Savage Words: Picking up trash after an emotional loss

Tom A. Savage, Contributing writer

I’d only seen it happen one other time.

I’ve covered hundreds of high school and college football games over the years, and only once did I see something that truly caught my eye when the game clock hit zero.

While working for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls about 10 years ago, I was sent to cover a West Central High School road game. The Trojans won, and after several minutes following the team’s get-together on the field and players were slowly parading their way onto awaiting buses, I noticed Trojans head coach Kent Mueller by himself on the West Central sidelines, picking up athletic tape, empty water bottles and various pieces of trash. 

I found his actions interesting, and admirable.

Not that any coach or any position in life is above another, but it still struck me as odd that the head coach was relegated to picking up trash on the sidelines after a game. Surely a student assistant, intern, facility worker, somebody … could pick up the vast debris field of athletic tape, gauze, sign boards and ripped jerseys after the game.

I said something to Mueller 10 years ago that I thought his actions were admirable. I said the same things to Coach Matt Christensen on Friday night. It had to have been especially hard, knowing his Brandon Valley football team was ever so close to pulling the upset of the year by pushing top-ranked Sioux Falls Lincoln to the brink.

“Gotta do it,” he said when I pointed it out to him. “Can’t leave stuff lying all over.”

Just moments prior, he spoke to his heartbroken team at about the 30-yard line as they huddled and pondered what might have been. There were tears. A lot of tears, and hugs.

“There are rare occasions in which men hug and cry like this,” Christensen said. “Those are the chances you look forward to because then things matter and you rely on each other more and you care more.”

The Lincoln team also huddled on the opposite 30-yard line after the game. When head coach Jared Fredenburg got a final roar from his Patriots, they broke and cheered in delight as they ran directly by the Brandon Valley crew who continued to hug and fight back tears.

Again, that had to have been a tough moment for the Lynx.

“There’s other teams that have great players and that’s good for them, but I wouldn’t want to go to battle with anybody other than you guys,” assistant coach and offensive coordinator Mike Zerr told the Brandon Valley players as Lincoln marched by with helmets in the air.

The Brandon Valley huddle at the 30 stuck around for several more minutes. Some players and coaches finally broke and went directly to the Howard Wood Field locker room on the north side of the complex. Some of them walked slowly to the south end where family and friends waited to greet them. Again, some long, long hugs were shared on the south end.

All the while, Christensen was by himself at midfield, picking up trash on the Brandon Valley sidelines.

While Christensen was picking up trash, I asked him again about the emotional ending – the hugs and tears – to a season that fell a drive short of continuing to the Dakota Dome and the Class 11AAA final.

For whatever reason – like it or not – football gets more attention than most other sports on the high school and collegiate level.

“That’s what’s awesome about it. That’s why you do it,” he said. “You do it for the competition, the togetherness and the ups and downs. You don’t want to be flat-lining in life. You want an emotional range, and football provides that.”





The Brandon Valley Journal


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