BRENNAN: 'No Cut' Policy in High School Sports Worthwhile

I am not in favor of frivolous lawsuits, but I do think a school with Ladue’s resources can find room for all who want to play a sport.

Charlie Brennan
October 05, 2018 - 2:36 pm

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In Ladue, a high school junior cut from the varsity soccer team has sued, alleging age discrimination.  The school district has sided with the soccer coach who believes the boy lacks the skills for varsity play and is too old for the junior varsity team.  The young man claims he is willing to play JV.

He and his parents, granted anonymity in their lawsuit, point out how third year Ladue girls are allowed to play on the JV squad.  Since that’s the case, they wonder, why can’t boys do the same thing?

I am not in favor of frivolous lawsuits but I do think a school with Ladue’s resources can find room for all boys and girls who want to play a sport.  The nearby Clayton School District has a “no cut’ policy which gets cumbersome at water polo practice but, I think, is worthy overall. 

I grew up in Cleveland where I read The Plain Dealer sports section every day.  Hal Lebovitz was one of the great columnists at the paper for six decades.  As I mentioned this morning on my radio show, he printed an annual column urging high school football coaches not to cut boys from football teams.  The piece was published way ahead of Title IX, so you can be sure it would include boys and girls if written today.  This is my favorite column of all time and I can safely say it influenced my thinking for the last fifty years.

Never Cut A Boy by Hal Lebovitz 

Consider this an open letter to every high school football coach, principal and superintendent: 

Football practice is now under way. The boys have reported; they have been issued uniforms. This is what happened here to one boy not too many years ago: 

The boy had just entered high school. All summer he looked forward to the opening of football practice. He enjoyed contact. He had tossed a football around almost from the day he left his crib. His dream was to play on the high school varsity. 

On August 20 he reported for the first day of practice. "You'll have to furnish your own shoes and you'll need $7.50 for insurance," the junior varsity coach told him. The boy rushed out to buy a pair of shoes. Cost $20. 

He returned the next day carrying them proudly, paid his $7.50 insurance fee, did calisthenics with the squad and at the end of the session he was cut. So were several other boys - all dropped from the squad after one session of calisthenics. 

The boy rushed to a telephone and called his dad's office. Unable to withhold the tears, he sobbed, "I was cut." 

"Go back tomorrow," the father suggested gently. "Maybe there was a mistake." 

The boy returned, finally summoned sufficient courage to ask the coach for another chance. "Come back in two weeks," said the coach. 

Two weeks later the boy carried his new shoes back to practice. "Sorry," said the coach, "we haven't time to look at you now. Come back after school starts." 

The boy did. This time the coach apparently had no alternative. He gave the boy a uniform. Within a week, he cut the boy once more. 

The boy was crushed, completely. The father advised, "Try next year, son." 

"No," said the boy. "I don't want to be humiliated again." 

The boy never did try out again. He never followed the team. His interest in the school was never the same. The cleats on his $20 shoes are slightly worn - from football on the neighborhood lot. They remain the heartbroken memento of his brief high school football experience. 

Later, the father checked with the coach. "We can't handle sixty boys," he offered lamely. "We didn't want your son to get hurt." 

If you are such a coach, I strongly urge you to quit. Mr. Principal and Mr. Superintendent, if your school has such a coach, get rid of him fast. Either that, or drop football; a game in which anybody's son can get hurt. 

I speak as a former football coach who never cut a boy. I firmly believe there are lessons to be learned on the football field that have valuable carryovers in life...

Football takes some stomach. A boy who doesn't have it will quit of his own accord. The fields are big. They can accommodate large squads. Let the boy hang around. Let him do calisthenics. Let him run until he's out of breath. Let him scrimmage with the fourth and fifth teams after the regulars are finished. 

But don't cut him. If he hasn't got it, he'll cut himself. If he has it, he'll stick it out. He'll be a better man for the experience and, by the time he's a senior, he'll surprise you. He'll help make you a winner. 

So, coach, hold that knife. Why plunge it into a boy's heart.