Archive for February, 2011

The Case of the HS Wrestler Who Refused to Wrestle a Girl

So Joel Northrup, a HS sophomore in 112 lb weight class with a stellar record of 35-4, refuses to wrestle a female opponent in the opening round of the Iowa state tournament. Northrup, who comes from a religious family which strongly believes that males and females shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of physical touching, said all the right things about his opponent, but in the end, he stuck to his religious convictions. He defaulted on the match. The girl was declared the winner while he moved on into the consolation bracket.

Lots of good calls today about this situation. Is Northrup to be saluted for giving up his chance to win the state championship by putting his religion first? Or is he to be castigated for not having the guts to wrestle a girl and risk losing (the girl has a record of 20-13).

As one caller pointed out, does Joel’s religion also say that any physical contact between males is wrong? If that’s true, then Joel shouldn’t have wrestled any boys this year. Another caller suggested that the ideal situation would have been for the girls to have their own tournament. But even though there are more than 6,000 female HS wrestlers, only a handful of states actually have male and female separate wrestling tournaments.

From my perspective, I have to give some credit to Joel Northrup because, if nothing else, he’s been consistent in his appoach. Three years ago, he also had to face a female opponent, and he declined to wrestle her as well. This time, in the states, he once again abides by his religion, and defaults.

There was once a time in the US where a boy being defeated by a girl in sports was truly humiliating for the boy. I’d like to think that those old-time biases have begun to wash away a bit as more and more younger athletes fully understand that one’s gender makes no difference when it comes to athletic ability. As such, I don’t think the thought of losing to a girl was what drove Northrup’s decision. Judging from the media accounts, it was all about his religion.

But the boy is only a sophomore so there’s a good chance this could repeat itself next year and the year after that. Is there no way to figure out a solution or compromise to solve this kind of dilemma?

Talk about Coaching Pressure? Having a roster with names like Twyman and D’Antoni

I think Chris DiCintio may have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Just think – he’s the varsity boys’ basketball coach at Rye HS, and on his team, he has the grandsons of NBA Hall of Famer Jack Twyman and the son of Mike D’Antoni, the head coach of the NY Knicks.

By all accounts, Chris is the perfect coach for this kind of situation. That’s because he’s sensitive to the pressures that’s on these kids. That is, Chris understands that these boys are working hard to chase their own dreams in sports, and that there must be a certain amount of inherent pressure on them to succeed. Furthermore, it’s clear that Coach D’Antoni and Jack Twyman never cross the line to specifically corner Chris to ask about their boys, their playing time, their role on the team, or whatever. Twyman and D’Antoni basically let Chris do his job in peace.

What’s the takeaway here? Quite simply that D’Antonio and Twyman  view their roles in the stands are father and grandfather (by the way, the two Twyman boys’ Dad played D-I basketball under Rick Pitino). And because these fathers and grandfathers understand the pressures that come in playing competitive basketball, they hang back and don’t in any way interfere with Coach Chris DiCintio. Good for them!

IN OTHER NEWS….that Hockey Dad homicide incident from 2002 continues to make sad news. Not only was Tom Junta’s 21-year-old son Quinlan just get arrested for serious home invastion, armed robbery, and so on, Sports Edge contributor Doug Abrams points out that the son of Michael Costin (the hockey dad who was killed) has also been in and out of serious trouble with the law over the last few years, and has also spent time in prison.

Makes you think about these kids not having fathers during their teenage years. One dad was in jail, the other day was dead.

WHAT ABOUT THE HS BASEBALL COACH in Orlando who cut soph pitcher Anthony Burruto from the team? The coach said that Anthony, a boy who was born without legs beneath his knees and who plays on prosthetic legs, couldn’t field bunts, and that’s why he was cut. The coach was backed up by the HS principal, who said that just keeping Anthony on the team as an inspiration wouldn’t be fair to the other 23 kids who tried out and got cut.

My sense? Well, making a varsity team should be based on merit, and maybe it’s true that Anthony – -only a sophomore – wasn’t one of the best pitchers. But couldn’t the coach have handled the situation with a little more sensitivity? That just seems like common sense.

FINALLY….hats off to the Wake Forest coach who volunteered to donate one of his kidneys to a freshman on his squad who was dying of kidney failure. That coach, Tom Walter, gets my vote as Sportsman of the Year!

The Teachings of Lombardi: Do They Still Have Impact?

Because it was Super Bowl Sunday, I thought it was the appropriate time to have Tony Ponturo, the creator and co-producer of the Broadway show, LOMBARDI, to come on to talk about the coach’s legacy and whether today’s coaches and sports parents still feel the weight of Lombardi’s teachings.

I grew up in the 60’s, when Lombardi and the Packers were the supreme team in the NFL, and as a HS and college football player, I believed strongly in Lombardi’s lessons: I worked as hard as I could, I practiced to perfection, the team came first, quitting is for losers, and so on. And I would daresay that the vast majority of my teammates felt the way I did. So did our coaches. And so did our competitors.

But that was a long time ago. Lombardi has gone for more than 40 years. So I’m curious as to whether those same truisms still exist for today’s athletes. After all, we live now in a world of instant gratification, and our kids are totally influenced by this new regimen. Maybe our kids totally have missed out. Maybe, as sports parents, we haven’t done a good job in teaching the basic principles of Coach Lombardi.

But then I think about NFL stars like Aaron Rodgers, who although he’s now a bona fide star as Super Bowl MVP, there was a time not that long ago that, as a HS senior, he wasn’t recruited by one major college program. I wonder how Aaron felt about that? How did he keep his confidence up? I wonder what his Dad or Mom said to him?

Same goes for Tom Brady, the NFL MVP. For years he sat on the bench at the Univ of Michigan, waiting for his chance to get off the pine and play.  Wes Welker, Brady’s favorite receiver, was always written off as being too small and too slow. All Welker could do was catch the football.

Matt Cassel, the rising star QB for the KC Chiefs, never even started a game at USC, but yet was drafted on his potential. It must have been very sweet for him when KC took apart Seattle this season — coached by his former coach in college, Pete Carroll.

In any event, these few names just pop to mind as being evidence of strong and determined athletes who have all followed the work ethic and patience that Lombardi always talked about. When they finally got their chance, they were ready to perform.

So, to answer my own question? Yes, I’m glad to see that the legacy of Lombardi lives on.