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SPRINGVILLE -- A high school football coach is defending his decision to cancel a football game last week to give his injured players a chance to rest while they prepare for the final games of the season and the playoffs.
Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton and Springville coach Scott Mitchell both agreed their teams would benefit by canceling last week's matchup because they had a lot of injured players.
The schools are in separate regions, so not playing would not affect their playoff standings. Still, the move has sparked a debate about participation and competition.
"A lot of these kids will never play football again; and even if they did, there's nothing like high school football," says Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson.
Robinson, who played high school football himself, recently took issue in his column with the decision coaches Wooton and Mitchell made.
"The game really didn't mean anything. Why not play it and use the kids that don't get that experience?" Robinson asked.
Coach Wootton declined to comment, but coach Mitchell said he wanted to state his position after being criticized by Robinson.
"We compete in life: We compete for grades; we compete for jobs; we compete in a lot of things, and it's a healthy competition," Mitchell said. "To say we are just out there for these kids to participate, I think they need to learn how to compete and how to work and how to be a part of a team and how to have self-discipline and how to sacrifice. I think there is a lot of good things about competing."
Mitchell said he had five injured players, most being offensive linemen, who wouldn't have been able to play last week no matter who they played. He said by playing a game, he would have used second-string players who weren't as good in their protection and, in turn, would have put their starting quarterback and running back at risk.
"You say, 'Well, just play all your second-teamers.' And I say, 'I did. I played them all in the JV and sophomore game the day before," Mitchell said.
The head of the Utah High School Athletic Association says a decision to cancel a game is up to the schools.
"In the situation with Springville and Mountain crest, both teams mutually agreed to cancel the game," said UHSAA executive director Robert Cuff.
Robinson's column generated a healthy reaction with dozens of message board comments debating the nature of high school sports.
"I guess you have to examine what's the purpose of high school athletics. Is it to get ready for the playoffs, or is it to give them experiences that they'll never forget?" Robinson said.
"I understand his idea about participation. I'm not sure he understands our side about competition," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the game of football taught him a lot of life lessons and that's the reason he's coaching, to be a positive influence on the young men's lives while they're away from their parents. He said participation is important, which is why the football team does not cut anyone; and everyone gets to play, just not everyone starts on the varsity team.
The coach also pointed out there have been other high school football games in similar situations that have been canceled in the past.