Union coaches hoped to help their players and became an inspiration to people they've never met
“I learned that football is not all about being a good athlete,” said Zack Roll. “It’s more about being a good person, and football is just a game. Our coaching staff really cares about us, and our players really responded to our coaches. I think we all grew more respect for each other, for our coaching staff and we just became, as a team, more close.”
Russ Nielsen said the leadership Labrum exhibited this week is the reason he tried three different times to lure the 41-year-old Roosevelt native away from Parowan High. He finally agreed two years ago.
“I knew he expects more out of the boys than just football,” said Russ Nielsen. “He’s the kind of coach you want to have on staff for any of the sports. He’s a coach who loves kids and cares for them as individuals, and wants them to succeed in life. Athletics is minor compared to building good character and being able to overcome.”
DeCol said unexpected messages continue to reverberate throughout the community. A fellow teacher at the junior high stopped to thank him because she was a victim of bullying as a child.
“She felt it had made a difference over there (at the junior high),” DeCol said. “We thought of this in terms of our players and their families, but it’s everywhere. We’ve had emails from people who don’t necessarily even have ties to football, saying that was the inspiration they needed. The sheer width of the ripples and who contacted us was very surprising.”
Labrum added, “I think kids — and parents for the most part — want to be held accountable. They want responsibility, and they want to know somebody cares.”
The next challenge for the Union Cougars will be helping the remaining eight players become eligible while maintaining some of the behavior that began this week. Now, maybe more clearly than any speech could have described, the players understand the power of being a star athlete — good and bad.
“I think we understand that instead of taking advantage of (the special status), we have an idea of what kind of positive leaders we can be inside the school,” he said.
And while the rest of the world might be surprised that a coach could cancel football and be revered, supported and praised, Labrum said he never doubted how Roosevelt residents would react.
“I really wasn’t surprised,” he said, rubbing his hand across his bloodshot eyes, long after everyone's abandoned the modest grandstands on the west side of the football field. “I think that’s why the nation is surprised, but I know this community pretty well. I’m impressed with the community, and I knew what they were going to do. I thought there would be a couple of (critics), but I didn’t think it would be bad if we were able to talk to them. And I knew the boys would react positively.”
His advice to fellow coaches struggling with the endless demands of modern coaching is simple.
“Just always do what you feel is right,” he said. “Because you can live with yourself when you’re doing those types of things.”
The quote the boys memorized: "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, by courage and determination."