Playing By The Rules

Published Friday, Nov. 30, 2007 in The Register-Guard.

Not every subject merits 700 words. Herewith, mini-columns, for shorter attention spans. Bite-sized Fifth Friday Footnotes:

• Has ever a team better made the case for one of its own to win an individual award than the Ducks did last week for Dennis Dixon? The Oregon Ducks became one of the most potent offenses in the country with Dixon taking the snaps. Without him, they never threatened to score even a field goal. He’s shown he was more than the head of the team. He was also the shoulders, and maybe the heart.

Speaking of individual honors, ESPN’s “player of the game” honor last week was given to our punter. Has that ever happened before?

• Speaking of swift kicks, how about one for the Jefferson High School football team? The north Portland team performs a haka war dance to get itself riled up before a game. When the Oregon School Activities Association sanctioned the dance as a “taunt,” the players did the dance faced away from the other team. But that turned out to be less fun, so now they do the dance/taunt and start each game with a 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty.

“I saw how much it meant to them,” said Jefferson’s coach Anthony Stoudamire, after he let the team vote to flout the OSAA ruling. “It got them pumped up, enthusiastic. That’s something, as a coach, I couldn’t take away from them.” The coach allows taunting because it fires up the team? What is this, professional wrestling? How about sharp pointy objects hidden in the players’ socks, for that important midgame pick-me-up? The world was better when students’ coaches were also their teachers. If Stoudamire sat in on a high school civics class, he might learn that voting is good, but only as a means to an end. The rule of law also matters, to preserve the rights of the minority. Or, in this case, the integrity of the game.

• Speaking of team sports, why has Team Springfield done so well with voters this decade, especially compared to Eugene? A few explanations not yet proffered, starting with Eugene as a foil. “Attention, Springfielders! Stop following the leader and we may end up just like Eugene, and who wants that?” But then there are the leaders themselves.

Bill Morrisette deserves credit, both for his strengths and his weaknesses, if you care to call them that. He was a powerful cheerleader and champion for the town during his ten years as mayor. Behind the scenes, he was not a real nuts-and-bolts technician. He was the Big Picture Guy, a combination head coach and team mascot. But you have to understand the rules. City council and the mayor call the plays, but the city manager is the quarterback. Political leaders technically are not supposed to touch the ball, setting policy but not implementing it. With a city manager form of government, that’s how the game is played. Current Mayor Sid Leiken learned well from his predecessor.

Finally, consider this. Springfield allows every voter in the city to vote for every council member. Eugene voters choose only the mayor and the councilperson who represents their ward. At-large voting produces more centrist candidates, attracting support from across every ward. You get less contentious debate at city council meetings, but minority views are less likely to get a fair hearing. In this case it’s good that Morrisette WAS a high school teacher. Mayor Leiken isn’t allowing Springfield City Manager Gino Grimaldi’s staff to do a haka dance before every council meeting, facing west.

Speaking of city managers, Eugene’s search for a new one is well underway. Nothing will shape the city’s future more than the decisions made by the city council in the weeks ahead, as they pare the list of candidates from 65 (now) to twelve (next week) to three (early January) to one (March). If that sounds like an elimination tournament — our own private March Madness — maybe it’ll take our minds of the BCS football game that might have been.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) lives and votes in Eugene’s Ward 2. Readers anywhere can vote for or protest about past and future columns at his blog, right here.