Prep football commentary | Vague taunting rule allows official's whim to cost Cardinal Mooney

adell@bradenton.comNovember 20, 2013 

SARASOTA

Taunting or celebrating? To do or not to do?

Do you throw the flag? Do you really know the difference?

Unless blatant, this is a question only a psychologist with a Ph.D. is qualified to make. And even then, he or she may not be sure.

But we are asking high school football referees to do it.

The problem is when they get it wrong, it's wrong all over. They inflict a penalty that is way too harsh. It doesn't fit the crime.

It happened to Cardinal Mooney on Friday.

An excited kid who finishes off a 67-yards touchdown reception with about 90 seconds left in a playoff game raises his arm shoulder-high and stretches it out over the goal line.

He gets flagged, and his team has to kick a 35-yard extra point to tie the game.

It's a miss and a loss.

This is the playoffs, and 90 percent of the kids on the field will never play at the next level.

Sean Morris just brought his team back from the dead.

He didn't wave his finger at the St. Petersburg Catholic players. He didn't even look at them. He didn't commit a personal foul; he didn't chop-block an opponent.

He did what any 16- or 17-year-old in that situation would do. He showed emotion. He celebrated.

Oh my, he reached the ball across the end zone.

By Jiminy Cricket, these kids are 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. They are humans, not robots.

The ref who threw the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct ended the Cougars' season.

The crime (if any) doesn't fit the punishment.

This ref lacked common sense.

His career should be over, unless he attends a sensitivity training course

that focuses on what is normal behavior for adolescents, particularly those playing in what is likely the biggest game of their lives.

So this ref expects them to act like waiters at a tea party. Just hand the ball to the official and go back into the kitchen.

No one wants taunting. There is no place for it. But this was a gray line at best.

Most refs have the common sense to stay away from a call here.

Fans in attendance said there was celebrating all night from both teams.

It was the wrong call.

It was a bad call.

This was a ref instilling his philosophy on an entire school and its football program.

He had too much power and used it incorrectly.

What would this ref have done if that was his son who crossed the goal line?

The Florida High School Athletic Association rules governing this type of behavior are vague, and that leaves it up to a ref. It's too much power for one man, especially one who is working a part-time job a couple of months a year.

The FHSAA lists unsportsmanlike conduct under an array of actions, none of which Morris committed.

The kicker is at the end. It reads, in part, "or other such acts deemed to be unacceptable conduct according to the principal of the member school the student attends or this Association."

It further describes taunting as something intended or designed to embarrass, ridicule or demean others under any circumstances, including the basis of race, region, gender or national origin.

Kudos should go to St. Petersburg Catholic head coach Steve Dudley, who said he hated to see a team lose a game like that.

But there was something else he reportedly said that added to the hypocrisy of this affair.

Dudley reportedly said to the media that before the game a ref told him they were going to be sticklers on unsportsmanlike calls.

Cardinal Mooney head coach Josh Smithers said no ref advised him of such an intent.

"We met before the game and went over certain things that you normally do before a game, but no ref said to me anything about how they would treat unsportsmanlike calls," Smithers said.

Smithers said in his days as a player at Mooney and coach since 2007, the Cougars were flagged one time for excessive celebration and that was in a preseason game.

This was a great game between two great teams that showed a lot of passion.

It's unfortunate it was ruined by one person.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reachedat 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter at@ADellSports.

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