According to the mission statement of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports, says “[t]he ideals of good sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and integrity should encompass all interscholastic athletics in our community.
“Our athletic fields should be the laboratories to produce good sports who reflect “fair play” in every area of life,” says the statement.
Under the Friday Night Lights in Belmont, the small number of fans who gutted out the torrid of rain witnessed a once proud program fail those ideals that high school sports are based on.
The Harris Field scoreboard indicated Reading Memorial scored 56 points and held host Belmont scoreless, Oct. 9. But at the end of the game, Reading Memorial football walked off the field defeated, having lost the respect of those who witnessed an utter lack of sportsmanship, discipline and accountability from the Reading coaching staff and many players.
Rather than with class, Reading’s performance on Friday left veteran gridiron observers speechless with a display of crass behavior and ugliness.
“Reading is a good football team, and we didn’t play our best as evident by the scoreboard,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Yann Kumin.
“But we kept our composure in a game that was … ” said Kumin, pausing to find the words.
“I’ll just say I was proud of our guys for keeping their composure and keeping their head and continuing to work,” said Kumin.
Belmont (1-3) came into the match with 3-1 Reading (ranked #11 by the Boston Herald, #10 in the Boston Globe poll) knowing it was going to be a struggle to stay with a team seeking a trip to the Division 2 Super Bowl.
The level of superior play was evident quickly in the first three possessions as Reading’s Will Connery ran the opening kickoff 85-yards for a touchdown, Belmont offense went three-and-out after gaining two yards, before Reading quickly stormed down the field as the Rocket’s D’Aundray Burcy scampered 25-yards for Reading’s second touchdown in the first 7 minutes of the game.
The question requiring an answer is why a program holding aces against an opponent would resort to violent cheap shots and common vulgarity throughout the game?
It came from the constant cursing from Reading’s coaches (head coach John Fiore and his assistants) in the first half – heard across the field to the opposite grandstand and on the Belmont sideline – to apparent deliberate attempts at excessive physical infractions against key Belmont players including quarterback Cal Christofori, running back Mekhai Johnson and punter Lowell Haska (Reading was flagged throughout the game for misconduct) culminating in a spearing penalty by a Reading linebacker who launched himself head first into a prone and vulnerable Christofori.
That final penalty, which is considered extremely dangerous, resulted in the immediate removal of offending player from the game. There was no reaction from the Reading coaches.
“Third time in 45 years,” said the referee of the call, as he shook his head.
While Belmont had a few memorial moments – three 15 yard plus runs by Johnson, Haska’s 50 yard punts and an apparent touchdown pass from Christofori to Joe Shaughnessy that was questionably ruled out of bounds – the game was never in doubt in the favor of Reading after going into the half 42-0.
Yet constant trash talking and late hits continued until the final minutes when both teams sent in their second squads.
Even in victory, Reading’s baseness came to the fore. During the traditional handshake between players at game’s end, Reading players cursed at their Belmont opponents, who were told by their coaches not to respond.
When approached by a Reading assistant coach after the players encounter, Kumin would only express his private disappointment how the game was conducted by the players and coaches.
Belmont Athletic Director James Davis, who attended the game on the Belmont sidelines, said he made a phone call after the game to his counterpart, Reading Athletic Director Tom Zaya, to discuss the spearing penalty and “the game.”
While not willing to discuss the conversation, Davis said Belmont would continue to approach sports with a positive attitude.
“The culture that’s being established within not just our football but all our sports programs is such that we rise above those types of things. It’s something that we pride ourselves on, and I think it’s indicative why we’ve been recognized last year on the sportsmanship honor roll for not having a single player disqualified throughout the school year. That’s important to us,” said Davis.
With no natural rivalry between the teams in football, the question for the unwarranted hostility from a superior team appears rooted in Reading’s drive to a Super Bowl placement that requires them to defeat weaker opponents by ever greater scores.
When asked the reason for Readings animosity toward Belmont, Kumin could not explain the myriad examples of abhorrent actions and behavior from Reading.
“We’re not concerned with their program, I’m more concerned with our program. That’s the message that we preach with our kids. I’m just happy that our guys continued to fight, continue to try and execute reps and showed class and pride in everything they did. That’s the Marauder Way, which we preach from start to finish,” he said.
“I told the team, I’d rather be at the losing end of a 56-0 score with these guys then be over there,” said Kumin, nodding over to the Reading sideline.