Beat your opponents, but don’t beat them down

Friendly football players

Illustration by Wing-Yee Lee

If there were a national high school football hall of fame, this story from way back in 1994 would certainly be memorialized there, complete with the game ball, old jerseys, and grainy video footage. (No HD in those slower, simpler times.) The story came to our attention from Shannon J. Allen of The Sand Mountain Reporter in Albertville, Alabama. Allen recently wrote about a speech delivered by Boaz High School’s retiring Principal Lowell Smith at AHSAA’s Star Sportsmanship Luncheon.

In his remarks, Smith told the story of the 1994 football game between Albertville and Scottsboro. Albertville was 7-0 coming into the game, but on the final play, Scottsboro completed a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to win 29-23. Here’s how Smith told it:

[An Albertville] defensive back tips the ball trying to bat it down, and it ricochets off and just falls in the hands of a Scottsboro player as he runs across the goal line….

When that happened pandemonium broke loose, but you expect it too. People are excited and jumping up and down like crazy all over that field.

But if you look out on that field in all that pandemonium, you see that little old defensive back over there down on his knees, his head just hanging down, it’s like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. The undefeated season is over.

But in the middle of all of that, there was a kid from Scottsboro, one of the ballplayers, that looked over and saw that boy sitting there on the ground on his knees with his head hanging down.

He quit celebrating and he left the crowd and he went over to that Albertville football player, got down on his knees, put his arms around him and in a minute he stood up, picked him up, put his arms around him and walked off the field with him.

This to me was one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen, especially in high school athletics.

I’ve never met that young man, his name was Bo Butler, and that defensive back was my son (Justin) who tipped that ball.

Bo Butler leaves that celebration, he goes over to my son who was in agony at the time, picks him up and does what a good sport is supposed to do. You beat your opponents but you don’t beat them down, and you don’t taunt them.

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