It was the first game of the year, and tensions were running high. With a new coach for Tampa Catholic and a substitute coach for Sickles, both teams had something to prove.
"It was a heated game," noticed Brett Nehrt, one of the referees. "Off the bat, those kids were ready to play."
The unfiltered energy began to come out in late tackles and other unsportsmanlike plays. It continued throughout the first half until Nehrt decided enough was enough.
An eighth-grade math teacher, Nehrt spoke with both head coaches and asked if he could speak with both teams before the second half of play — something he'd never asked to do before.
"I told the kids I was embarrassed," Nehrt said. "It was embarrassing for me because I shouldn't have to police that. A guy makes a tackle, I assume he's done it before and he's just going to run back to the huddle — not stand over a guy, not point to the crowd, not hoot and holler. Or I assume a play is going on and a guy isn't looking down the field to look for an opponent to lay out after the whistle is blown."
There was silence among the players as Nehrt spoke. Players slowly approached each other, shaking hands and muttering apologies. And as play resumed, there was a different feeling on the field. Plays were clean; there wasn't nearly as much taunting.
"Football is a man's sport," Nehrt said. "It's rough and it's tough and it's hard. Knowing all of this, there are certain obligations that you've got to live up to. No dirty play, playing with respect and respecting the game are things that are important to me."
Do you have an idea that you would like to see featured in "More Than a Game"? Eve Edelheit can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3309.