The folks who live in Roosevelt, Utah, pronounce it “ROSE-velt” because that is the way Teddy, the “Rough Rider” and former president would say it. A small town of just 6,100 in the northwest corner of the state, they know a lot about Teddy and are well-acquainted with his famous lines:
The great man once said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Last Friday night a football coach at Union High in Roosevelt, Matt Labrum, dared a mighty thing. After hearing some of his players were cyber-bulling other students and recognizing some discipline problems, he suspended every player on the team. That’s right, made every last one of them turn in their jersey with less than half the season gone.
“The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field,” he wrote in a letter that was handed to each athlete. The players – to a man – were devastated. “They were in the locker room for a really long time,” said Jenn Rook, whose son Karter plays for the team. “They came out, and there were tears. Those boys were wrecked,” she told the Deseret News. “My son got in the car and he was really upset. He told me, ‘First of all, there is no football team. It’s been disbanded!’”
Well, not quite. Coach Labrum called for a 7 a.m. meeting on Saturday and told his squad they if they wanted their jerseys back then each boy had to earn it. And that’s when Teddy ROSE-velt’s “glorious triumph” first kicked in. “We really got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. Not one of them fought us on this,” said Labrum (who dared greatly).
The first thing Labrum did after the kids went through a sleepless night was to stress the “Attitude Reflects Leadership” theme from the inspirational movie, “Remember the Titans.” Then he carefully laid out a plan that would instill character. Monday afternoon – instead of practice – the team washed windows and pulled weeds at the town’s junior high school.
After the grueling work, Coach Labrum made them dress in clean shirts and neckties. But instead of being the honored guests at the annual Cougar Legend Banquet, where former sports heroes and contributors are honored, the team served the meal, waited tables, took out the garbage, and – get this – because there was a such a turn-out the food ran out and the players never got to eat.
On Tuesday the team did an in-service project at the Uintah Basin Rehabilitation and Senior Villas with its 12-bed Alzheimer’s unit. (Karter Rook fixed a woman’s computer.) Another noticed a screen-saver with a tall soldier in it and found out a lady’s husband was in World War II. The boy and old woman talked an hour.
Additionally, there was individual service to others that each player had to do on his own time. Each deed required a written report, pictures to substantiate the before-and-after, and the signatures of the parents. Karter Rook cleaned the family pig pen. Gavin Neilson replaced a broken fence. Magnify that by 40 players and sink it into a small town. Can you say “glorious triumph?”
CNN sent cameras. It was in USA Today. CBS News ran the story at the top of the hour. The New York Times sent reporters. Roosevelt, Utah was suddenly the capital of “Character” in the United States this week. The tiny town was bombarded by the media and the kids were wide-eyed – Coach Labrum was talking to Anderson Cooper! “We told the boys, ‘This isn’t just Utah. We have an opportunity to be an inspiration to an entire nation by doing the right things, by following through — and not just this week. We need to continue to do the right things.'” the coach said, who was wide-eyed, too!
On Wednesday there was a required two-hour study hall (“You better have enough work …”) and finally there was a poem that must be memorized and recited to any coach that asks during the study time. After study hall on Wednesday, Coach Labrum called the names of 32 of the 41 players, handing them the black-and-gold jerseys they had “earned.”
At 6:05 a.m. on a cold Thursday morning the coaches took the squad through practice – hard and tough and fast but the spirit, oh the spirit. Last night, long after this story was written, the Union High will have played Emery. It is the school’s Homecoming game.
Whether they win or not matters little. Union High School’s football team has already celebrated its “glorious triumph.” This week the kids got back their character. How good is that?
Here is the letter Matt Landrum handed each player when he suspended each one late last Friday night.
* * *
UNION FOOTBALL CHARACTER
Gentlemen, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing our family, school, community, alumni, family and yourselves. It is a privilege to play this wonderful game! We must earn the opportunity, to have the honor to put on our high schools jersey each Thursday and Friday night!
The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field. We want student-athletes that are humble to learn and grow through adversity and success on and off the field. We want a team that others want to associate themselves with and support; winning isn't the most important criteria for that to happen.
Humbleness, thankfulness, humility, respect, courage and honor are much more important than winning ball games! We can achieve both if we start to act with others' feelings in mind and focus on how we can make someone else's day instead of just wrapped up in ourselves. WHEN WE ARE WORKING ON THIS AND ACHIEVING THIS WE WILL BE MOLDING OUR CHARACTER IN A POSITIVE WAY! Right now we are way off as a collective group. We want change and are going to make changes now.
As of tonight we are no longer playing football until we meet certain criteria!
TURN YOUR JERSEYS IN NOW!
Saturday: 7:00 a.m. electing captains "Attitude Reflects Leadership" — Remember the Titans.
Monday: 3:30 we will be doing a service project during practice time, come prepared to work, then we are all required to attend the Cougar Legend Banquet. Find ways to serve during this event.
Tuesday: We will be performing more service in lieu of practice.
Wednesday: Study Hall begins at 3:30 and we better have specific items to work on. We will be in there for the duration of practice. You must have enough work for 2 hours.
Criteria to EARN jersey back for Friday's Game
1) Attend all practices that we have planned and any others that may come up.
2) Be on time and totally prepared
3) No F's or discipline problems
4) Do an individual service project for your family, give me a typed report of it and pictures and have your parents sign it. (Due Wednesday before study hall)
5) Memorize and pass this quote off to one of the coaches at some point during study hall:
"Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it, piece by piece — by thought, by choice, courage, and determination."
If you meet ALL criteria by Wednesday night, you will have earned the privilege to play in the games on Thursday and Friday. If you fail then you will miss this week's game.
* * *