Archive for the ‘Sportsmanship’ Category

SPORTSMANSHIP: HS Boys Lax Team Intrudes on Visiting Girls Before Playoff Game

Well, what happened the other day in Yorktown, NY?

Depending on who you talk to, there was some sort of dust-up between the members of the Yorktown HS boys lax team…and the Somers HS girls lax team that clearly ruffled some feathers – especially on the Somers side.

Many of the Somers parents continue to be outraged.

From most accounts, here’s what happened. A couple of weeks ago, on May 25th, the Somers HS girls lax team travelled to Yorktown to play the Yorktown girls’ lax team in a championship playoff game. The winner would not only take home Section One honors, but the win would qualify to compete in the NYS lax tournament.

As is often done with visiting teams, the Somers girls lax squad was ushered into the Yorktown boys locker room in order to change and prepare for the game. This was done because the girls’ locker room was being used by the host team, the Yorktown girls.

At first the boys locker room was locked, but then a door was opened, and the Somers girls went inside. They played some music, got taped up, and mentally starting getting focused on the big game.

But as they were getting ready, apparently several members of the Yorktown boys lax team entered that same locker room. They had just finished their practice session for the day, and apparently weren’t aware that a visiting female team was in their locker room. There were no signs posted suggesting that the boys locker room was being used by a visiting girls team. Nor were there any coaches or supervisors outside the lockerroom warning boys not to go in.

As the Yorktown boys entered and encountered a girls’ team, the boys turned off the music and made some typically dumb adolescent comments to the Somers girls – stuff like “I’m going to get naked” and “I’m going to spit in your mouth” and there was also some profanity involved.

Again, depending on who you talk to, the comments – although certainly inappropriate – were made in jest, and were not overly threatening – or at least that’s how it was reported. But technically, these comments could be classified as “sexual harassment” since the comments were of an unwelcome sexual nature. The good news is that there was no physical contact or pushing or shoving from either side.

AN INVASION OF PRIVACY ?

But apparently a number of Somers HS girls and their parents did feel that these verbal comments were not only called for, but the boys’ unexpected intrusion DID violate the girls’ sense of privacy and definitely bordered on sexual harassment.

And of course, the Somers girls  – who were understandably focused on the upcoming game – were disturbed from their pre-game preparation, and ultimately left the locker room angry and upset. Not the best way to get ready for a big game – a game, by the way, that they lost.

Since that incident, the Somers parents have been extremely outspoken, have complained strongly to their school Superintendent, and this incident is apparently not going away.

I asked Tony Fiorino, who has been on the Sports Edge several times in the past, to come on this show. As luck would have it, not only does Tony and his family live in Somers, his daughter Sophia is a senior at Somers HS and is one of the star players on the lax team, and she was in the lockerroom.

The first question I asked Tony was how was it possible that no one from either Yorktown or from Somers was not present, guarding the doors? Tony was just as bewildered as I was, because clearly the posting of a coach or supervisor at the lockerroom would have easily prevented this from occurring.

As far as his daughter was concerned, Tony said that Sophia wasn’t all that concerned by the episode, but also added that there were apparently some Somers’ players who were upset. And Tony was quick to point out even if only one girl was offended, that was enough for an apology from Yorktown.

And to that end, I ended the show by asking why wasn’t an apology forthcoming? Even if no one was at fault here, the simply reality was that Yorktown was the host team for the game, and as such, by allowing the boys lax players to innocently walk into the lockerroom when a visiting girls team was there has to fall upon Yorktown’s shoulders.

A straightforward and sincere public apology from Yorktown to Somers would have probably put an end to this incident. But no such public apology was forthcoming, and that allows the Somers’ parents to continue to be angry. Finally – and I find this somewhat curious – it was the Somers Superintendent (not his counterpart from Yorktown) who issued a statement saying that the incident had been investigated and there was nothing more to be said or done.

And that’s how the episode ended, although judging from the hefty amount of media attention this incident received, this moment between Somers and Yorktown won’t soon be forgotten. Both schools, which border each other, have a long and proud history of athletic competition, and certainly they will compete again in sports in the fall.

And when they do, it might be a good idea to have the lockerrooms monitored by outside supervisors.

SPORTSMANSHIP: What To Do When Neither Team Tries to Win….

