Joetopia

Paso football coach deserves this second chance. The community deserves an apology.

Rich Schimke talks to Paso Robles High football players during a game against Clovis North in September.
Rich Schimke talks to Paso Robles High football players during a game against Clovis North in September. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It pains me a bit to say this, but the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District made the right decision in reinstating head football coach Rich Schimke to his teaching duties following the locker room syrup incident last month.

That’s because while I believe in second chances, part of me would also like to take a zero-tolerance approach to yet another example of boys (or men) behaving badly, especially one that comes out of the football world, with its macho attitudes and self-inflated sense of importance.

For that reason, the district was also wise in keeping Schimke away from the field for the rest of this season. It is not public whether he will ever coach again.

Schimke was placed on paid administrative leave last month for what the district initially would only say was an incident with a student.

On Tuesday, The Tribune obtained video of the incident, which involved Schimke pouring syrup into the belly button of a player and then either licking or pretending to lick it, to the delight of the cheering team.

The stunt was part of an impromptu locker room celebration following an Oct. 14 victory over San Luis Obispo High School, and it’s kind of funny that this whole brouhaha would stem from a win over the Tigers. I’m not sure why the Bearcats were so thrilled by a victory over a team that hasn’t won a game this season.

But anyhow, for some reason, on that day they decided to honor the offensive player who recorded the most “pancakes,” which refers to a lineman putting a defender on his back.

And for some reason, the player, Joe Moscato, asked for the syrup to be poured onto him.

And for some reason, the coach not only obliged, but then knelt down on the floor next to the shirtless teen and appeared to take a “body shot” of syrup out of the kid’s belly button, although whether he actually licked the syrup remains in dispute.

What isn’t in dispute is Schimke’s absurd lapse of judgment, putting himself in a visually compromising position with an underage student in a moment that was caught on video and eventually shared with the player’s mother, who, understandably, was offended by the coach’s behavior.

The video is ridiculous, and it makes it very difficult to buy the old saw that football turns boys into men when here it was clearly the other way around.

Schimke was supposed to be the adult in the room, not some kid hopped-up on adrenaline fresh from smashing bodies on the field. He was the one who was supposed to set an example, not join in like a frat brother at a spring break party.

That he was unable to maintain that boundary raises serious questions about his decision-making as a coach.

I don’t know whether this truly was an anomaly, as his supporters say, or whether it’s evidence of a pattern of behavior, but I trust that the district did a thorough investigation in justifying Schimke’s return to the classroom.

As bad a look as this incident was, it’s not so bad as to ruin all the years of work he has put in as both a coach and teacher at Paso Robles High School.

That being said, he only gets one second chance in a case like this, and I hope the experience has been a sobering wake-up call.

Also, now that the district has cleared Schimke to resume teaching, I expect him to address the issue publicly if he has any hope of returning to coaching one day.

I expect him to treat his role as an educator with respect. That means not downplaying this situation.

If he does that, maybe he can come back as a coach at some point, but first he owes both the player’s mother and the Paso Robles High School community a sincere apology, a promise that this incident was isolated and not a measure of his true character, and a vow that such foolishness will never happen anywhere again.

Joe Tarica is senior editor for The Tribune. 805-781-7911, jtarica@thetribunenews.com, @joetarica

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