A Stones Throw 12-27-12

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Bloomington South 107, Arlington 2.

Ridiculous? Yes.

Bad Sportsmanship? Maybe – Maybe not.

Last week Larry Winter’s Bloomington South High School Girls’ team beat the Arlington High School Girls’ team by 105 points. When the score of the game hit the Internet there was instant outrage.

Coach Winter was vilified.

The girls on the Bloomington South team were labeled at best – poor sports.

Many questioned the actions of the Bloomington South players. What seemed to be the prevalent position was that even if Coach Winter was demanding that his players played hard, they should have had compassion on the Arlington girls and simply backed off?

Instead, Bloomington South won by 105 points. The girls on the Bloomington South became culpable. They became known as poor – almost villainous – sports. Pity and sorrow were offered to the Arlington Girls.

Maybe a better look should be taken before the final determination on sportsmanship is made.

My first question is why was the game played in the first place? When the contract was written for the two teams to play this year and next year (that’s right – they are scheduled to play again next year.) both schools knew there was a large imbalance in basketball talent between the schools.

The contract almost assured there would be a blow-out. Maybe not a 105 point blow-out, but certainly a blow-out.

As this basketball season progressed it became more and more obvious that the blow-out would be huge. Still, a contract is a contract. Surely no one would respect a school for canceling a game or trying to void a contract. That would not teach students and athletes the value and importance of the commitment that comes from signing a contract.

If your name goes on the bottom of a contract, you should – make that must – feel obligated to honor that contract to its fulfillment. (That means the game must go on again next year.)

So, the game went on.

The question then becomes how should the two coaches approach the game?

Coach Larry Winter chose to rotate all nine of his players, giving each a similar amount of playing time. He did not tell them to back off – to hold the ball and not shoot – or to shoot and miss on purpose. He did not tell them to back off and let the Arlington Girls shoot unguarded.

The situation reminded me of a game I watched 30 years ago. On that night I was watching my brother Emmett’s totally undermanned high school basketball team get destroyed by the number four-ranked team in the state. Half-way through the third quarter this team was 50 points ahead. Yet, they were still trap-pressing my brother’s team the second one of his players crossed the 10-second line.

The result was simple. Turnover after turnover after turnover. Points after points after points. And yet, with a 50 point lead, the pressure continued.

I was so mad I almost came out of the stands to confront the opposing coach. (Thank you Jade for keeping me in my seat.) After the game I was befuddled. I was more upset with the other team’s coach than my brother was.

I asked him why he wasn’t upset.

Emmett told me a coach teaches his players to play the game a certain way. A coach teaches his players to be aggressive and to win. And, that is what the opposing coach did that night. His team was a trap-press team that was out to win. Emmett also pointed out that the other team used its bench players most of the game.

Still, I thought it was unsportsmanlike to continue to trap-press with such a large lead.

Emmett said it would be more humiliating to his team to have had them back off and let them get easy points. (Of course, at the time there was no such thing as easy points for his team – much like the situation with the Arlington team.)

He felt by continuing to press his team, the opposing coach was showing certain, though perhaps tainted, respect for his team.

I am not sure I agreed with him then. I don’t know if I agree with him now.

I do understand his position. As parents, teachers, and coaches, we all try to teach our children what is right and what is wrong. We try to instill in them compassion and sportsmanship.

We also try to teach them to always give their best effort. Regardless of whether the subject is sports or life, we try to teach them to be the best they can be.

We don’t teach them to quit trying when the game is still in progress.

And yet, we try to teach compassion and sportsmanship.

We tell our young children to “take a knee” when a player from either team is hurt on the field. We watch this same compassion play out in the National Football League when a player is seriously hurt. We see players from each team down on their knees with heads bowed.

We don’t know their thoughts, but you can often see their concern, if not their fear. And then – the game must go on.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a soccer league for seven-year-olds or the National Football League, the game must go on. And when it does, the players are expected to give their best.

This brings me back to the original thought.

I don’t know if the Bloomington South girls continued to shoot with just a few seconds to go. If they did, they shouldn’t have.

I don’t know if the Bloomington South girls put full court or trap pressure the entire game. If they did, I would have been upset regardless of what my brother the coach told me.

I do know that good sportsmanship comes in a lot of different packages. I don’t like the fact that a team was allowed to win 107 to 2. I like even less the fact that the two teams were allowed to play the game in the first place.

I don’t think Coach Winters should be vilified for running up the score. Do we really want him, or any other coach or teacher, to say “this week I don’t want you to do your best. I don’t want you to try hard.”

I don’t think so.

Sportsmanship is not black and white. It isn’t even shades of gray.

We should show compassion for the girls of Arlington High School. It wasn’t their fault they were forced to play a game this lop-sided.

At the same time, it wasn’t the fault of the girls on the Bloomington High School team either.

– Mike Cooney