5 Union High players detained for vandalism one month after team-wide suspension
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
VERNAL — Five members of the Union High School football team are expected to face charges in juvenile court after they were caught with a sixth teen vandalizing a fence in Vernal, according to police.
The gleaming, white vinyl fence that borders the houses on 300 West from 600 North to 700 North has been damaged by vandals before. A neighbor heard people wailing on it Friday night and began chasing them in his truck, Assistant Vernal Police Chief Keith Campbell said.
"Officers were informed that there was a citizen that was following the juveniles," Campbell said.
Police stopped the car, found six teens inside and began questioning them.
"Several of the juveniles were actually running and colliding with a vinyl fence with their bodies, which caused some substantial damage to the fence," Campbell said.
The teens also told officers they'd destroyed several mailboxes by throwing pumpkins at them, but police hadn't received any reports of damaged mailboxes as of Tuesday, Campbell said.
The incident comes exactly one month after Union's football coaches made national headlines for suspending all players on the school's varsity and junior varsity squads to teach them a lesson about character.
"It just felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn't want our young men going," Union head coach Matt Labrum told the Deseret News in September.
"We felt like we needed to make a stand," he said.
The coaching staff reached its much-heralded decision after learning that a few players might have been involved in the cyber-bullying of another Union High student who is not on the team. There were also instances of players cutting class and being disrespectful to teachers, Labrum said.
The student-athletes were required to complete community service in lieu of practice, attend a character education class and improve their grades if they wanted to earn their jerseys back. All but eight players suited up for the team's next game, with some sitting out due to injury.
On Tuesday morning, Labrum agreed to speak with the Deseret News about the new allegations against five of his players. That interview was canceled later in the day at the direction of Duchesne County School District officials.
Bruce Guymon, the district's director of student services, also said he had been instructed not to comment on the incident or release information about any disciplinary action Labrum may have taken against the five players.
"We support the decisions our coaches make in holding kids accountable for the commitments they make when they join a team," Guymon said.
The mother of one of the players detained in Friday night's incident agreed to speak with the Deseret News on the condition that her name not be used. She said it's her understanding that Labrum sanctioned all of the players involved. Her son was also disciplined at home, she said.
"It was a huge disappointment," the woman said. "The first thing I told him was how disappointed I was in his choices."
Tricia Bennett, clinical site supervisor for Northeastern Counseling Center in Roosevelt, said it should be upsetting when kids make bad choices. But it's important to remember their brains are still developing.
"(The) teenage brain is impulsive, wants immediate gratification," Bennett said. "There's a time when we're very young that we're egocentric. Everything is about us. We kind of go back to that in adolescence."
That doesn't mean what Labrum and his coaches did to try to instill good values in their players was wasted, Bennett said. It simply shows that it's a work in progress.
"With youth, whether it's young children or adolescents, they always need reminders," she said. "That same lesson needs to be reinforced and taught over and over again."
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