Fairness won out Friday
Congratulations, Eagle Valley football.That was a tremendous win Friday night, knocking the stuffing out of Palisade, 40-24. It’s about time someone knocked those guys off their roost, and who better than an Eagle County team?As Devils coach John Ramunno said to me back in 2002, “League championships don’t come around very often.” So treasure it, boys. You’ve earned it – and make a run in the playoffs.And I’m looking forward to seeing Ramunno’s new look this week.I’m also happy that Eagle Valley kicked the tar out of Palisade for another reason – Bulldogs running back Jason Popick.Institutional problemPalisade has a very serious institutional problem when it comes to its football team, and Mesa County School District 51 and CHSAA need to get involved.According to a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article published Wednesday, Popick, 18, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief last spring. The story, by Mike Wiggins and Allen Gemaehlich, goes on to say, “On June 9, he was given an 18-month deferred judgment and sentenced and ordered to enter into domestic violence anger control counseling and pay $159 in fines, according to court records.”
Popick, said a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department arrest affidavit, quarreled with his ex-girlfriend over the phone May 23 and made threats about doing damage to her car. Later that day, Popick delivered on that threat by parking his car in a way that she couldn’t get out of her 1995 Ford Mustang.He ended up breaking a window of his ex-girlfriend’s car and was arrested the next day.On July 21, Popick, according to the Sentinel, allegedly reached through the window of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend’s car and punched him in the face. Popick is scheduled to be arraigned on a felony charge of assault Wednesday.He has also violated the school district’s policy by possessing smokeless tobacco on campus.Wins more important than valuesIf I may be so bold, why the heck is this guy being allowed to play football? I’ll leave the upcoming alleged felony charge alone because Popick should have his day in court.But this is a guy who has a criminal record and broke school tobacco rules.The simple answer to my question, I guess, is that Popick is the 3A state leading rusher with more than 1,700 yards. If this kid were on the chess team, he’d have been kicked out of school.In the Sentinel article, “Palisade Principal Matt Diers said he considers Popick’s legal problems “a dead issue.” Diers later said that Popick “can have a volatile temper,” but that he’s “a good kid.”
Huh? What sort of message is Palisade High School sending to its students by saying that it’s OK for a kid to harass his ex-girlfriend and break tobacco rules? Seems like 1,700 yards, a lot of touchdowns and winning football games are much more important to Palisade than teaching kids life lessons.Diers added, “We handled it internally. He (Popick) served a team punishment.”What? Did you send the kid to bed without dessert?Height of hypocrisyPlaying high school sports is not a right. It is a privilege. Popick, by his actions this spring, forfeited that privilege. He never should have been allowed to take the field for the Bulldogs.Take a look at what happens in Eagle County when disciplinary issues arise. Battle Mountain soccer’s Edgar Hernandez skipped a class this season. Huskies soccer coach David Cope suspended his leading scorer for the Homecoming game against – wait for it – Palisade.One of Battle Mountain’s best football players was not making grades, and football coach Pat Engle automatically sat him. The next week in front of the entire team, Engle said to this player on a Thursday before a Friday game, “You have five assignments due tomorrow. If they’re not in, you’re not playing.”I have no doubt that Eagle Valley football conducts itself in the same manner. If you’ve ever been around Ramunno, you’d realize that he has little tolerance for that sort of thing, not to mention Popick’s situation.
Not the first timeThe problem with Palisade is this is not the first time this program has had issues. Two years ago, Palisade used a fifth-year kicker – his extra year was in reform school – all year. The Bulldogs won the state title that year and, on the way, beat Fountain-Fort Carson, 22-20, on a last-second field goal in the quarterfinals.Palisade’s administration claimed it was a paperwork error. CHSAA just slapped Palisade on the wrist, ordering that the Bulldogs had to play all their playoff games the next year on the road. CHSAA should have made Palisade ineligible for the postseason last year for that offense.That same year that Palisade was breaking the rules with a fifth-year kicker, Cope was suspended for pulling his junior varsity team off the field in the waning moments of a game. The ref had lost control of the game, and his players were in physical danger and also in danger of losing their eligibility for the postseason.Cope pulled the plug, CHSAA went right by the rule book, and Battle Mountain had to suspend him for a state-seeding game.Palisade football is clearly playing by different rules. CHSAA’s bylaw 1720(b) says, “In the judgment of the principal of the student’s school, he/she is representative of the school’s ideals in matters of citizenship, conduct and sportsmanship.”That is CHSAA passing the buck on disciplinary matters to Palisade. So Mr. Diers, it’s up to you. Clean up your program. Suspend Popick for the playoffs.If you don’t, CHSAA has an obligation to step in – if for no other reason than hat teams like the 3A Slope champion, Eagle Valley, play by the rules.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630, or via email@example.com.Vail, Colorado