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March 3, 2011

When Winning Is A Loss

Adam Avery

I have long been a fan of team-oriented youth sports. Life lessons learned from participation are at times immediate, at times not realized until decades later.


Coach Mark Meana, of Vienna (VA) Youth Incorporated, was the most important adult in my life from age 13 to 16. His legendary football teams were merely a bi-product of his dedication to building a program which taught life lessons to young boys. Football was his vehicle for teaching what it takes to be successful, how to win with humility and how to lose with class.


Running up the score, trash talking and shuck-n-jive celebratory gyrations were prohibited. Helping the opposition get up off the ground, encouraging the other team and thanking them for “giving us a good game” was mandatory.


I was reminded of my youth and the lessons of sportsmanship learned years ago while observing my oldest daughter learn lessons of her own during this year's Mid-Maryland Girls basketball season.


Three examples of life lessons stand out among many:


Many read the Frederick News Post story about the young girl from Sharpsburg who sat out the first half of a game while referees and officials stood firm in their decision that her wearing a hajib (headscarf) was a safety hazard.


Bumbling idiot commentary – which the News-Post Forums attract like ants to a picnic – professed that the young girl was a risk to herself and others:


“….Head scarfs (sic) can fall down in someone's face, can fall on the court and trip someone, can fly off and hit someone who is running, can unravel, can fall off, can (be) an obstruction, can hit someone in the face, can block sightlines, and can do who knows what damage during a game. Of course, it's a safety hazard, and, of course, any coach, ref and official who prohibits this is correct and acting purely and simply from a safety standpoint. You just do not play basketball wearing a head scarf – that's just ridiculous.”


Dear moronic poster: A sorority pillow fight is a greater risk to injury than a hijab.


Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the girl was able to wear her scarf in the second half and for the remainder of the season.


As the scoreboard operator for most of the end-of-season tournament games, I was in good position to watch the interaction between coaches, players and parents.


In the junior varsity championship game, a Mount Airy player hobbled off the court to her father admonishing: “This is the last game of the season and you are going to quit?” The young lady shot back, “Dad, shut up.” Infuriated by his daughter’s audacious retort, he replied, “You don’t tell me to shut up.” I found out later that the father was the husband of the Mount Airy coach.


In a word: Disgraceful.


The varsity semi-final between Smithsburg and Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) was a case study in poor sportsmanship.


MSD dominated the game with the leadership of a quick-footed point guard who left twisted ankles and bruised bottoms in the wake of her cross-over dribbles.


Unfortunately, the coach for MSD was unaware of a rule which mandates every eligible player must take the court. Failure to do so results in a forfeit.


I am convinced that the coach was unaware of the rule. Their scorekeeper was unaware as well. The only person in the gym aware of the rule was the coach from Smithsburg.


The crowd erupted with deafening applause after the final buzzer. As both teams lined up for the obligatory "nice game" high-five drill, the Smithsburg coach bolted to the scorer's table and announced, "They didn't play number 4, they have to forfeit." After a couple of brief discussions with tournament officials, I informed the Smithsburg coach that they had indeed won the game by rule.


What happened next will forever be remembered as the single worst display of sportsmanship I have ever witnessed at the youth level.


The Smithsburg coach leaped from the bleachers and danced across the court while pumping her fist in the air toward her players and their parents screaming, "Yeah, we win, we win, we win."




Coach, neither you, nor your team and their parents won. Instead, you taught your team how to rub in the face of children an honest mistake made by a fellow coach who cares a great deal about their players.


An opportunity to teach a life lesson slipped through your hands quicker than you hopped across the court. You showed no class in victory, no humility and no empathy for the children who couldn't understand why they had lost despite out playing your team and scoring more points.


You blew an occasion to teach that sportsmanship sometimes means having to give back something you won without having earned it.


MSD learned a life lesson: Rules are rules, whether you are aware of them or not.


Smithsburg learned a life lesson: Sometimes you win even if you don't deserve to.


Spectators learned a life lesson: Rubbing a salty victory into the eyes of kids is tacky.


Had the Smithsburg coach once been part of Coach Mark Meana's program – as parent, player or coach – she would have turned down the forfeit and allowed MSD to play for the championship.


That would have been a life lesson of good character, one which would have been taught immediately and remembered for decades later.


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