Sportsmanship seen in TSD game was a first for me

By Steve Williams

There were two football home openers in Knoxville on Sept. 1 – the Tennessee Vols hosting Ball State at Neyland Stadium and the TSD Vikings entertaining South Carolina School for the Deaf at Chambers Field.

Both kicked off around 7 and were just across the Tennessee River from each other. Outside of that, there was a world of difference between the two.

While driving over to TSD though, I thought I’d probably be covering the best game in town from a competitive standpoint and boy was I right.

While the Vols were beating the Cardinals 59-10, I saw the Vikings pull out a 44-36 win over the Hornets.

The hard-fought battle was exciting, but what happened after the traditional line of post-game handshakes ended was a first for me, and I’ve been covering high school football games for a long time.

Both head coaches (Michael Sims of SCSD and Bill Osborne of TSD) brought their teams together near the center of the field. Neither coach was deaf and spoke to the players with their voice and sign language.

Coach Sims addressed the teams first.

“Both teams I’m proud of you,” said Sims. “I’m proud of you all. Good game! Long game!”

The emphasis on the game being long – it lasted around three hours – had to do with the small number of players on each squad. South Carolina had 14 players on its roster, while TSD had 19 players. While the 8-man game was played on a smaller 80-yard field, many of the boys played on offense, defense and special teams and exerted plenty of energy.

The TSD coach, which saw SCSD return the opening kickoff for a touchdown and score on its next possession too for a quick 16-0 lead, began his comments with a complimentary question for the Hornets.

“This was your all’s first game in how long,” asked Osborne. “That was awesome.

“That (the game) was so much fun. Thank you for coming and have a safe trip back. I’m ready to play you guys again soon, OK?”

The players answered with clapping and cheers.

Then both teams tightened up the circle closer together and continued to cheer together as they raised their green and purple helmets high into the air!

Coach Sims walked by me after that and I told him I had covered a lot of games, but that moment touched my heart, and I had never seen it before.

“Yes, it’s wonderful how we can be a family, we can be close friends after playing a tough game,” said Sims. “That showed good sportsmanship and that’s what we want both teams to have.”

As for the two teams coming together like they did, TSD’s Coach Osborne added: “The deaf community is a tight-knit one. We battle out there on the field, but after the game, we come together and we’re one community again.

“It’s something when it’s both teams out there (celebrating together) isn’t it. It’s awesome.”

It was a first for me.