Curiosity overtook me as I watched Payson’s season-opening boys soccer game on Sept. 1.
The Longhorns are loaded with talented and experienced players and two new coaches with no varsity coaching experience.
It was hard to gauge their performance against an over-matched Holbrook team. Payson won 8-2 and dominated.
But a brief occurrence in the second half proved to me that Payson Unified School District made the right call in hiring Mountain Bible Church Pastor Billy Spalding as head coach.
He brought on Fusion Pastor and longtime soccer official Alfonso Rodriguez as his assistant coach.
A Payson player received a yellow card for doing something I didn’t notice as I took photos. Perhaps he said something that the official deemed inappropriate. Spalding pulled him from the field and sent in a teammate to take his place.
The game was well in hand at the time and there was no need for the player to return and risk either a red card or another yellow card, which would result in a red card and disqualification from the game and the following game.
A couple of minutes later, the player walked back to the side of the field preparing to re-enter.
“What are you doing,” asked the coach.
“I need to go back in,” he replied.
As play stopped, Spalding yelled at the official not to let him re-enter.
Frustrated, the player then walked past Spalding and they had a brief exchange of words and the player picked up his backpack and left the park.
I’m not sure if he quit but his actions let down his team. Had Spalding allowed him to dictate when he played regardless of instructions from his coach, Spalding would have lost the respect of all of his new players.
But he didn’t. He handled the matter just as any coach should. So, he passed a huge early test of his ability to lead a team — not just a possible championship team, but any team.
He took over for a longtime coach, which could make it difficult for the large group of veterans who’ve had some success to accept him.
“The biggest challenge for sure is them learning to respect me as their coach after losing a coach that was their coach their entire high school careers,” he said. “I’m just getting to know them and winning them over. They really had a connection with their old coach and so it’s tough for them to navigate this change and a challenge to learn each other and work together as a team.
“Our goal with this team is to win games, but more importantly it is to help these young men become strong young men of character.”
He said the character issue must come first.
“Yes it does,” he responded when asked if holding his players to a high standard takes precedence over winning.
“We’re willing to lose games not to reward bad behavior,” he said.
As much as I’d love to cover a state championship team at Payson, I couldn’t agree more with the new coach’s stance.
This team will win a lot of games with or without the player. Hopefully, he’ll realize he was wrong, change his attitude and start putting the team first if he’s allowed to return this season.
But the team is what’s important here. And unless every player’s first concern is for their teammates rather than themselves, it won’t win any championships.
And in a game against an opponent that provided no real test for the players, their new coach aced a huge test.