High School Sports

ESL’s Young put promising career in jeopardy with halftime rant

Coaches try all kinds of things in an attempt to rouse the competitive spirit of their players.

Former Mascoutah football coach Fred von der Linden told me once how he tried to pump up his team for a game against the Roxana Shells by swiping a shell-shaped lamp from home and smashing it into smithereens during his pregame spiel.

He yelled, “Are we going to smash the Shells?” just before sending shards of glass scattering in every direction.

I myself had a baseball coach who called me Alice for an entire season — as in “Alice, pull up your skirt and hit the ball!”

And then there’s East St. Louis basketball coach Tony Young, whose career suddenly hangs in the balance.

The District 189 school board is investigating an epic halftime rant during a home game against Alton on Jan. 13, an audio recording of which surfaced briefly on YouTube. There were allegations that Young berated his players with profane language, racial slurs and specific instructions to inflict bodily harm against an opponent.

The board has suspended him with pay as it investigates. But, if Young ends up losing his job —which would be a real shame — it will be because there is more here than meets the ears.

I listened to the four-part recording late last week and what I heard does not align with what’s been alleged.

If there were racial slurs, I missed them. And the notion that he ordered injury to an opponent is bogus.

At one point, Young reprimanded a player about his soft play under the basket, suggesting he was being manhandled by an opponent. He told the kid to push back, adding “clothesline the (nasty word) if you have to.”

That seems pretty drastic at its face, but context is everything.

Without context, von der Linden’s shell-smashing antics would seem like a full-blown temper tantrum. Without context, my old baseball coach must have really believed I was a girl.

Coaches are prone to theatrics. The exaggeration was part of Young’s performance.

He didn’t really want the Alton player clotheslined. He wanted his own player to give a little more effort.

This leaves the issue of Young’s “motivational” vocabulary.

He was, in fact, liberal in his use of a certain expletive he pairs frequently with the word “mother.” Certainly not all coaches yell and cuss, but a lot of them use some pretty colorful language. Mothers would blush, but there is a locker room culture which accepts this as a part of competition and motivation.

Young’s rant was, at times, hard to listen to. If I was the parent of a student-athlete who was inside that locker room, I would be upset. But on the basis of some choice words alone, I would not be after his job.

At age 30, Young has brought stability to a notoriously unstable program and he has too much future ahead of him.

Without commenting on the current allegations, other Southwestern Conference coaches have shared their respect for Young, both as a coach and as a person. That’s meaningful.

And, in the midst of the Flyers’ finest season in years — one that has them ranked No. 7 in the state Class 4A and No. 1 in the BND poll — the players showed their support for their coach by sporting “Team Young” t-shirts and their first game without him.

No doubt Young’s choice of motivational language should be addressed.

But to allow his promise to be shattered like glass by exaggerated allegations would be the real obscenity.