Game-Fixing and Youth Coaching Ethics

By Doug Abrams

Under the headline, “Two Youth Teams Apparently Fixed a Match At a Tournament,” Fox Soccer writer Alex Dowd described a U-18 girls game played on July 28 at the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas. He reported that the two teams, the Ambassadors FC and the Carlsbad Elite, each needed only a tie to advance to the semifinals as the first- and second-place finishers in their group play bracket. The game ended in a scoreless tie, both teams advanced, and another team was eliminated.

With the help of game video posted online, Dowd described the game: “Essentially they’re just rolling the ball back and forth, not even pretending to compete. With the ignoble 0-0 result in the books, both teams collected the point needed to advance to the semifinals. That certainly looks like match fixing, through and through.”

Headlines and stories in other media outlets were similarly harsh on the two teams. USA TODAY (“Two Youth Teams Accused of Deliberately Tanking After Playing Terrible Soccer Game”) said that “it looked like neither side was trying to score or do much of anything.” GotSoccer (“Controversy Dogs U18 Girls Semifinals at US Youth Soccer National Championships”) described the “somnolent 0-0 draw” and likened the contest to “a morality play in shin pads.”

In statements afterwards, the two head coaches denied match-fixing charges. According to TopDrawSoccer, the Ambassadors’ coach said that “Both teams were through pretty much, so there was nothing to play for. Earlier in the day, there had been 18 people collapsed due to the heat.” His Carlsbad counterpart said that “Playing a low pressure style was in our best interest looking ahead to the semi-final to help preserve our players physically for the next match, having already played two 90 minute games in the extreme heat.”

“Disrespectful to the Game”

US Youth Soccer issued a statement after its National Championship Series Committee met with both teams and conducted a thorough investigation of the evidence presented. The committee found insufficient evidence of collusion, but it determined that the teams were “disrespectful to the game, the competition and US Youth Soccer.” The disrespect had “compromised” the “integrity” of the championship series and its “ideals . . . of fair play and sportsmanship.”

The committee imposed fines and disciplinary action on both teams, and US Youth Soccer said that it would conduct further investigation to determine whether “the actions of the coaches were adverse to the best interests of soccer or US Youth Soccer.”

“Honors Won Without Fair Play”

This column is not about one sport or one national championship series, but about what can happen when temptation rears its head during tournaments in various youth sports at every age and experience level. The coaches may be paid, or they may be volunteers. The games may take place in community youth leagues, travel team play, or interscholastic leagues.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs arising from last month’s soccer game, reports periodically surface of youth coaches who seek tactical advantage from throwing games or manipulating scores in national, state, and local tournaments. These reports not only test youth coaching ethics; they can also threaten the future credibility of the coaches themselves, including coaches with otherwise unblemished records.

Many youth coaches doubtlessly weigh tactics during tournaments, which frequently feature multiple games in a few days, sometimes on only a few hours’ rest. To conserve stamina with the team comfortably ahead, for example, the coach may pace first-stringers or reward substitutes with extra playing time earned during the season.

The ethical compass points in a different direction, however, when the coach deliberately tries to lose a game or otherwise to jockey for advantageous placement in a later round. The line between reasonable pacing and deliberately trying to manipulate outcomes may sometimes be hazy, but coaches cross the line when the players themselves figure out that their leaders are scheming to pull a fast one.

US Youth Soccer is right that in national tournaments and local community play alike, the integrity of sports depends on competitors who try their best to win. Angling to lose or tie disrespects the game by denying players the fruits of athletic competition. The British Association of Coaches points the compass in the right direction: “Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

‘We Were Embarrassed”

One element evidently absent from reports of the Ambassadors-Carlsbad game – but important to Rick Wolff’s listeners — is player disgust at coaching shenanigans. Reported efforts at match-fixing frequently draw immediate negative reaction from youngsters who know right from wrong. Even where the effort appears initially successful, the coach may lose in the long run because few people respect ethically challenged people for very long.

Players and parents may forgive a coach’s errors of strategy, or the coach’s lack of knowledge about the finer points of the game. But players or parents may find it difficult to forgive sharp practice that soils the values that drive sports and leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. Youth coaching depends on credibility, and credibility depends on more than X’s, O’s, and scoreboards.

A few years ago, for example, respect and credibility evaporated quickly in an early round of the Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) High School Hockey League’s A-Division playoffs.  The Westwood High School Warriors led College Jeanne Sauve, 3-2, late in the third period, when Westwood’s coaches schemed to lose the game by pulling their goalie to let the opponents score. The coaches knew that by losing, the Warriors would draw an easier opponent in the upcoming semifinal round and avoid a faceoff against the league’s regular-season champion. With their net empty, the Warriors yielded the tying and winning goals and lost, 4-3.

