For the third time ever at Morris Community High School, a Redskins athletic team received the Sportsmanship Award from the IHSA. This fall, the Morris football team garnered the attention of the association for its conduct on and off the field.
"Our ultimate goal was to win the state title. I'm still really proud of the kids for the run," Morris coach Alan Thorson said. "But this is a nice award for the kids. Just for them to know that, not only were they good athletes but that they were good sports on the field, too."
Being a "good sport" on the field does not necessarily mean a spotless record during the season. It just means representing your school well amongst the postseason games.
"It's a committee who decides it. They put their time in and see the games. Playoffs and mainly the state championship games. It's all a perspective," Morris athletic director George Dergo said. "They don't go by what you are perceived as. Morris may have been perceived as having a win-at-all-cost attitude, but it's what they see. Your perception of something isn't always based on the true facts of what happened."
In other words, every team has moments that it know needs to get fixed.
"We get unsportsmanlike penalties or something else like that, but so do other teams," Dergo said. "We don't see all the games in other places, so we don't know who is better than who.
"Someone took notice. We have a good group of kids. What you will find is that a good group of kids like this tend to do real well overall. They performed well and got the recognition they deserved."
Morris senior captain Jeff Perry said that he first heard about the award at the beginning of December, even though the banner was just delivered to the school last week.
"I found out about if a few weeks after state. It means something to me. I'm not really sure how it is chosen or whatever, but I thought it was pretty cool," Perry said. "It was nice to know that we have the team with the best sportsmanship in the state. It's something that has always been a big deal for us growing up. It's nice to have it."
Perry said that he is not sure exactly what the criteria was to get the award but that the Redskins just went about things the way they always have.
"Maybe it was because we weren't being cocky. We'd win and be humble about it," Perry said. "We were raised to play Morris football."
Perhaps the defining moment for the team this fall came at home in the semifinal game against Sacred Heart Griffin. That day, the Cyclones took the field before the game, paraded to the center of the Morris field, waved the school flag and taunted the home sideline and fans. Despite that, Morris waited until the whistle blew before taking it out on their guests.
"We could have just run out there and fought them right then," Perry said. "It comes from the coaching we've gotten all of our lives, not just high school. All of our lives we've been told not to speak with words on the field but with big hits during the game. We wouldn't do anything stupid like that. We know how to act on and off the field. On the field we act just fine, which is why we won the sportsmanship award."
It was a moment that Thorson was proud of.
"That was definitely something our team wouldn't have done. It definitely did fire our kids up. Our kids handled it with class instead of turning into something that it shouldn't have been. Something that didn't need to happen. They decided to take it out on them on the field."
As far as curbing unsportsmanlike penalties, as always it's something coach Thorson wants to see eliminated all together.
"We've tried to make an effort to cut that out," Thorson said. "We don't need that because it just hurts you in the long run."
According to Perry, the way to avoid that is to simply keep your cool at all times.
"When your playing, you can't be stupid and talk after the play," he said. "And don't hit late or do anything like that. It's fairly easy."