Coming To A Rival’s Rescue

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.10, November 2004,

In high school football, a match-up with a heated rival often makes or breaks a season. So when Mike Bass, Head Football Coach at Port Byron (N.Y.) High School, heard that neighboring Cato-Meridian High School would lose its athletics program because of budget cuts, he decided to offer his help.

Bass organized a weekend-long softball tournament that helped raise $3,000—all of which went to the Cato-Meridian Sports Boosters Club. Bass’s effort was one of numerous fundraisers—most of which were facilitated by the Cato-Meridian boosters—that eventually raised the $75,000 needed to restore all of the school’s fall varsity sports.

By helping to save Cato-Meridian’s season, Bass was working to benefit two programs—his rival’s and his own. He acknowledges it would have been difficult to fill out his schedule had Cato-Meridian not been able to play. And last year’s game brought in 3,000 fans—making it the highest-attended game of Port Byron’s season.

Because Cato-Meridian is Port Byron’s only in-county competition, the game carries added significance. "There are kids on the teams who are related or who are dating girls from the other school, and most of them know each other," says Bass. "It’s a game everybody gets up for—from the players and coaches to students and community members. Rivalries like ours mean too much to both communities to let them slip away."

But more importantly, he says, his student-athletes learned an important lesson. About 10 Port Byron players worked side-by-side with their Cato-Meridian counterparts during the softball tournament, chasing foul balls and taking care of the field during rain delays.

"Some kids initially may have been a little confused as to why we were helping our chief rival, but a lot of them volunteered, and they came away with a better understanding of what it means to help somebody out," says Bass. "Whenever you get an opportunity to teach your players sportsmanship, you have to seize that moment."

Despite accolades from many people at Cato-Meridian—Head Coach Rod Lee said, "Michael Bass stepped up and helped us immensely"—Bass thought his reaction was only natural. "If we’d had the same problem, they’d have come to our rescue," he says.

Port Byron will now get a chance to avenge the stinging loss Cato-Meridian handed it in 2003—a loss that took place during Port Byron’s homecoming. "We were undefeated and favored going into that game. Then we lost, and it really hurt our season," says Bass. "So the kids are looking forward to playing them this season, but you can’t avenge a loss if there isn’t a game. And a bye surely doesn’t avenge a loss."