Jared Lankford: Selling your soul for a lousy win

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

In Mark 8:36, Jesus asked a simple, yet powerful question: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

The question was posed to make those who would follow him think about what they chose to value in life, where they should channel their efforts and what course they should pursue.

Lankford

While its context is spiritual in nature, it can be shifted to apply to sports equally as well.

Coaching, especially at the high school level, is a tough job.

On the outside looking in, a group of individuals take on a task to teach a sport to high school kids. Then, the athletes demonstrate that education in the form of contested match-ups.

However, it goes much deeper than that.

Coaches use sports to teach athletes about life, responsibility, accountability, citizenship, self-discipline, taking ownership and pride in accomplishment in both wins and losses.

In today’s society, it is easy to lose sight of what a high school coach’s true job is and just concentrate on a metric of wins and losses in order to cast judgment.

Last week, Missouri witnessed first hand what happens when coaches lose their way and only seek the fleeting glory that comes from winning games.

Cardinal Ritter, yes, the same Lions team Cassville defeated for its first state title and was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 2 and nationally ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps, made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The hubbub started in the 2018 Class 3 state championship game when Bill Jackson, a sophomore, was ejected for unsportsmanlike behavior late in the fourth quarter.

Per Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) rules, an ejected player is deemed ineligible for the next game. That meant Jackson would be forced to sit out Week 1 of the 2019 season.

The Lions, based in St. Louis, traveled 286 miles away to Nazareth Academy, located in the suburbs of Chicago, for that Week 1 contest.

According to David Kvidahl, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch high school sports writer who broke the story, a player who appeared to be Jackson wore No. 24 but was identified as freshman Marvin Burks.

When Jackson returned from suspension in Week 2, he wore his traditional No. 4.

However, photos from both games showed Jackson played against Nazareth. He was easily identified by his unique tattoos that run down his right arm that were clearly visible in photos from the game.

Video posted on Cardinal Ritter Coach Brandon Gregory’s Instagram account shows No. 24 leading the Lions through their pre-game huddle call and response. A similar video shows No. 4 doing the same thing in Week 2.

While wearing No. 24, Jackson rushed for 109 yards and had a 56-yard touchdown run in the 32-21 win over the defending Class 7 Illinois champion.

After a Week 2 win in which Jackson rushed for 147 yards, Jackson and Gregory told STLhighschoolsports.com that the junior had indeed sat out Week 1.

Jackson was quoted as saying “Watching last week, it wasn’t fun at all. It just gave me a spark.”

Gregory added about the freshman Burks, “He earned it, he deserved it. It was his time to play ball.”

Last week, when the school was questioned by media about the use of the player, Cardinal Ritter launched an internal investigation and then self-reported to MSHSAA that they had used an ineligible player and that they were forfeiting the first seven games of the season.

On Friday, the school announced that in addition to forfeiting the games, it had canceled the remaining two games on its schedule, would not participate in the 2019 playoffs, all current football coaches were “permanently released from Cardinal Ritter College Prep immediately,” and Preston Thomas, the school’s athletic

director, had made the decision to retire.

Gregory did attempt to tell his side of the story and take some of the responsibility for his actions.

The coach said he sat Jackson during the jamboree game, thinking that would satisfy the suspension. Gregory said he takes responsibility for not closely looking into MSHSAA rules.

“That’s kinda my wrongdoing of not knowing the rules and that he shouldn’t have not sat out the jamboree, he should have sat out Week 1 so that’s what happened,” Gregory said to KMOV4 in St. Louis.

He also denied that Jackson wearing a different number on his jersey was part of a cover-up.

“That’s a thing our kids do on the regular basis, you know, they try to change jersey numbers and sometimes don’t let us know,” Gregory said.

It is difficult to believe that a coach that has been a part of football all his life and involved as a head coach did not know the suspension rule. Additionally, it is a tough pill to ask fans to swallow when you say that kids change jersey numbers without coaches knowing. Keep in mind, the coach was already on record saying his athlete sat out Week 1 in Illinois.

The real losers in this are the players that have lost their season whose only crime is being a part of the Lions.

Cardinal Ritter made an exceptionally difficult, but necessary decision to clean house.

Parents trust coaches to instill core values and that trust was clearly violated in this case.

The school has not stated when it will restart its football program.

In the end we can clearly gain a peek into what Jesus stated. The Lions’ coaches may have been on the verge of a state championship and a prep national title, but they lost their way by focusing on the wrong goals.

The lessons learned from this ordeal will not be so soon forgotten.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or at sports@monett-times.com

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