Drew Chaltry – Managing Editor
MVNU Men’s soccer coach Andrew Belleman has taken some fire from some Cougar fans for his conduct in last weekend’s match against Point Park University (Pennsylvania), during which he was ejected for kicking a chair on the sideline.
While this may seem to many like a harmless, albeit nonproductive, method of discharging frustration, others view it as an affront to the image all representatives of MVNU are supposed to uphold as a Christian institution.
While there is a certain demeanor that ALL coaches and players should conduct, I don’t believe that just because MVNU’s athletics are part of a Christian university that emotion and passion should be removed from the game.
First of all, let me be very clear in saying that I am not endorsing cursing at referees or players fighting on the court/field/pitch. Those and similar actions are obviously well out of bounds (pun slightly intended) in sports.
However, the occasional display of emotion, joyful or otherwise, is a huge part of what makes athletic competition so exciting to both players and spectators.
Now, to the case of Coach Belleman.
To set the stage, MVNU trailed Point Park 1-0 after a late free kick gave the Pioneers a lead in what had been, to put it lightly, a scrappy game. Both teams had played aggressively from the start, and tensions were running visibly high.
In the second half, seven cards were awarded — including the red card which ejected Belleman from the game and suspended him from Tuesday’s game at Ohio Christian University.
In the final minute of regulation, MVNU had a scoring opportunity as Brent Schilling took a ball into the box and was taken to the ground by a Point Park defender on an obvious foul which failed to draw a flag. The opportunity for the equalizer was negated by a play that should have given MVNU a penalty kick and a chance to go to overtime.
But that call never came.
And that’s when Coach Belleman’s chair was airmailed to the woods behind Cougar Field.
Understandably upset with the call, or rather lack thereof, Belleman called to the head referee and asked for an explanation, which was apparently something to the tune of “there was no foul.” And then Belleman, who had already received a yellow card in the first half for arguing a call, booted a chair like it was an unsuspecting thug in a Bruce Lee movie.
Now to some, this may seem like the act of a sore loser, but it goes much deeper than that with Coach Belleman. The problem wasn’t that the Cougars were going to lose the game. Teams lose and coaches understand that. This was a coach defending his player.
You can ask any athlete who has played a competitive sport and pretty much all of them would say they appreciate when a coach sticks his neck out for them in a game. All athletes need to know that the coach has their back and is even willing to get kicked out of a game to try and protect them.
Whether it’s a baseball manager coming out of the dugout to argue a call or a basketball coach calling a timeout just to have a conversation with the referee, or – just maybe – a soccer coach dropkicking a chair, knowing that the coach is there to back him or her up is important to every player.
I watch every MVNU home soccer match and I can tell you that I’ve seen Andrew Belleman fired up several times. Normally, he casually patrols the Cougar sideline with his arms crossed, calling out the occasional play or command to his players.
But, from time to time, he will shout and yes, occasionally even kick something (this is soccer after all). But this is what all of these outbursts have in common: they are always to protect a player.
I remember an occasion last season when goalkeeper Ryan Swartzentruber covered up a ball and then took a late hit from a cleat while he was on the ground, usually an automatic foul in soccer.
This was another instance where the play did not elicit the necessary call, and once again Belleman was furious. It wasn’t the fact that the player didn’t get a card that angered him; it was the fact that the officials were not protecting his players as they should have been.
Whether or not you believe that coaches getting tossed is part of the game, they take that chance for a reason.
There is an expectation that the officials will protect the players and assure that both teams are allowed to play the game as it is meant to be played. When that expectation is not met, it falls to the coach to make sure that it happens — and the good ones will do anything, including get ejected, to make sure that point is clear.
So when you see a soccer coach kick a chair, or a basketball coach break a clipboard over his knee or a baseball coach get in the face of an umpire, consider the bigger picture.
While the overall job of college coaches may be to win games, part of that responsibility means standing up for their players. And I will never fault a coach for doing that.