PORTLAND, Ore. -- Randy Burbach admits it was never supposed to be like this.
it normal for a middle school football awards dinner to be conducted
with television cameras around to capture the moment? These are boys
ranging in age from 12 to 14, after all. Are journalists usually camped
out to note what happens?
Burbach knows the answers, and he knows
the answers might be different if the venue were virtually anywhere else
-- anywhere but a Hooters restaurant. Yes, that's what the Corbett
(Ore.) Middle School players wanted, so that's why they arrived Saturday
at the establishment that touts its wings, shrimp and burgers but is
known for much, much more. They arrived in a limousine, 20 miles from
home but giddy as can be, sporting spanking new black-and-white jackets
as they waded through a sizable media presence, a few working
waitresses and just maybe some moral outrage.
"Our goal was to give them the best experience," Burbach told USA TODAY Sports.
was certainly memorable. District athletic director J.P. Soulagnet
rebuked Burbach in a letter posted on a school website, saying he asked
Burbach to change the location of the banquet. But the coach declined,
which meant Soulagnet could no longer support Burbach.
To Burbach, he was making a point. He was sticking to his guns: He
made a promise and was keeping it. About 15 players came, and a few
didn't show Saturday, but their absences were expected. There will be
another, all-inclusive event next week, minus the "circus" as the coach
bills it, an official finish to a season in which they went 6-2 and won
all the games in their division.
About 15 years ago, Burbach went
through something similar with his two sons. They, too, went on an
athletic-fueled trip to Hooters, and Burbach was apprehensive. So the
coach and his wife went on a scouting trip ahead of time, to see if
their fears were legitimate.
He decided they weren't.
was fine," he said. "It was totally appropriate. ... If my boys hadn't
had this experience when they were 12 and 10, I might have done
differently. But they had fun. ... I'd done my due diligence. I went
there. My whole thing was, 'Let's make a decision based on more than the
Hooters, of course, couldn't be happier. That was clear
by the reception -- waitresses cheered the players, most of whom
shuffled sheepishly into the restaurant -- and by their generosity. A
cynic would suggest it was essentially in exchange for all of the
national attention, but Hooters donated $1,000 toward the party and also
20% of the day's proceeds to Corbett Youth Football.
"The only thing that's abnormal about this -- other than the check
that we'll present them -- is the media attention," said Adrian Oca,
Hooters regional manager.
All of that attention, of course, has
made Burbach a celebrity of sorts. Several Hooters employees took his
picture Saturday. Strangers shook his hand. He bristles at being known
as "the Hooters coach," but he wouldn't mind meeting Super Bowl-winning
coach Jon Gruden, who appears in commercials for Hooters. Oca confirmed
Gruden is aware of Burbach, but nothing definitive has been scheduled.
"The spotlight gets turned on me, and I can't shirk what I've been teaching them the last few months," Burbach said.
Otherwise, he's fine. The backlash hasn't bothered him, and it likely won't affect him moving forward.
a 55-year-old garbage man. It's important to remember that -- he is,
indeed, still employed. As he clarifies, it's not as if he has lost his
livelihood. He might no longer coach the team, but the truth is he was a
volunteer coach who received a small stipend -- his status was never
meant to be permanent. Even before this episode, Burbach said he
probably wasn't going to return for another season. He only coached this
season because his nephew, a member of the team, asked him to do so.
His only regret?
"I should have told the parents myself," he said.
That's the same thing Verne Van Horn said. He's one of the Corbett Middle School football players' parents.
think it wasn't put out there for the parents soon enough," said Van
Horn, who watched as his son, Keith, was swarmed nearby by television
cameras. "To a certain degree, they might have felt ambushed and put in a
position where their kids were hyped up about going and then the
parents have conflicting views. ... Every parent has the right to parent
their children the way they feel is appropriate.
"I can understand why this is controversial."
The fact Van Horn uttered all of this while standing inside Hooters, with plenty of other supportive parents, was telling.
think it should have been where the kids got to choose two or three
places they wanted to go, bring the parents in and then make it a vote,"
he said. "(Burbach) still could have chosen what he wanted. But I don't
find this place reprehensible at all. But I fully understand if you
have religious beliefs or have feelings about exploitation of women, but
I don't think any of these women are under indentured servitude
"I think they're here under their own volition,
they're having a good time and there's nothing scandalous at all about
what's going on."