SONY DSCby Jeff Laughlin

By the time anyone reads this, Dudley High School will have been eliminated from the state high school playoffs. They will not have participated, either.

A 10-0 team that has been a powerhouse the last couple of years, Dudley played their final game of the regular season — a blowout win — and played a JV player. That player had participated just a few days before in a JV game. That illegality denied Dudley their dreams.

The coaches claim it was an accident — a moment of panic brought on by an on-field mistake.

What most people won’t see: Some end-of-the-bench youngster got to play on a team that could win a state championship, a team that could go undefeated. Some would call that a dream rather than a detriment.

The NCHSAA deemed the play unfair. Bureaucracy does not deal in dreams.

They punished Dudley for playing the scrub in meaningless minutes of a game long decided. And they punished Dudley in the most unimaginable way possible: They robbed people of the chance to see how good they could be.

Think about that. We had a team in Greensboro that could have been an undefeated giant, a team full of kids who could have realized their potential in something. And the bureaucracy, in the interest of fairness, told them: No. You cannot try and realize your athletic potential this year, because you cheated by allowing a kid to take the field with less than a minute left.

Okay, that’s a little overblown.

Resiliency comes naturally in high school. If I had thin skin as a youngster, I’d be dead or crazy. The kids will soldier on — some of them will graduate, others will come back to a good team next year and the cosmic ballet will continue.

Living in the now, though, let’s be realistic. The coach stood and apologized for not fully understanding the scope of rules meant to protect players. He offered to walk away from the team as they chased a second straight championship. Dudley forfeited a win to end a 25-game win streak. During appeal, the principal even said that the coaches “let down the community.”

That’s a crock.

The only people hurt in this are kids. Kids. They don’t get to play because a coach lacked oversight. It doesn’t matter that playing this one kid happened as a matter of gentility long thought necessary in sports. Be polite enough not to continue to destroy an opponent. By following the rules of gentility, they violated one of ethics.

Remember that gentility and ethics, while important, are made up solely to protect feelings. The NCHSAA exists to protect players. No one really wins in either case regarding this incident, but that doesn’t matter now.

Now, we get nothing.

I had planned on going to see Dudley on Friday — my first high school football game in this area since I moved here. I typically stay away from celebrating high school athletics because I believe that children should be allowed to be children. Hyping their performance or chastising the lack of ability at a young age has massive consequences and I honestly don’t understand enough about that age to involve myself.

That said, I was attracted to this team for the same reason anyone would be. Dominance and greatness so rarely come at any level. Dudley’s only accomplishment would be to impress me. I don’t want to know any more than what I have to.

Now, I know nothing.

I know more about the rules of North Carolina high school football, but not on the field. I know more about bureaucracy than on-field product.

Someone will be crowned state champion soon. Perhaps they beat the best team in the state to get there. Perhaps they did not. That kind of mystery can no longer be solved, but the case closed on some kids realizing their dreams. And a boardroom full of adults could have done something about it. Instead, they followed the rules.

Funny thing about dreams deferred, the ones deferring rarely bear the brunt of consequence. They never see the dreams dry up or fester like sores.

And we’ll never see this Dudley team explode.

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