The Winnipeg Sun reported that many Warriors players left the ice “visibly distraught” because they knew that their coaches had deliberately thrown the game. “It was brutal,” a Warriors forward told the Sun.  “We were embarrassed, and we’re sad we had to put up with it.” I was a youth hockey coach for many years, and I would never have wanted any of my players to feel that way about me.

20/20 Hindsight

Reputation earned over time is the youth coach’s greatest asset. Benjamin Franklin described the impact of even one ethical lapse: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Coaches who cut ethical corners seeking to lose or to manipulate outcomes may find it difficult, if not impossible, to recover their reputations, even if their schools or associations permit them to return to return to the sidelines. The Internet makes the difficulty or impossibility even greater today than ever before. The Ambassadors and Carlsbad coaches attracted national media attention because the game took place during a prominent national championship series. But even in a local weekend or holiday tournament, complaints about a named coach’s ethical lapse may find their way into the local press or blog postings that describe the game itself or parental or player misgivings.

The stain can be permanent, awaiting simple Internet word searches for the coach’s name. Permanence can be a serious consequence for a coach who wishes future coaching assignments or who seeks the respect from youngsters on future teams. Or for a coach whose reputation in the community might be sullied by tanking a game played by children and adolescents.

The prospect of permanently tattered respect and reputation is too great a price to pay for today’s gamble at a tainted outcome.

 

Sources:  Alex Dowd, Two Youth Teams Apparently Fixed a Match At a Tournament, http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2016/07/29/two-youth-teams-apparently-fixed-match-at-tournament.html (July 29, 2016); Charles Curtis, Two Youth Teams Accused of Deliberately Tanking After Playing Terrible Soccer Game, USA TODAY, http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/07/us-youth-soccer-national-championship-tanking-accusations (July 30, 2016); Peter Nolan, Controversy Dogs U18 Girls Semifinals at US Youth Soccer National Championships, http://blogs.gotsoccer.com/?p=17822  (July 30, 2016); Will Parchman, Watch Two Teams Sit On a Match to Advance in a Youth Tournament, http://www.topdrawersoccer.com/the91stminute/2016/07/watch-two-teams-siton-a-match-to-advance-in-a-youth-tournament/ (July 29, 2016); US Youth Soccer Statement on Under-18 Girls Ambassadors vs. Carlsbad Game, http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/us_youth_soccer_statement_on_under-18_girls_ambassadors_vs_carlsbad_game/  (July 30, 2016); Ken Wiebe, Swift Hockey Justice, Winnipeg Sun, Mar. 5, 2011, p. S3.

 

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: When Things Start to Get Ugly at High School Sports….

A Role for High School Athletes When Fans Resort to Slurs and Vulgarity

By Doug Abrams

Last Friday night, Catholic Memorial School downed Newton North High School, 77-73, in a hard-fought Massachusetts basketball division title matchup at Newton North High School. Catholic Memorial is an all-boys private college preparatory school in West Roxbury, and Newton North is a public school that has a large Jewish population in the community and the student body.

High school division title games usually generate few headlines outside the immediate area or the state, but this game has gained national attention. Several fans cheering for Catholic Memorial taunted their opponents with chants of, “You killed Jesus; you killed Jesus.” Catholic Memorial administrators apologized the next day. Catholic Memorial fans said that their players were taunted with chants that included “Where are the girls?,” which they viewed as anti-gay slurs.

This is not the first media report about overheated high school fans who, somewhere in the nation, cross the line between healthy partisanship and rank vulgarity. I doubt that it will be the last.

“This is not what our school stands for”

To people disturbed by media reports such as last Friday night’s, improving fan behavior will not come easily. Education and dialog in the schools might have some positive effect, and so might the specter of student disciplinary proceedings in appropriate cases.

I do not pretend to have a sure-fire response for eradicating the slurs and vulgarity that waft from the bleachers at so many high school games in various sports, but I do suggest an immediate response that might sometimes work. What if the players and coaches themselves, supported by school administrators in attendance, temporarily halted the Catholic Memorial-Newton North basketball game minutes after tipoff, moved to the microphone, and firmly told the crowd before resuming play that, “This is not what our school stands for”?

