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European edition, Friday, September 21, 2007

Some fans who saw the final score of last Saturday’s Heidelberg-Lakenheath football game — 48-6 — on the scoreboard probably scratched their heads when they saw the score listed as 45-6 in Sunday’s Stars and Stripes.

The discrepancy was the result of a DODDS-Europe policy that requires high school coaches in one-sided games to edit the final score before reporting it to Stars and Stripes. It is the responsibility of the home team coach to send scores and pertinent statistics to the newspaper.

“When a game is decided by a margin of more than 39 points, the coaches are required to remove enough points from the winning team’s total to reduce the final margin to no more than 39 points,” DODDS-Europe athletic director Karen Seadore said Tuesday night by telephone.

It’s a matter of empathy, she said.

“We’re teaching kids good sportsmanship and concern for others,” she said. “If a team loses 70-0 and sees it in the paper, it’s sometimes difficult for young athletes to recover from that.”

Stars and Stripes learned about the policy Saturday when a coach sent an e-mail changing the final score he had given earlier, stating that he was not allowed to report more than a 39-point difference.

The newspaper does not condone the incorrect reporting of sporting events.

“We’ve just learned of this intentional reporting of false information to the news media, and find it very disturbing,” said Doug Clawson, Stars and Stripes managing editor. “We are reviewing what actions we need to take to ensure this newspaper provides our readers with true and accurate information.”

DODDS-Europe has always tried to mitigate mismatches. It is not unusual in the highly mobile European theater for some high school programs to go from talent-rich to nothing at all with the cutting of a few sets of orders by higher headquarters. Few players spend more than three years in the system, making it hard to develop consistency. Teams can be good one season, and have nothing the next.

DODDS is in line with many stateside schools in having a “mercy rule,” called a “courtesy rule” here.

According to a 2006 article in the Washington Post, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported more than half of the states use some form of the mercy rule in football. The federation implemented it in 1989 and added the running-clock component in 1993.

In the past in Europe, scorekeeping ended when the margin of victory exceeded 40 points.

“When we had the 40-point rule, a lot of coaches quit playing at that point,” Seadore said, “even though they might have traveled over the Alps or across the English Channel. The running clock keeps both teams interested.”

She added that coaches still have the option of ending the game for safety reasons.

But it’s to prevent injured feelings that the 39-point reporting rule was adopted, two of Europe’s most successful coaches said.

“I stand completely behind the 39-point rule,” said Naples coach Jim Hall, who took over a moribund program in the late 1990s and turned it into a perennial power. “I don’t want to see any kid get embarrassed. If a kid loses 76-0 and has to go to school Monday after everyone’s read about it, he can easily be embarrassed.

“I tell our team that whatever the score, we have to respect the people lined up across from us, just because they’re there.”

Hall’s assessment of peer criticism has professional backing. In its article, the Post quoted sports psychologist Debbie Wilson saying that sometimes the worst part of a lopsided defeat is not the game itself, viewing the game film or the tough practices the next week, but rather “It’s facing your needling classmates.”

Ansbach coach Marcus George, whose teams have lost just two games in the last five seasons, cited the population turbulence of DODDS schools as an important reason for the 39-point rule.

“In the States, where you have continuity of programs, you can hold programs accountable,” he said. “But over here, where you have a constant turnover of players and coaches, programs can fall apart ... Teams can lose 70-0. It’s embarrassing to put that in the paper.

“The rule is all about teaching respect for the other team.”

Perhaps, but players who talked to Stars and Stripes for this story mostly rejected the misrepresentations the 39-point reporting rule entails.

“It’s not right,” Kaiserslautern junior wide receiver Ishmael Hampton said Wednesday. “They should post the true score.”

Hampton’s teammate, Jordan Dodgen, a senior center, was just as forceful.

“I’d rather have people know we got killed, than make up a score,” he said.

Dallas Cagle, a senior tackle at Naples, said he disagreed with the part of the mercy rule that required under-reporting the final score.

“No one wants to see a team get crushed, but it’s more important for the score to accurately reflect the game.”

Two Lakenheath players said their psyches weren’t particularly damaged by coming up 42 points short, or 39, Saturday.

“The true score of the game should be in the paper,” Tyler Parminter, a junior offensive tackle, said Tuesday. “It doesn’t make us feel any better.”

Students need to deal with the realities of losing, no matter the score, added senior Chuck Pope, a running back.

“We know the score, because we were there,” he said. “Kids need to deal with it. They need to man up.”

Reporters Ben Bloker, Geoff Ziezulewicz and Lisa Novak contributed to this story.

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