Sports Desk: A scoreboard reveals more turned off than on

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09/17/2014 5:00 PM |
Zach Holmes of Greenport/Southold/Mattituck tries to thwart an attempted tackle by Babylon's James Messina. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Zach Holmes of Greenport/Southold/Mattituck tries to thwart an attempted tackle by Babylon’s James Messina. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Friday night marked the opening game for the Greenport/Southold/Mattituck high school football team’s season, and Dorrie Jackson Memorial Field at Greenport High School may have never looked so nice. Along with the plush grass field, which has been well-watered, there were new NFL-style goal posts. The recently painted purple and gold bleachers looked brilliant in the fading sunlight as kickoff time approached. And there, on the south end of the field, was the sharp looking scoreboard, which was installed last season.

Ah, yes, the scoreboard.

On a night when the game was cut and dried, it was the scoreboard that provided the only real controversy — if you want to call it that — of the evening.

Babylon was in town, and anyone who follows high school football in Suffolk County knows what that means. The two-time defending Long Island Class IV champion Panthers are a powerhouse, one of the amazing stories in Long Island sports, really. Year in, year out, this small school somehow churns out another roster packed with good players, and they win with remarkable regularity.

Some years Babylon is essentially in a league of its own, atop Division IV. Many of Babylon’s games are so one-sided that they are essentially decided by halftime, if not the first quarter.

Yes, the Panthers are that good.

Babylon is also fortunate to have one of the top coaches in the county in Rick Punzone, who not only wins, but wins with class. Punzone doesn’t run up scores on weaker opponents. He will pull his starters out and insert substitutes once the result is assured.

In those instances when one team pulls so far ahead of another in the score, the game officials, with the consent of the opposing coaches, will let the remaining time on the clock run, without the usual stoppages, say, for an incomplete pass or a player running out of bounds.

Most people, I think, see that as the sensible thing to do. After all, when the score is 48-0, what is the point in prolonging the agony, potentially putting even more points up and unnecessarily subjecting players to a greater threat of injury?

So, as was expected, Babylon pulled comfortably ahead of the Porters by halftime, holding a 35-0 lead (the eventual final score for Babylon’s 25th straight win and Punzone’s 100th career win).

That’s when the game went into run-the-clock mode. Before the third quarter began, a game official instructed press-box personnel to turn off the scoreboard clock, indicating that the officials would keep the time on the field.

So, the scoreboard clock operator, Chris Buckley, did what he was told. Because Buckley did not know how to turn off the scoreboard clock without also wiping out the score and other information on the scoreboard, he shut it all down.

That’s when things got interesting.

It wasn’t long before the public-address announcer, Greg Dlhopolsky, was fielding inquiries from upset Porters fans about why the scoreboard wasn’t on. The first fan who asked about it wasn’t pleased at all. “This is bad,” he said, going so far as to declare it the low point in the program’s history. Others made their displeasure known.

While fans undoubtedly like to turn to the scoreboard to see the score, the time, the down and the distance, I think the source of this discontent was more about pride than electronic numbers. These Porters fans did not like the appearance that the scoreboard had been turned off in order to hide the score. I have to say there is something admirable about that sort of a stand-up attitude.

The blank scoreboard clearly touched a nerve. Greenport’s athletic director, Jim Caliendo, said he was taken by surprise at how many people objected to it. “I’ve been coaching 35 years,” he said. “I have never seen that happen.”

If such a situation arises in the future, Caliendo said, the scoreboard clock will be set at 0:00, and an announcement will be made that the time will be kept by the officials on the field.

It sounds like a wise policy. People want to know what is going on.

The merits of turning off a scoreboard clock at any time may be argued, but there is no arguing what a blank scoreboard said about the fans in Greenport: Regardless of the score, they have a lot of pride in their team.

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