It's going to look a little thin along the Douglas sidelines for Senior Night 2005 as the Tiger varsity football squad takes on Reno High School Friday night.
Nearly a third of the Tigers' roster was suspended earlier this week for what school administrators are calling violations of both school and team policies.
"When you are bound by a set of rules, you have to follow them," Douglas High athletic director Jeff Evans said. "Life lessons learned now are far better than wins or losses.
"We try to be as fair as we can but kids are kids. Everybody makes mistakes but you learn from those and move on. It's all part of growing up."
Neither Evans or any of the Tigers' coaching staff were able to comment on any of the specifics of the incident leading up to the suspension, but according to several parents and one of the suspended players, it stemmed from two parties in the Westwood area Friday and Saturday night.
At the Saturday party, several players, along with some of the school cheerleaders, were caught drinking alcohol, which is a violation of the Douglas County School District's substance abuse policy for its extracurricular activities and is punishable by a six-week suspension from the activity.
Other players who were present at the party but not drinking were suspended for a week by the Douglas coaching staff for a violation of team rules. The police were not called to either party and none of the players face any criminal charges. The situation was handled entirely by Douglas High School coaches.
In total, 13 of Douglas' 44 players - some starters, some not - will not be in uniform for the Tigers Friday night because of the suspensions. The Tigers also have been battling injuries lately, so an additional four or five players will not be suited up who had nothing to do with the incidents over the weekend.
"It's a hard decision to make, but it is the right decision," Douglas coach Mike Rippee said. "None of these kids are bad kids. They made some mistakes and hopefully they will learn from them.
"Thank God no one got hurt. We've had enough tragedies around here and in this program. The last thing we want is for people to start getting hurt. We want the kids to be safe. It's a privilege to be able to play sports, it's not a right.
"You're talking to a guy who has made plenty of mistakes of his own and hopefully I have learned from those. Kids will make mistakes, it's a part of life."
A handful of the players are expected back for the season finale against Wooster next week, and the remainder may be eligible to return for the playoffs (If Douglas can qualify by winning one of its last two games) if they complete the conditions of the district contract.
If a player is found in violation of the district policy, the suspension can be reduced from six weeks to two weeks if the player attends a substance abuse prevention class, performs eight hours of community service and submits two written reports.
"Some of those kids can be back for the playoffs if they can complete what they need to complete," Evans said.
Rippee said he felt the need to send a message with the incident.
"Kids that are a part of this program now, or want to be a part of this program someday, hopefully they will look at this as a lesson that there won't be any tolerance. People that can't adhere to the policies won't be able to stick around.
"This situation, their actions were detrimental to the team and that just can't happen if you're trying to build a team and do it the right way. That's the bottom line, no matter how you look at it, you have to do it the right way. I love to win, but it has never been to win at all costs."
The skeleton of what is left of the Tigers roster will face a heady task against Reno (4-3 overall, 2-2 Sierra League). The remaining players for Douglas have a combined 96 rushing yards with two touchdowns and zero passing yards on the season.
Still, with the core of the starting linemen on both sides of the ball remaining and a number of solid and talented reserve players ready to step up, Rippee remains optimistic.
"They're resilient kids," he said. "We've had a couple of great days of practice and they are excited to play.
"The odds are against them a little bit, but they don't know that and they won't play like it. We'll show up Friday and our kids will play their hearts out. They'll give their best and we'll come out fighting."
The Tigers are 3-4 overall and 2-2 in league play on the year and must win at least one of their remaining two games in order to clinch a playoff spot. Rippee has a career 98-97 record and needs just two more wins to become Douglas' first 100-win football coach.
Game time is at 7 p.m. Friday night at Keith Duke Roman Field in Minden.