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THIS COACH TEACHES PLAYER VALUABLE LESSON

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Rules are made to be broken, right?

I don't believe so.

Rules are made to be followed and should be enforced. Coaches setthe rules and enforce them, while the players follow them. At least,that is the intent.

Throughout this high school basketball season, players at various schools have violated team rules and been dealt with accordingly. It's something that happens every season in all sports. As long as someone is in charge, there always will be someone todisagree.

The important things to know are the priorities -- if they are fair, and if everyone is aware of the rules. In other words, the worst thing a coach can do is make up the rules as he goes along.The very fiber of discipline on any successful team is knowing the rules going in.

Not starting someone when he or she breaks a rule, but later inserting that player to win a game, is not effective. Whena coach does that, he or she is merely saying, "We can't win withoutyou," and that coach is not likely to command respect.

It is a county requirement -- and a very good one -- for our coaches to put their team rules in writing before each season. That list of rules has to be approved by the school's principal and athletic director.

After approval, the players are given the list, so there are no surprises during the season.

Different coaches have different rules, but as a whole they aim to establish discipline and demonstrate that the coach runs the show, not the players.

An unfortunate thing happenedthis week at Northeast, where a star player did not follow the rules. Because senior guard Gene Pleyo violated a team rule that he has been following for four years, he missed an opportunity to crack 1,000 career points in his final home game.

Pleyo had to sit out the first half of Thursday night's game against Archbishop Spalding, and didnot enter the game until 2 minutes, 26 seconds remained in the thirdperiod because he had failed to wear a tie to school on a game day.

In the short time he was in the game, Pleyo scored 14 points before a sellout crowd, as the Eagles defeated Spalding, 74-56. With his 14 points, Pleyo, the all-time leading scorer in Northeast history, fell short of the 1,000-point milestone by a mere eight points.

"I feel bad about Gene not getting 1,000 in front of the home crowd, but discipline on our team is more important than individual statistics,"said veteran coach Johnny Barbour, whose team improved to 6-14 overall. "Maybe that's why our team hasn't done better this year. Maybe too many guys are too concerned about themselves and the team is not a No. 1 priority."

A woman who called me on the 24-Hour Sportsline, 647-2499, right after the game, and again Friday morning, was very upset about Pleyo being benched in the first half.

The lady wished to remain anonymous, but said, "It was not fair. Gene tried to borrow a tie from someone at school, but couldn't get one. I don't know why some coaches keep their best players down."

Your first reaction might be that what Barbour did was cruel because the kid will never play another game at home and that wearing a tie on game day is stupid anyway.

Well, you are partially right on the first part, but whether the rule is stupid has nothing to do with it.

It was something that had to be done. And, one day, Pleyo may appreciate the lesson Barbour was trying to teach him.

"If a senior co-captain doesn't knowenough to wear a tie on game day at our school, then something is wrong," said Barbour.

There was a possibility that the game would not have been played Thursday night if Spalding hadn't been eliminated from the Association of Independent Schools Tournament earlier in theweek. That was an excuse offered by the woman who called me.

One of the secretaries at Northeast told me they keep ties in the office for the kids to use. I can't imagine a senior not knowing that, but we have to give Pleyo the benefit of the doubt.

Whether Pleyo thinks wearing a tie is dumb really doesn't matter. It's still a rule, onehe knew and has had to adhere to in the past.

Not getting to start that final home game and see his 1,000th point drop through the cylinder is something Pleyo never will forget. Let's hope he also doesn't forget the lesson here and puts it to good use the rest of his life.

Whether or not anyone agrees, what Barbour did was the right thing, though tough to do under these circumstances.

It was Barbour who alerted me Sunday that Pleyo needed just one point to become the all-time leading scorer in Northeast history. He frequently calls reporters to update the stats on his players, and no one gets more attention from him than Pleyo.

The coach has been Pleyo's biggest booster the last couple of years, and probably no other county coach nominates Players of the Week as frequently as Barbour.

While some coaches have a tendency to brood during rough times, with their players' individual accomplishments the farthest thing from their minds, Barbour keeps promoting his kids. He's responsible for Pleyo being our Player of the Week on Feb. 11.

And I would be absolutely stunned if anyone could find a coach in the county who doesn't respect Barbour andconsider him a very fair person.

"I've never heard him say anything negative about one of his players," said one coach.

That is quite true. When I first called Barbour on this, he was reluctant to talk, saying, "People don't expect other people to talk publicly about their family problems, and I don't like to talk about what goes on within our team."

When I told him what the woman caller said about the situation, he felt compelled to comment because he believes the woman had to be close to Pleyo to say all she did.

"There is no problem between Gene and I," says Barbour. "You know what I think of him."

Pleyo has two games left, at Broadneck and Southern, and will gethis 1,000 points. I have a hunch that when he hits No. 1,000, Barbour will be among the first to shake his hand, and I'm sure Pleyo couldnot hire a public relations agent to promote his All-County nomination better than Barbour will.

Here's hoping that when the final shot is made this season for the Northeast Eagles, Gene Pleyo will realize that it was his fault, not Barbour's, that he didn't start the final home game.

It would take a real man to thank his coach, realizing and accepting that he taught him a valuable lesson in not only basketball, but life. Gene Pleyo has been a great player at Northeast for four years and should be remembered that way, not as the kid who didn't wear a tie.

If his coach didn't care for him, he never would have gotten the chance to tally 1,000 points and play four years on the varsity.

An uncaring coach also would have let Pleyo start the final game and throw his priorities right out the gym door. A coach is an educator, and the message he sends his players lasts forever, not for just the moment.

The truth is, Barbour does care, and maybe Pleyo would like to "tie" a hug on his coach after the last game.

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