LOUISA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — High School sports aren’t just about winning and losing, they are meant to instill life values in the athletes. But in Louisa County, one coach’s plan to do just that is actually being called unsportsmanlike.
The Louisa County Lions (3-0) are off to an undefeated this year. Off the field, however, a larger battle looms.
“We just want to figure out a way to build character and give our kids some anchor words that maybe would carry them through a game or maybe even carry them through life,” head coach Mark Fischer told 8News.
Words that Coach Fischer say the words that describe what it took to start their season out 3-0 are strength, discipline and commitment. Similar words like transcend and character are traits Coach Fischer hopes they put to use off of the field.
“Those are things that you need in everyday life, that we as adults need, maybe if they are repeatedly said and constantly seen and heard and what have you, maybe they will have an impact,” Fischer said.
Three years ago when Fischer took over the head coaching job at Louisa County High School, he made a drastic change. He replaced the player’s last names with those very words, and the players supported the move entirely.
“We have pride, we have transcended, we have character, you’ve got to have good character, you’ve got to have pride in what you’re doing, transcend to overcome any obstacle that we run into,” said Malik Bell, the team’s quarterback.
But three days before the team’s season opener, they were told to lose the jerseys or take a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty before every opening kickoff.
“Obviously that was kind of a punch to the gut,” Fisher said.
The Virginia High School League said regulations handed down by The National Federation of State High School Associations prevents these words from being displayed on jerseys. 8News did some digging and found the NFHS football jersey rules were updated in March of this year. The rule states the allowable adornments on home and visiting jerseys include the following: The jersey number(s), school’s nickname, school logo, school name and/or player name within the body and/or on the shoulders.
Coach Fischer says there was no doubt to him that he would rather take the penalty than lose their integrity.
“I mean, this is what we stand for, and this is what we would do, and if we’re going to be penalized for positive reinforcement, for being considered unsportsmanlike, then that was worth it to us.” — Head Coach Mark Fischer.
“I mean, this is what we stand for, and this is what we would do, and if we’re going to be penalized for positive reinforcement, for being considered unsportsmanlike, then that was worth it to us,” said Fischer.
Even players say removing the words was not an option.
“The words, I have really started to apply them to my life and it means a lot to me,” said Bell. “The words have been on the jerseys for all three years and it doesn’t make sense for us to remove them now.”
Just days before the first big game, Coach Fischer lobbied the Virginia High School League for a waiver and it was granted. Pride, character, and transcend remain on the jerseys for this year. Come next year, howeverm when the boys of fall step back on the field, they will once again have to ask to keep something they say is about more than just football. They say the uplifting words are what makes them family.
“It brings our brotherhood together, as we talked about, it was one of our first goals that we made ar camp, it brings us together as a family,” Bell said.
Fischer added, “I wouldn’t trade a second of what I do to try and help these young guys, I know what a knucklehead i was and if I can help them maybe take a little bit easier road and a ‘been there done that’ so to speak then that’s my mission.”
8News reached out to the VHSLand they sent us the following statement:
“The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) uniform regulation only allows the team name or player’s name on the back of uniforms. The VHSL does allow schools to request a one-year waiver if their uniforms are not in compliance with the NFHS uniform regulation. Louisa County asked for a one-year waiver and it was granted. If after a year and the uniforms are still not in compliance, they can again ask for a one-year waiver.”
8News has not heard back from the National Federation of State High School Associations, but the VHSL says the waiver was to prevent the school from having to spend unbudgeted money on buying new uniforms at the last minute. They added that once the jerseys have to be replaced when they get too old, the school likely would not be allowed to keep the words on the jerseys without facing a penalty.