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Column: Toeing the Onside Kick Debate
By DAVID BREIDENBACH, Correspondent
Nov 1, 2012, 12:47

The Dinwiddie High School football team kicks an onside kick during a Central District road game against Colonial Heights on Oct. 19 (photo by David Breidenbach).


Some might call it a contrast in styles; others see it as a matter of sportsmanship.

Two weeks ago, the Dinwiddie High School football team raised the ire of Colonial Heights fans by consistently kicking onside kicks after scoring plays, even when the game was decidedly out of reach for the Colonials.

Dinwiddie coach Billy Mills explained that his team has opted for the short kicks because it generally only costs them one first down for a chance to get the ball back.

Essentially, the strategy is low-risk, high-reward.

Mills said he and his defensive coordinator had reviewed film of kickoffs for last season and found that the average kick return left the ball on the 37-yard line. Failed onside kicks typically ended up at the 45 or 50-yard line, a difference of about one first down (10 yards).

Once the statistics were compiled, making the philosophical shift was logical.

Admittedly, Mills said that they had not had great success with the philosophy, but he still felt it could benefit his team in the long run.

In football, and especially at the high school level, an element of fairness and sporting behavior should be groomed. When one team so far out-performs another, at some point a sense of gallantry ought to come forward.

Stronger teams, once they have established themselves by virtue of a lopsided score, ought to call off the dogs. At what point the dogs should be called off is another matter altogether, which relies on a coach’s judgment.

Onside kicks are traditionally reserved for last-ditch efforts by teams who are trailing in games, but Dinwiddie’s use of the tactic against Colonial Heights resulted in two additional possessions in the first half.

Consequently, the Generals rolled up a 52-0 lead by halftime. What kind of lead is enough? For the Generals, apparently 52 points didn’t meet the requirement as they started the third quarter with yet another onside kick.

No one argues that Dinwiddie was within its rights to continue to use the approach. The question is about ethics. With the score at 52-0, the second half already was going to feature a running clock, which shortens the playing time, and the chances were non-existent that Colonial Heights might launch a comeback.

To the visitors’ credit, Dinwiddie had turned to its back-up players, and that allowed the Colonials to score three second-half touchdowns to make the final score 66-22.

Fair or unfair?

What did the Generals have to gain? Other than needing to win, the game was meaningless. The Colonials were no match on the field or in the standings. The game was not for a district championship or some other title. Instead, the Generals gained nothing more than a bad reputation among the Colonial Heights faithful.

Prince George also benefited from an onside kick in its 36-0 win over the Colonials last Friday, but under different circumstances. The Colonials had managed to keep that game fairly close in the first half, yielding a touchdown with only minutes to play in the half to give the Royals a 10-0 lead.

After scoring their next touchdown in the third quarter, the Royals tried an onside kick, which they recovered and scored again to push the lead to 17-0. The Royals scored later to go up 23-0 and had a 29-0 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

Obviously in charge of the game, Prince George did not resort to the onside kick again.

The Colonials, who always seem to lack enough players, have been seriously dinged up this season. Their injuries are not just bumps and bruises — torn MCLs, broken wrists, separated shoulders, and hurt tibias are not run-of-the-mill ailments.

Colonial Heights coach Remus James says injuries are part of football, and he just wants to make sure his charges come out and play as hard as they can; which they do.

The other teams in the Central District are aware of Colonial Heights’ personnel situation. That’s one of the reasons the Colonials are invited to so many Homecoming contests. The real question is when and why have teams lost sight of sportsmanship, and the sense of camaraderie that used to exist among district and region foes?

From my perspective, kudos to the Prince George players and coaches for recognizing the situation during the game and holding back from actions that might otherwise seem unsporting.

Once they established the lead and dominance on the field, they let the game play out without feeling the need to pummel a weaker opponent.

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