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    Wednesday, February 21, 2024

    Stonington should consider pausing football game with Westerly

    News item: Westerly High School football coach Stanley Dunbar called a timeout with 33 seconds left — and then another with eight seconds left — during last week’s Thanksgiving Day game with Stonington so his team could score one final touchdown with a 49-0 lead.

    His team succeeded on the last play. The final score was 55-0.

    A more cynical fellow might wonder why he didn’t just try the two-point conversion, too.

    The man should consider himself fortunate that I’m not the principal of Stonington High School. Because the message to Westerly would be simple: The Stonington-Westerly game goes on pause until Mr. Dunbar undergoes remedial training and education about sportsmanship and dignity.

    High school sports have no place — none, zero — for an alleged educator who allows personal whims to trample any hint of respect for the opponent. But then, this is what happens when there’s nobody around to educate the educators.

    And spare me all the rhapsody over “the oldest Thanksgiving Day rivalry in the country.” Mr. Dunbar’s odious behavior suggests he shouldn’t be in charge of anything more significant than a garage sale at the moment, certainly not coaching kids.

    I let a few days pass over the weekend and reached out to Stonington athletic director Bryan Morrone and football coach A.J. Massengale earlier this week, asking if they’ve received an apology from anyone associated with Westerly High School. Both confirmed they’d heard nothing. I asked Westerly athletic director Jamey Vetelino via e-mail earlier this week whether an apology to Stonington would be forthcoming from Mr. Dunbar.

    “We will not be making any comment in reference to that particular part of the game,” Vetelino wrote.

    Swell. When all else fails … hide.

    Since nobody at Westerly is talking, we are left to share the details of the game from the Westerly Sun. Here are excerpts:

    “With a 49-0 lead, the Bulldogs used two timeouts in the final minute so Caleb Williams, a freshman, could attempt to throw a TD pass to his brother Lance, a senior. It didn't work, but the Bulldogs scored anyway on the last play of the game.

    “At halftime, they came to me and said, 'Coach, I want Caleb to throw me a touchdown pass if we get in that situation,’” Dunbar said. “I understand in that situation you are not supposed to do that. But in a moment like that, those two kids, a big brother and a little brother, you are not going to get those kind of opportunities probably the rest of their lives. That's what we were trying to do.”

    Let’s pause briefly to reflect: An adult just admitted that he knew an action to be wrong, but he let his players do it anyway.

    What an inspiring lesson.

    “Westerly called a timeout with 33 seconds left in the game (and later) with eight seconds left,” per the report in the Sun. “The younger Williams then found Ben Gorman open on the opposite side of the field from his brother for a 4-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game.

    “I think if I was on the other side, maybe I would be mad,” Dunbar said. “But I am also the type of guy that I am going to take accountability of us being in that situation. If that was my team, I would say you shouldn't be down that much.”

    It’s almost amusing that Mr. Dunbar uttered the word “accountability.” He wouldn’t know accountability if it hit him upside the head with a snow shovel. And then he has the audacity to lecture Stonington about the efficacy of its program?

    Here is what I know about Stonington football: With a 49-0 lead, Massengale’s players would be in victory formation. That’s who he is, what he was taught and how he teaches his players. Neither he nor his players deserved their dignity to be imperiled. But they certainly deserve an apology and the assurance from their longtime rivals that this never happens again.

    And if you subscribe to the camp that believes the answer to all this is “Stonington just needs to get better,” you are as astray as Mr. Dunbar.

    I don’t believe Sal Augeri ever acted with such disdain in his days as Westerly’s football coach. I surely know Chris Wriedt was a gentleman. And if Mr. Dunbar is allowed back into that program coaching and teaching kids without some serious discipline and better direction, Westerly football simply isn’t worth following a minute longer. It would stand for all the wrong things, led by a head coach whose actions disgraced the longest Thanksgiving high school football rivalry of them all.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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