WOODSTOCK– Gamesmanship or sportsmanship, that is the question.
There’s a fine line between the two, and it’s a line that some feel got crossed on Saturday in Sterling’s 68-20 loss to Belvidere North in a Class 5A first-round playoff game.
Consider two plays in particular: With North up 55-14 and 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Thunder fullback Ryan Wade re-entered the game to carry the ball on a 4th-and-3 play from the North 41. With six touchdowns and 130 yards to his credit at that time, he gained 11 yards, and the Thunder later scored to up their lead to 61-14.
After a Sterling TD, North executed a double reverse on the ensuing kickoff. Starting wingback Adam Haimbaugh, who already had 132 yards rushing and one TD, took it to the house from 85 yards to cap off the win.
The play left the North crowd in a joyous frenzy, talking about how they wanted a piece of Woodstock Marian next week.
Good luck with that.
Sterling, meanwhile, was in the unusual position of being a proud, historically successful program on the receiving end of a pounding. The potential was there for the game to get chippy or downright ugly, if pent up emotions were turned loose, but it never really did.
Most of the Golden Warriors simply walked off the field in tears, not for their performance, but because for some it was their last high school game.
As I interviewed Sterling head coach Jon Schlemmer, in the middle of the big WN on the 50-yard line, I noticed a pair of shoes next to us. They were from one on his players, reminiscent of a retiring wrestling coach leaving his shoes in the middle of the mat after coaching his last match.
I asked Schlemmer to assess the season, his first as head coach of the Golden Warriors, but all he wanted to do was talk about his players.
“I don’t look at it as my first year – it’s the seniors’ last year,” Schlemmer said. “Those guys, they did everything we asked – offensively, changing, and defensively, doing some different things. Kudos to those guys. I’m going to miss those guys a lot. I’m happy with the way they played. I wish it wouldn’t have ended like it did tonight, but nonetheless, it’s a great group, and I’m going to remember them for a long time.”
Shortly after our conversation, someone approached Schlemmer and said, “You shook his hand. I couldn’t have done that.”
The hand the person was referring to was that of North coach Jeff Schroeder, and the customary postgame handshake went off without a hitch.
It was the right thing to do, and Sterling, a team that has administered far many more beatings than it has received, will live to fight another day.