There's nothing like the Olympics and the America's Cup and their international politicking, posturing and pandering to remind us that a more appealing atmosphere of sportsmanship and cooperation might better be found at the scholastic level.
Oh, sure, sometimes rivalries get out of hand, as do the emotions between players and players, between players and coaches, and between coaches and coaches. And region realignments, playoff formats and questionable officiating can get folks awfully frustrated.However, the handling of a scary situation - contaminated water - during last week's Altamont-North Summit prep football game underscores such scholastic cooperation, with coaches and administrators downplaying any undermining tensions.
More than a dozen Altamont players were rushed to the Coalville hospital in the second half of the Longhorns' 36-0 loss to the host Braves. Just as the third quarter began in the Sept. 16 game, one Altamont player doubled over during play and headed for the sideline - he never made it, collapsing to the ground with severe stomach spasms that sickened those close enough to witness the reaction.
As the player was being taken by ambulance to the hospital, other Altamont teammates showed similar symptoms - dizziness, strong stomach cramps, and an inability to remain standing. Before the game was over, Altamont players and even a studen manager were being shuttled to the hospital by either ambulance or by parents attending the game.
Altamont Principal Jack Bell spent considerable time at the clinic. "It looked like a MASH unit for a while," he recalled, as medical personnel induced vomiting to relieve the ill players' cramps and avoid any additional risks. No one needed hospitalization overnight.
First word was that rubbing alcohol had been added to small, quart-sized water bottles, with the contaminated water being given to the players just before the end of the first half. Players who drank the water complained of the bitter, stinging taste, and managers emptied the contents in the locker room at halftime.
The lack of contiminated water then fostered fears that somebody had purposely sabatoged the bottles. One bottle with liquid traces was found and given to Summit County sheriff's department deputies, who in turn forwarded it to the state crime lab for test.
"I had kids dropping all over the field like flies," said Altamont Coach David Allen. "This doesn't give a good name to high school football, whatever happened."
That was the question: What happened? Was it sabatoge? A prank among teammates? Food poisoning from a pre-game meal? Contaminated water in Coalville? A flu bug? Foul play? Nobody's sure. And to everybody's credit, nobody was pointing fingers and laying charges - just suggesting possible scenarios.
"A lot of people would like to think it's all North Summit's fault, but I'm not totally convinced that it is," Bell said. "We're not blaming anybody, but we'd like to find out what it was."
North Summit Principal Earl Blonquist offered to postpone the second half of the football game. "We've just taken a black eye on the whole thing," said Blonquist, who became a guinea pig of sorts by first tasting a sip of the contaminated liquid and later a bit of rubbing alcohol at home.
The difference between the two tastes - the first sip resulted in a stinging of his lips - eliminated the rubbing alcohol theory.
Later this week, a more logical possibility surfaced - a broken instant-ice cold pack had been reported by Altamont team managers. The spilled liquid - ammonium nitrate, a chemical similar to common lawn fertilizer - is believed to have gotten mixed into one batch of water late in the first half, which explains the burning sensation on individuals' lips and skin and the need to induce vomiting.
Administrators and coaches are anticipating a report from the state crime lab, and all are hopeful that it confirms the broken cold-pack scenario.