July 22, 2010

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

I traveled to the Show-Me State Games this past weekend. Wow – what a venue for youth athletes to participate in such a wide array of sporting events. Student athletes from all across the state came together in Columbia to play soccer, softball, baseball, basketball and much, much more.

It is difficult for me to do this, as I do not want to take away from such an amazing program, but I felt compelled to share my experiences at what I coined the Me-Show Games. I’ll say up front, that the program itself is pretty incredible, and will add the disclaimer, that I only witnessed a small slice of the pie, elementary school and junior high level boys and girls basketball.

I coined the nickname for the state’s athletic showcase not because of any fault of the games themselves, but instead it was based on what I witnessed from those participating.

Since when did good sportsmanship become the exception and not the rule? Maybe that is a bit too extreme, but it did seem like I saw officials separating scrums and warning participants to clean up their play far too frequently.

I played basketball, so I know that elbows are part of the game, but when you have teams playing football minus the pads on the hard court, it gets a bit dangerous for all involved.

I’m not satisfied that it’s totally a transition in the style of play, but instead would be more inclined to chalk it up to a side effect of a prevailing attitude of win at all costs.

That was very apparent in the crowds of raucous fans courtside for each of the contests. Mind you, I was watching third and fourth grade girls basketball most of the two days I was there, but I witnessed no fewer than three fans or coaches kicked out of the facilities for inappropriate behavior.

It should have been way more if you ask me. I watched one coach come out on the floor half a dozen times to protest calls, jumping up and down and dancing around. The same gentleman (I use the term loosely) applauded his girls’ hard fouls and borderline dirty play as if it were a way to get back at the officials who he seemed to feel were biased against his squad, despite the fact his team was winning easily. The icing on the cake came when he started waving his towel in the air, whooping and dancing as the time expired on the victory. He then forced the little girls into an NBA-like huddle to dance and further try to show up the opposition, all the while holding up the medal presentation for the teams.

I witnessed one coach loose his cool with his players, verbally “chewing” on one little girl so long, she covered her ears with both hands as she started to tear up. This wasn’t a college scholarship athlete – it was a nine-year-old. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this was ultimately one of the three individuals sent packing by the officials, after he received his second technical foul. Unfortunately, the crowds’ ears were not equipped with censors to bleep out the four-letter tirade he unleashed on the referees as he stomped off the court. The only saving grace for the entire debacle, was when a woman, I’m taking a wild guess and going to say it may have been the coach’s wife, shouted at him to shut up and get off the court.

I watched another coach totally ignore one player on his bench, not allowing her to see the floor for one second of six games, all victories, including one win by 30 points and several others that were well in hand in the final minutes.

Granted this kid, was an alternate, called upon at the last minute because of anxieties created by a last minute injury and the possibility of a player’s absence that might have reduced the roster to just six players. Still, she sat patiently through six games, on call in case the coach needed her.

He didn’t.

It nearly broke my heart when I watched that girl get in line with the rest of her teammates, as the coach handed out medals to all but one of the girls. It was all I could do to keep from being the fourth person to be kicked out by officials. I watched that coach turn his back on that girl and stuff the two remaining medals in his pocket, as he rushed off to get in the team picture with the other winners.

Come on people… no wonder our kids are out there biting, scratching, kicking and clawing. If all they hear is parents and coaches screaming and complaining about every call by the official, what can we expect but them to show similar disrespect for the game?

Maybe I have my priorities mixed up? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the wishy-washy type that thinks we should play every game to a tie and reward everyone with a participation medal. I’m competitive, and want to win. I just believe there are some things more important than winning.

I had that demonstrated to me quite clearly by a little girl who walked away the biggest winner of the day. She never saw the court, never got a second of instruction from the coach and wasn’t part of the team photo or the medal presentation. She shrugged it all off moments after it was done, never glancing back at “what she was missing out on” as she smiled and departed the Me-Show Games.

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