Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ugly Score Leads To Uglier Situation

By now, you’ve probably heard the story.
A girls basketball team in Dallas beat another girls basketball team 100-0 earlier this month.
The winning team was up 59-0 at halftime, and continued to press full court and jack up 3-pointers until they hit the 100-point mark with about four minutes to go.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Officials from the Covenant School — the winners — apologized and offered to forfeit the game to the poor team from Dallas Academy. Dallas Academy, it turns out, is a school for children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and hadn’t won a game in almost four years.
Covenant’s coach publicly disagreed with the school officials, and was soon fired, leading to Covenant canceling the rest of the girls basketball season.
Now, of course, with the story all over the internet, people are piling on the victors just as shamelessly as those victors piled on Dallas Academy.
But the whole sad saga does raise an interesting question: What, exactly, constitutes running up the score? What obligation does a clearly superior team have to an inferior opponent? And, conversely, what obligation does a weak team have to at least be able to compete at the level for which they register?
I fear that the definitive answer to this question might be like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography — you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.
Still, I do think that intent matters.
What got me about the original story — and, I suspect, what got the Covenant coach fired — was reading the Covenant girls were up 59-0 at the break and continued to press into the fourth quarter. There’s no place for that.
As a former coach, I do feel somewhat for both coaches in this situation. I’ve been on both ends of these blowout games, and there’s no perfect solution. And scores alone don’t always tell the tale.
Stanley County’s girls, for instance, were on the winning side of a mismatch earlier this season. The Lady Buffs downed McLaughlin on Jan. 8, 99-15. I only caught the first half of that game, but I didn’t see Stanley County looking to run up the score. They certainly weren’t pressing full court up by 60.
Some friends of mine who are coaches or sportswriting colleagues would argue that, at the varsity level, it’s not the job of a coach to stop his own team. I am sympathetic to this point. When you’re the coach of a clearly superior team, it isn’t your job to stop your own kids.
And when you’re the coach of a team that isn’t likely to win a game all year, it isn’t your job to win basketball games, either. It’s your job to try and teach the kids who are willing to tough out a rough season that playing the game can be its own reward. And it’s your responsibility to stay upbeat and positive and find successes to celebrate.
I don’t want to pile on the coach from Covenant. He probably didn’t go into the game with any kind of malice in his heart. But, still, in pushing forward as hard as he could until the score was 100-0, he accomplished nothing but the sporting equivalent of beating up on the littlest kid on the playground.
I remember playing pickup hockey games on the outdoor rink when I was a kid. We’d pick teams by throwing our sticks in a pile at center ice. One of us would then dutifully get on his knees, pull his stocking hat down over his eyes and throw sticks toward each end.
We’d play for a while. And, if the game was one-sided, inevitably, someone would stop the game and we’d shuffle a player here or there to even things out. And then we’d play on.
So, no, it isn’t a coach’s job to stop his or her own team from scoring.
But it certainly is a coach’s responsibility not to short-circuit what kids everywhere know when there isn’t an adult to be found — on the bench or in the stands.
If you lose sight of that, maybe it’s time to find something else to do.

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