ROOSEVELT -- A high school football team in rural Utah returned to the field after it was hit by unique suspensions for off-field misconduct.
Union High of Roosevelt lost its homecoming game 41-21 on Friday night, a week after coach Matt Labrum took the entire team's jerseys away because of problems of skipping classes, not doing homework, bullying classmates over the Internet and disrespecting teachers.
Instead of practicing Monday and Tuesday, the team was ordered by Labrum to pull weeds, wash windows and visit two nursing homes in the town of 6,100 about 100 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. On Wednesday, practice was replaced by a two-hour study hall.
Labrum reinstated most of the players later in the week after they memorized and recited to coaches a quote on how character is much more important than talent.
Labrum told KSL that lessons his players learned this week will last long after Friday night's loss to Emery.
"I think it will affect us for the rest of our lives. I don't think we'll ever forget it," he said, adding that players were looking at football as a right instead of a privilege.
The coach said he was surprised by the reaction to the suspensions. He fielded questions from reporters across the country all week, and the school was flooded with emails and phone messages in support of the suspensions.
Union Principal Rick Nielsen said he took a call from an Illinois man whose son committed suicide after being bullied. The man believes his son would still be alive if he'd had a coach like Labrum, Nielsen said.
"I hope that we could make a positive influence and a positive difference for the entire country, if that's where it needs to be," Labrum told KSL. "This is what we feel like is important in sports."
By the time the team took the field Friday, only eight players were not in uniform. Some were held out due to injury, while others failed to meet the coaches' academic requirements to return to the team.