Rotary all-stars better be on best behavior
Tonight, some of the best high school football talent in the Valley will be on display at Chowchilla's Henry Massaro Stadium.
And while they'll tackle and block, pass and run in the name of victory and glory, this rendition of the Chowchilla Rotary North/South All-Star Game is more about redemption.
At least it should be.
Redemption not for this game.
No one, except for maybe director Bob Greene, was involved in last season's nightmare, a 35-6 victory for the South all-stars.
It would be a stretch to assume this group of 17- and 18-year-old athletes, and their coaching staffs, have any allegiance to Rotary games goneby.
No, for many in North jerseys, tonight's annual grudge match should be about atoning for last week's mistakes.
Exactly 18 North players were also picked to play for the South in the Lions All-Star Football Classic at the University of the Pacific, including Dennis Stubbs and the Los Banos coaching staff.
In that game, the South won handily, 19-3, snapping a six-year losing streak, but walked a fine line between being disciplined and deviant.
At one point, I feared the Lions game might be called in the third quarter, leaving us with a lasting image of the Zebras walking off into the night, a gaggle of hung-jawed fans and players left pondering a game unfinished.
The rough stuff started early. Really early, which was to be expected.
You can't put 40 athletes in pads for the first time in months, feed 'em full of venom and not expect them to come out the chute like a rocket.
And blast off, they did.
A push-and-shove skirmish broke out after the South fumbled the game's opening kickoff.
Another followed after the North's first offensive play -- a run of little gain.
Soon after, Merced defensive end Nathan Mayfield was pointed toward the sideline with a 5-minute suspension.
His crime: chatter-boxing.
Turlock's Mason Russell and Enoch's Chris Tynes were also given short in-game suspensions.
Their crime: More unneccesary chit-chat.
The tipping point, however, came at the start of the third quarter when Oakdale running back Nicky Batteate, a sure-fire starter in tonight's game, was booted.
Not for a play.
Or a few minutes.
But the game.
Batteate chest-bumped an opposing player after the whistle on the opening kickoff. The hit was soft, but clearly malicious.
It appeared as though Batteate was trying to send a message, but instead found himself on the business end of authority.
The white-capped official had seen enough and booted Batteate -- ironically one of the game's two Most Inspirational players -- from the game.
As he exited the field, he flung his helmet into the bench area.
Minutes later, after a much more violent and illegal hit by an opposing cornerback on Patterson's Ronyea Ellington, Batteate was back on the field.
Without his helmet.
Yelling and parading about, motioning for another ejection.
It was an embarrassing sight, to be sure, one fueled by teen-aged angst and adrenaline.
"The whole thing started when they mobbed our center on the punt, which was illegal, and they just let it go," Stubbs said following last week's game, addressing the rowdy on-field behavior.
"It's too bad because they (North) got a bad 15-yarder and their kid didn't get thrown out.
"(Batteate) felt bad and I know he wanted to be out there, but he's playing for us (tonight), so he'll get another chance."
Last week, many of these Rotary North all-stars gave Valley football fans a show.
They won the game with a stalwart defense and a quick-strike attack on offense.
But they also played to an ignorant set of fans that hung on the railing, begging the all-stars to
This time around, the all-stars would be wise to listen to Greene, the Rotary game's leading man since 1985, and keep their attitudes in check.
Remember: it's an all-star game, an exhibition.
"I'm not a dictator, but I control this game pretty good," said Greene, who watched last week's Lions game from the stands and hasn't had a Rotary squirmish in more than
20 years. "I'm right there on the sidelines.
"If a kid gets kicked out,
I tell the kid, 'You're not going to stand on the sidelines. You're going to sit in the stands with your parents, like a normal game.' "
And no one wants to see that. Ever.
Run, pass, block and tackle to your heart's content. Just leave the kicking and screaming to the cheerleaders.
James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.