Mike McCombs

Answers needed after rivalry game turns ugly

A little more than two weeks ago -- three Friday nights -- there was some ugliness at Bluffton High School.

I'm not talking about the Bobcats' 80-14 thrashing of rival Hilton Head Island High, though that was ugly. I'm talking about what went on before and after the game.

According to letters sent to the Island Packet, Hilton Head High players were pelted with items thrown from the stands and subjected to verbal abuse from the fans.

While throwing items from the stands is never acceptable, some level of verbal abuse, rightly or wrongly, has become the norm at sporting events. Except that some players on this night were allegedly subjected to racial slurs.

If true, a surprising and disappointing occurrence in a community as diverse as Bluffton.

After the game, several Bluffton players were seen taunting Hilton Head High players, making obscene gestures and at least one had some things to say to Seahawks head coach B.J. Payne.

"Is it a rivalry? I don't know. What constitutes a rivalry?" Hilton Head High athletics director Joe Monmonier asked the week after the game. "What kind of behavior constitutes a rivalry?"

On the Tuesday following the game, the key parties -- Bluffton athletics director Dave Adams and football coach Ken Cribb, as well as Hilton Head High's Monmonier and Payne -- met with Beaufort County School District student services officer Gregory McCord at the district office.

Though he wouldn't confirm any specific incidents at the game, saying he wasn't there to witness them firsthand, McCord called the meeting "productive," citing the head coaches mutual respect and the opportunity to use the game as a "teachable moment."

I have no reason to doubt anything McCord says. But if I'm a parent of a Seahawks player, I want to know specifically what's being done to ensure this type of behavior doesn't persist. Not just at Bluffton, but anywhere in the district.

Because the next question is, if this behavior persists, "how can I ensure my child is safe?"

When asked about the meeting, all parties involved referred all questions to McCord.

"All matters were handled accordingly," McCord said Thursday, revealing no specifics. "If there's an issue, it's our job as adults and officials to take corrective action."

But in this situation, something troubling happened in public, in front of a lot of people. There should be a public response.

McCord disagreed and said it wasn't a public matter, referring to any discipline any specific student may have received.

"We are looking forward to collaborating as a district ... so that our students recognize the importance of gamesmanship and good sportsmanship," he said.

He went on to say, "it's not that anyone is not revealing anything. When it gets down to it, we have to do what's most important, and that's moving forward."

But if nobody addresses what happened publicly, who's to blame people who doubt anything's being done at all?

McCord emphasizes that he has an open-door policy and works hard to be "very transparent."

That's refreshing, but it's not enough. It sounds similar to a campaign promise we might hear in a debate.

Parents deserve the substance, not just the style. Forget the punishment. They want to know what the plan is.

"At the end of the day, our goal and our effort should be focused on doing at all times possible what we can to produce good students and good citizens," McCord said.

He's right. In this situation, that can only start by talking about the problem.