Forks team shows
great character

From the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin - Dec 7, 2002

By Dave Rossie

First the full disclosure.  

I live in the Chenango Forks school district. My children went to school there. My wife taught there.

My first job at this newspaper was writing about sports. During the years I worked in sports I covered a raft of football games, including several involving Chenango Forks.

Having admitted to all that, let me add that I haven't seen a high school football game in 20 years. Maybe longer. So what follows is not colored by boosteritis.

Last Sunday the previously unbeaten Forks football team lost a heart-wrenching state championship game by a single point to a team from Harrison in Westchester County.

I did not see the game. All I know about it is what I read in Kevin Stevens' game story, Mike Mangan's next-day story, and word-of-mouth from a neighbor who attended the game in Syracuse University's Carrier Dome, which is named for the Carrier Corporation but not for the taxpayers of New York, whose dollars then Gov. Mario Cuomo generously handed out to help pay for the thing.

What I will remember long after the game is forgotten, however, is the behavior of the Forks players and their head coach, Kelsey Green, based on what I saw on television and read the next day.

I'm sure tears were shed in the locker room as those kids and their coaches pondered what might have been and, by most accounts should have been. But there was none of that when it came time to face the public.

I was awed by Green's composure and that of his players who were interviewed on television and in the post-game newspaper stories. They were surely hurting inside, but they did not whine, they did not complain. They did not make alibis or point fingers at one another.

In other words their deportment was the precise opposite of what we have come to expect, sad to say, of professional athletes. I'm not just talking about sociopathic bounceball players such as Latrell Sprewell, or head cases such as Randy Moss. It's far more pandemic than that. A couple of weeks ago, the New Jersey Giants, a team that stands as a symbol of National Football League parity, which in this case is spelled mediocrity, lost to the Houston Texans, an expansion team. Afterward, Giants players were pointing their fingers at one another when they should have been taking a collective look in a mirror. If ever a loss can be attributed to a team effort, or lack of it, that one was.

No recriminations from the Forks kids, however. No cries of "we wuz robbed," although according to some who were there, such cries would have been justified -- two Forks touchdowns nullified, one by a holding call, the other by an official's decision that a receiver caught a ball out of bounds in the end zone.

Had those calls not been made, or had one of them not been made, Forks wins. The only thing close to a complaint came from Green, who wondered aloud why his kids were tagged with several holding calls while Harrison escaped such scrutiny. Forks players were flagged seven times during the game, Harrison twice.

Does that mean the officials were biased? No, it simply means that on this day the better team -- better if you weigh all the statistics other than the final score -- did not get the breaks.

Green paid tribute to his players afterward with these words: "You can't find a better group of kids, and that's not just talking about talent." He couldn't have put it better.

So there'll be no sign on Route 12 proclaiming Chenango Forks as the home of the 2002 Class B state football champions. But there should be one that pays tribute to Class AAA sportsmanship, something that is much rarer these days than winning.

Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin.