MARCELLUS, N.Y. - A junior varsity football coach suspended for making his players lie down in a central New York cemetery as a post-defeat motivational ploy said he borrowed the idea from a pivotal scene in the 2000 Denzel Washington film "Remember the Titans."
Craig Tice, superintendent of the Marcellus school district outside Syracuse, announced Thursday that coach Jim Marsh has been suspended for two weeks without pay for last weekend's spur-of-the-moment stop at a rural cemetery.
Marsh's team was returning from a loss last Saturday at neighbouring Skaneateles when he had the bus pull over at a cemetery and told the 24 players to lie down between rows of graves. The coach then talked to them about the importance of playing hard.
Tice said some of the players, who were still in uniform, laid down on top of graves at St. Francis Xavier cemetery, near the Marcellus school campus 20 kilometres southwest of Syracuse. Some parents complained to school officials after being told by the players what had occurred.
Marsh apologized during a meeting with players and their parents at the school Thursday night, telling them he was trying to inspire the team by recreating a scene from "Remember the Titans," which told the story of a newly integrated Virginia high school's football team in 1971, with Washington portraying the head coach.
During one scene set at the team's pre-season camp at Pennsylvania's Gettysburg College, the players stop for a breather in a fog-shrouded Civil War graveyard during a training run. Washington's character uses the setting to tell his players, black and white, to "take a lesson from the dead" and start playing together as a team or face defeat.
"I tried to seize an opportunity to inspire the team with a theme from 'Remember the Titans,'" Marsh's statement to players and parents read. "My only thought was to bring them to a realization of what a great thing it is to be able to play football with your friends, and how great it would be to work hard and triumph the following Saturday."
Marsh offered to resign as coach but Tice said he refused to accept it.
Tice described Marsh as a well-liked and highly regarded teacher and coach in Marcellus. Marsh was teaching classes Friday and wasn't available for comment, Tice said.
"There were a number of critics but many more supporters" of Marsh's graveyard ploy, Tice told The Associated Press on Friday.
Marsh offered to donate two weeks of coaching salary, $750, to the cemetery for upkeep of the grounds, the superintendent said.
The suspension has no bearing on Marsh's job as English teacher at the Marcellus high school or his role as the coach of the school's boys' varsity basketball team, Tice said.
"I do not regret the message of asking players and students to give all that they have for themselves, their peers, and their community," Marsh said in his statement. "I do not regret telling my students, my players, to be resilient when faced with challenges, to accept the responsibility for your actions, and to handle these things with class and dignity."
The junior varsity team is being led by an assistant coach.