Lakeridge apologizes for its football team's conduct against Jesuit and formulates a plan of action moving forward

by: VERN UYETAKE - After a tumultuous season that featured wins and penalties on the field and an internal coaching struggle, Lakeridge High School will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program. The Lakeridge High School athletic department will conduct a “full evaluation” of this year's football program, according to athletic director Ian Lamont.

The Pacers were under scrutiny for much of the season as the relationship between coach Tom Smythe and Chad Carlson, his hand-picked offensive coordinator, unraveled. On the field, Lakeridge saw more success than it had in years but, at the same time, earned a reputation as being undisciplined and was one of the most heavily penalized teams in the state.

The situation boiled over in Lakeridge's final game of the year last Friday, a quarterfinal match-up at Jesuit High School, which turned ugly in the second half as the Crusaders pulled away.

Lakeridge finished the game with nearly 250 yards of penalties, the majority of which came from personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct infractions. The Pacers had a player ejected from the contest and the teams were instructed not to shake hands following the game.

“There was no excuse for it. We were extremely embarrassed and sorry for what happened. I think we felt like we could win that game and the prospect of losing hit the kids emotionally but I don't think we can defend why some of the kids were still in the game,” Lamont said.

Lakeridge was widely criticized for its conduct and, the morning after the game, Smythe gave a radio interview, chastising the program and Carlson. Last Thursday, The Oregonian ran a large spread documenting myriad issues that the Pacers faced this season.

It's difficult to lock down exactly when things soured between Smythe and Carlson. The long-time coach was nothing but complimentary about his new hire whom he claimed would add energy and new ideas to the program.

“It seemed like a perfect match. Smythe figured this would be his last year and it was the coach and his former player (Carlson). (Smythe) told me before the season that the biggest decision he planned on making during games was whether to call heads or tails for the coin flip,” Lamont said.

According to Lamont, Smythe initially made a push to add Carlson to the program four years ago, following Carlson's dismissal from Lincoln High School after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.

At that time, the hire was vetoed by Superintendent Bill Korach. This offseason, Smythe approached the administration again to hire Carlson and he was approved.

“Tom said he felt like he needed some support in his last year that Chad could provide for him,” Korach said.

Smythe was planning on being overseas in Europe for a large portion of the summer and was happy to hand over the offseason conditioning duties and early practices to Carlson.

In an e-mail sent to his assistant coaches, Smythe also appeared to make it clear that Carlson would be given the authority to make coaching changes as well, informing his current staff that they were free to re-apply for their positions with Carlson.

Carlson did make sweeping changes to the staff on both sides of the ball and his hires were approved by the Lake Oswego School Board.

“I give the coaches autonomy to pick who they want on their staff but the hires need to be approved by the school board,” Lamont said.

While some previous staff members stayed on, others, including some long-time friends and colleagues of Smythe, were not retained.

In an early practice, Lakeridge dealt with an incident involving an assistant coach punching a player. Smythe was not in attendance at the practice as he was undergoing a medical procedure.

“There were concerns from the beginning this year but they were individual issues and now you have the context of the entire season to look back on,” Korach said.

When the season began, Lakeridge had early success but racked up nearly 100 yards of penalties in its chippy season opener against Reynolds.

After a 3-0 start to the season, Lakeridge suffered its first loss to eventual league champion Oregon City 31-21 on Sept. 20. It was a game marred by personal fouls. Despite being competitive in the game until the final minutes, the Pacers racked up more than 200 yards of penalties.

According to Lamont, as the issue became a concern he and the coaching staff began to work aggressively on rectifying the situation.

“The biggest problem kids were getting one-on-one coaching and were in my office. They watched film on acceptable and unacceptable behavior and, for every penalty, the kids ran sprints,” Lamont said.

Lamont was also in communication with former Portland Football Officials Commissioner Bob Welnitz, seeking an outsider's advice on the situation and felt that the team's conduct on the field was improving throughout the year.

Lakeridge lost its second straight league game against Clackamas and then won another penalty-filled game against Carlson's old school, Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Smythe began to distance himself further from the program. He stopped appearing on the sidelines following the Oregon City game and officially announced his retirement prior to the end of the season.

