Hats off to Union High School (Utah) football coach Matt Labrum.

Labrum recently suspended nearly every player on his 80-man squad for lack of character.

 In place of football practice, players were required to do community service, attend study halls, bring up their grades and show respect for teachers to earn a place back on the team.

The coach required his team to turn in their jerseys and equipment and made the decision to end the season until they earned their way back on the team. And, he did it during homecoming week.

“I think the most important thing is that we build character,” Labrum said in a published interview.

His action was in response to his players skipping class, receiving poor grades, allegedly cyber-bullying fellow classmates and causing problems at home. In a letter to players, Labrum said, “Gentlemen, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing our family, school…and yourselves,” and reminded the team that playing the game is a privilege.

Administrators, assistant coaches and many parents backed Labrum’s decision. He laid out a plan to change behavior. Players were required to complete a community service project, be on time to class, have no discipline problems at home or school, and memorize a quote about good character.

Labrum required extra out of his players this week. Instead of Monday practice, the team cleaned and dug up weeds around the community.

On Tuesday they visited a senior center where they played games and talked with residents. Wednesday was even more fun as the players attended study hall and followed that up with meetings.

At the end of the evening, Labrum said most of the players had earned the privilege to play the game. He then returned their jerseys and equipment and indicated the homecoming game will be played as scheduled.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see young men take on a challenge,” Labrum said.

Players were also required to perform service for their own families, to attend a class on character and to write a report on the week’s activities and what they had learned.

It’s not hard to spot a football team with character. They are disciplined, well coached, never quit, and react appropriately to changing circumstances, good and bad, during a game.

Labrum’s team will likely be better between the lines this weekend than last, even without a full week of practice.

It’s my guess that they’ve learned that life isn’t just about winning and losing but accepting either outcome with class as well.

I imagine they now understand, wearing a uniform isn’t a license to act inappropriately, that serving others is rewarding and that treating each person with respect and dignity is more important than a game.

If so, Labrum got his point across, character counts.

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