If reputations hold, it should surprise nobody that a boys soccer game at Skyview High School last Thursday almost degenerated into a brawl.
However, what should be noted, and commended, is that the Skyview boys soccer team was the reason the game did not get out of control.
A few years ago, the Panthers developed a reputation for foul play and poor sportsmanship. That reputation is exemplified by a pair of incidents.
In the third-place game of the 2000 Region III soccer tournament, a Skyview player was issued a red card at the end of a well-played, intense loss to Kenai.
Instead of accepting the card for the nasty tackle and leaving the field quietly, the player let fly with a burst of profanity that even the bleeper on "The Osbournes" would have been hard-pressed to handle.
A year later, in a 3-1 loss at Kenai, the Panthers collected five yellow cards and a red card. All the cards, except for one, were for dangerous challenges from behind.
The 2002 season went by without serious incident for Skyview. The behavior change for the Panthers was so refreshing that my colleague, who had written critical pieces on Skyview in 2000 and 2001, considered writing a third column applauding the Panthers for cleaning up their act.
After Skyview's 4-0 victory over Soldotna last Thursday, a kudos column for the Panthers is due.
Situated less than five miles apart, Skyview and Soldotna enjoy a tense rivalry. The high schools both draw from Soldotna Middle School, so players know each other and bragging rights are important.
Thirty minutes into the second half, Skyview had locked up those bragging rights with a 3-0 lead.
This set up a dangerous last 10 minutes. In a free-flowing, contact game like soccer, ire accumulates and becomes easier to succumb to as the body, and mind, fatigues.
Making matters worse, the outcome was no longer in question. Players no longer had to stay in line to assure they wouldn't hurt their team's chances of winning.
In this last 10 minutes, members of the Skyview student body showed poor sportsmanship and heightened tensions by beginning to applaud hard Skyview tackles some legal and some illegal.
With four minutes left in the game, tensions reached the boiling point when a Soldotna player responded to a Skyview tackle by getting up and shoving the Skyview player. A second Soldotna player jumped in and threw a push.
A brawl that would have tainted the reputation of the sport and the two schools was now a couple answered shoves and a thrown punch away from raging.
The Panthers defrayed the situation by backing down. The quickest Skyview player into the roiling pack Matt Matarrese walled off his teammates and pushed them away from the Soldotna players.
The two Soldotna players were issued yellow cards and taken off the field, and the final four minutes were played peacefully.
While it certainly helps to have potential peacekeepers on the field like Matarrese, the turnaround of Skyview's sportsmanship belongs to coach Dave Carpenter.
In the 2000 and 2001 incidents, Carpenter was often part of the problem. He picked up a yellow citation in the 2001 card game against the Kards for complaining about the referee's calls.
Despite occasional yelps of protest on some questionable calls this year, Carpenter now runs a positive sideline. Early in the Soldotna game, a Skyview player yelled at his team from the sideline, imploring his side to start working together.
"Don't worry," an upbeat Carpenter told the player. "They will."
Later in the game, when a Skyview player ran on the field too soon for a substitution, Carpenter yelled at the player to get off the field.
The criticism was justified. But, showing manners more suited to Julianne Moore's character in "Far From Heaven" than a soccer coach, Carpenter apologized for being "short" with the player minutes later.
In those last 10 minutes, when the Skyview students in the crowd started showing poor sportsmanship, Carpenter expressed dismay at the students' actions.
After the game, when a Soldotna parent complained about the students, Carpenter didn't get defensive. He promised to do something about the problem.
Carpenter is even taking a proactive attitude toward preventing foul play.
Earlier this season, Skyview's game at Houston got a little chippy.
Saturday, when the teams faced off again, Carpenter warned his team they would be on a short leash. Extra sanctions were put in place for any player earning a card.
Before the game, the Skyview and Houston coaches had the teams sit down and work out their differences. What followed was a clean game.
Granted, things are going great for Skyview right now. The Panthers are undefeated through five games. It's a lot easier to show good sportsmanship when winning 3-0 than when losing 3-0.
But, unless another unsportsmanlike fiasco occurs in the future, Carpenter and the Panthers deserve credit for cleaning up the reputation of their program.
This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. Comments and criticisms can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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