“It’s Not Fair”

I am reminded of a basketball game early last year at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Throughout the early minutes, the eighth-grade Lincoln players saw fans in the stands verbally abusing one of their courtside cheerleaders, who has Down syndrome. The players themselves stopped the game and approached the stands to halt the maltreatment of their classmate.

“The kids in the audience were picking on [the cheerleader], so we all stepped forward,” Lincoln Middle School player Chase Vazquez said later. “We walked off the court and went to the bullies and told them to stop because that’s not right to be mean to another person,” teammate Miles Rodriguez told Fox & Friends. “It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong,” teammate Scooter Terrien explained to WTMJ-TV, because “we’re all created the same.”

Reports indicated that when play resumed, the verbal abuse stopped.

 Lessons To Be Learned

Peer influence matters in the elementary and secondary schools, and athletes and coaches often hold a particular place among the student body. Rick Wolff, Brooke de Lench, Jim Thompson and others have spoken and written about the leadership role that a team can play when it acts together to counter bullying that targets vulnerable classmates. By stepping up to protect a seemingly easy target who was no match physically or emotionally for bullies, the Kenosha middle school basketball team demonstrated that these youth sports experts are on the right track.

The experts’ lessons might transcend bullying and hold an antidote to other antisocial high school fan misconduct, such as that reported from Friday night’s basketball game in Newton. Will a team’s united intervention usually work? I do not know, but I believe that this immediate intervention is worth exploring by coaches, school administrators, and the athletes themselves. The exploration can be particularly fruitful when, during the preseason, teams anticipate future issues that might stain the local sports culture.

Respect

One final thought. . . . When a news outlet reports fan excesses such as what surfaced last Friday night, some blogging readers invariably complain that the nation is drowning in “political correctness” that places slurs and vulgarity out of bounds. These readers, who suggest that victims need thick skins to “tough it out,” are the ones who are out of bounds.

Publicly slurring a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other identifiable difference from the mainstream demonstrates disrespect for the person’s worth. In the America that we should want for ourselves and our families, respect is not “politically” correct. It is simply correct.

 

Sources: Evan Allen, Catholic Memorial Students Chant Anti-Jewish Taunt at Game, Boston Globe, Mar. 12, 2016; CBS News, Mass. Catholic School Apologizes For Anti-Semitic Chant, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/boston-catholic-memorial-newton-anti-semitic-chant/ (Mar. 13, 2016”; Valerie Strauss, Catholic School Supporters Say Anti-Jewish Chant at Game Followed Anti-Gay Slurs, Wash. Post, Mar. 13, 2016; Middle school basketball players defend bullied cheerleader, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wisconsin-middle-school-basketball-players-defend-bullied-cheerleader/ (Mar. 12, 2015); Players Leave Court Mid-Game to Confront Bully of Cheerleader With Down Syndrome, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/13/players-leave-court-mid-game-to-confront-bully-cheerleader-with-down-syndrome/ (Mar. 13, 2015); Deneen Smith, Welcome to D’s House, Kenosha (Wis.) Times, Mar. 9, 2015.

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: Some Good News Regarding Kids Playing Sports

Advice From Youth Leaguers Who Overcame Physical Challenges:

Fun, Sportsmanship, Smiles, and Competition

 

By Doug Abrams

 

Newspapers and magazines regularly report the seamy side of youth sports. . . . Parents who taunt referees from the stands. Parents who assault coaches, referees, or other parents. Parents who impose unreasonable pressures on their sons and daughters. Win-at-all-costs coaches who drive 10-year-olds to quit rather than warm the bench. Teams whose ever-expanding schedules disrupt home life and price many families out of participation. And other excesses that mark many local sports associations.

Excesses lead news commentators to seek a better way. Headlines such as these have appeared in just the past two months or so: “How To Make Your Kid Hate Sports Without Really Trying”; “Youth Sports: Insanity and Big Business: We Gotta Let Kids Be Kids”; “Kids’ Sports Culture Needs Repair”; and “New Years Resolution For Youth Sports Parents: Miss Some Games.”  One writer even asks, “Should We Ban Parents From Kids’ Sporting Events?

Bad news about youth sports abounds, but this column reports two human interest stories that offered good news late last month. The stories profile youth leaguers who have earned acceptance and support by overcoming physical challenges. But chronicling fortitude and determination is not this column’s primary purpose. I write here because we should listen to what the profiled youth leaguers say about what sports competition should be. Their words deserve attention.

