud and brash, with bluster for bluster's sake, then it all becomes white noise. That coach will quickly be tuned out.
Littlefield wasn't like that. His intensity was no act. He cared about his players, that's obvious. His teams bought into it, and the Eagles hard-nosed style of play was a reflection of their coach. Messalonskee reached the playoffs each of the last four seasons. With a record of 4-0 the Eagles sit in a three-way tie at the top of the Pine Tree Conference Class A division and appear headed back to the postseason this year.
As Messalonskee's coach, Littlefield walked a fine line between fierce and overbearing. On Wednesday, did he cross that line? He doesn't think so. Somebody disagrees.
Littlefield's resignation prompted online discussion surrounding the softness of today's athlete. In my day, commented some, coaches routinely gave a player a shove or a smack upside the helmet.
With all due respect to those use the term "old school" as a justification for everything, on this one, you're wrong.
In your day, you played with a concussion. Your ears buzzed like your skull was full of bees, and you couldn't focus your eyes. It was just getting your bell rung, because we didn't understand the severity of head injuries.
In your day, you went hours without a water break, because water was for those "soft" players and we didn't understand the devastating consequences dehydration can have on the body.
In your day, quite frankly, we did a lot of stupid things, because we didn't know any better. We know better now. We know you can motivate high school athletes in better ways. We know how to be intense and honest without resorting to abuse. One of the best high school coaches in Maine history shares Littlefield's name. Ask anyone who played basketball at Valley for Dwight Littlefield if he was intense. Then ask them how many times he raised his voice.
Now more than ever, we're very much in tune with what is needed to protect the safety of athletes, and that includes dismissing coaching methods once considered the norm. Because something was acceptable in the past, that does not mean it's acceptable today, no matter how fondly you remember it.
Wes Littlefield is a good football coach. He knows the game, and he knows how to pass his knowledge on to high school players. Whatever happened at Messalonskee practice Wednesday, Littlefield feels he did nothing wrong.
Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242