Smythe also sent out a long and detailed e-mail to friends and supporters addressing his issues with Carlson and the football program throughout the season.

At one point, Smythe went to the administration in an effort to get Carlson removed and was denied.

As the Pacers then went on a run, racking up three straight TRL victories, including a dramatic win over rival Lake Oswego, the penalties and accusations of unsportsmanlike play subsided a bit.

“We really felt like we were getting a handle on it,” Lamont said.

The majority of Lakeridge players and parents seemed to respond well to Carlson and supported him, according to Lamont.

“The players and parents I talked to from within the program said while they were disappointed in some of the things that happened, they loved their experience and the coaching they received this year and I've heard from a lot of people outside of the program in the community who were embarrassed and ashamed with what went on and I get that,” Lamont said.

The team was winning quality games and experiencing success in a number of areas where it had been deficient in recent years.

“We had more kids in the weight room than ever before. Thirty kids at a time, which we hadn't seen. A lot of it is just confidence and believing you can match up with the guy across from you. We haven't had an edge the last few years but I don't think we knew where the line was this year,” Lamont said.

In the playoffs, the issue cropped up again in an opening round game at home against South Medford. After a relatively clean first half, things escalated in the third and fourth quarter as the visiting sideline hurled insults at the Pacers.

But things came to a head against Jesuit. After the Crusaders pulled away late in the second quarter, the second half became a mess of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the Pacers and personal fouls by both sides.

The situation reached an unsafe level resulting in an ejection and in the Crusaders opting to simply take a knee on two late possessions.

The fallout from the game was nearly instantaneous and the dirty laundry from the entire season was aired publicly.

As a response, Lakeridge administrators crafted a letter of apology for the team's conduct during the Jesuit game and principal Jennifer Schiele, Lamont and Korach sat down to formulate a course of action.

“There were some great successes with the team this year but there are some things that need to change because we can not have another season like this,” Korach said.

According to Korach, the plan involved three steps, the first of which was to comprehensively evaluate the entire season, a process that he hopes is completed by the end of the month.

Second, Lakeridge will determine what it will take to correct the issues in the program and to put out a request for qualified applicants for the vacant head coaching position. Korach said that Carlson will be able to apply for the job if he chooses.

The final step of the process will be implementing the changes in the program that will need to be approved by the school board.

Lamont also said that, no matter who the new coach is, a formal policy will be in place regarding how to deal with excessive penalties.

The Lakeridge football season has proven to be a divisive issue within the community with individuals vocally showing support for both coaches.

In the fallout from the season, another issue emerged as well. A letter was sent to Lakeridge from a group of Three Rivers League coaches accusing the Pacers of using unethical tactics regarding a handful of transfer students.

But Lamont claims that he and the school did due diligence in assuring that the athletes were cleared to play by the OSAA.

“We have 100 new kids at Lakeridge this year. Earlier I sent an e-mail to every athletic director in the league letting them know about nine transfers on the football team. None of them played until they were cleared by the OSAA. The OSAA called me about two specific kids who didn't play a snap this year because we were still working on getting them eligible. I did home visits and the kids were there and living where they said they were,” Lamont said.

The football season has cast a pall on what had been the program's most successful showing in 15 years and Lamont believes the issue has unfortunately overshadowed Lakeridge's other recent athletic successes, which include a state volleyball title, girls track state title and boys lacrosse state title in the past year.

“I said seven years ago when I took the job that turning around the program is like moving a big ship. It doesn't turn quickly,” Lamont said.

Lamont also claims that the accusations against Lakeridge's athletic program as valuing winning above all else are faulty.

“I've never judged a coach on winning and losing and I think society in general places too much emphasis on winning and losing. We've always strived to win with humility and lose with dignity and obviously we didn't do our job,” Lamont said.

Going forward, the Pacers know they will be scrutinized under a microscope and their conduct in all sport and its hugely important upcoming football hire will be monitored closely.

“It's a very high-profile job and we need to do our due diligence to bring in the best candidate for our players and to ensure that we don't have these issues again,” Korach said.

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