Overcoming Barriers

The first of the two February stories, from the New Hampshire Union Leader, profiles 14-year-old freshman Tristan Wilmott, a junior varsity basketball player at Hillsboro-Deering High School in Hillsboro. Tristan stands only three-foot-five and weighs only 42 pounds. He has mulibrey nanism, an extremely rare genetic condition that, as described by writer Jason Schreiber, “causes considerable growth failure and other abnormalities affecting the heart, muscle, brain and eyes.”

Tristan has “taught us how to really work as a team,” one Hillcat teammate tells the Union Leader. “He definitely raises the spirits of everybody on the team,” adds his coach.

The second story profiles Spirit Sparkles, a cheerleading squad comprised of special needs students at East Lawrence High School in Trinity, Alabama. “The girls raised our spirit level more than anyone else,” the varsity cheerleading squad’s sponsor tells the Associated Press about the cheerleaders with conditions such as Down syndrome.

Fun, Sportsmanship, and Smiles

One recent news commentary appeared below this headline: “Why Do We Play Sports? We’ve Forgotten.” The three February stories prod us to remember.

“Winning is always nice,” the perceptive Tristan Wilmott told the Union Leader, “but at the end of the day it’s all about having fun.” “It’s good sportsmanship and everything. That’s why I like it,” he told CBS News about his JV basketball team.

“No matter if we’re winning or losing, she always has a smile on her face,” a senior cheerleader told the Associated Press about a Spirit Sparkles member with Down syndrome.

Fun and sportsmanship on the field, and smiles from the sidelines, while athletes strive to win . . . . Youth leaguers would be better off if parents and coaches paid attention to what these young athletes said last month about how sports influences their lives.

 

Sources: Jason Schreiber, Height Didn’t Keep 3-foot-5 Player Off Hillcats Team, N.H. Union Leader, Feb. 22, 2016; CBS News, “Never Give Up”: Teen With Rare Disorder Inspires Team,  Feb. 24, 2016; Deangelo McDaniel, Unique East Lawrence Cheerleading Squad Includes Special Needs Students at Varsity Games, Decatur (Ala.) Daily, Feb. 23, 2016; How To Make Your Kid Hate Sports Without Really Trying, http://www.abc-7.com/story/31021729/how-to-make-your-kid-hate-sports-without-really-trying, Jan. 21, 2016; Kevin McNab, Youth Sports: Insanity and Big Business: We Gotta Let Kids Be Kids, ColoradoBiz, Feb. 5, 2016; Tim Trower, Kids’ Sports Culture Needs Repair, Mail Tribune (Medford, Or.), Feb. 13, 2016; Bob Cook, New Years Resolution For Youth Sports Parents: Miss Some Games, Forbes, Jan. 3, 2016; Mark E. Andersen, Should We Ban Parents From Kids’ Sporting Events?, Daily Kos, Feb. 14, 2016; Beau Dure, Why Do We Play Sports? We’ve Forgotten, Huffington Post, Jan. 5, 2016.

SPORTSMANSHIP: Here’s How to Stop Lopsided Scores in HS

Let me talk  — once again —  about lopsided scores in HS games. Like hazing, we just can’t seem to stop this trend. And I’m not sure why.

The most recent disgraceful  blowout was a HS girls semifinal playoff game in Cleveland where Gilmour Academy defeated Northeast Ohio Prep 108 to 1.

That’s right 108-1.

Every basketball season we hear and read about lopsided scores. They just never seem to go away. But why is that?

The truth is, the head coaches of both teams absolutely hate these kinds of games. The losing coach hates them for a variety of reasons, including the public humiliation of his or her squad. What does a coach say to a team that just lost by 50 or 70 points or more?

For the winning coach, he or she knows that such a lopsided affair is going to result in a lot of questions as to how they allowed the score to get out of hand, that the coach is seen as a discompassionate jerk who allowed his or her team to run up the score. Plus the coach runs the risk of so angering the losing team that a brawl or fisticuffs might ensue. And there’s always the worry of a player getting injured in what has become a meaningless romp.

It seems to me that EVERY coach should know, in advance, how to handle these kinds of games. That is, if it becomes clear early on that the game is going to be a rout, it’s essential to substitute liberally. Everybody knows that. But more than that, if by halftime the score is out of control, then the two coaches and the refs should meet and discuss either stopping the game there, or making sure that the clock runs all the time in the second half.

In some states, but not all, mercy rules allow the clock to run in the second half. In this game in Ohio, there was no such rule in place.

 

In this particular game, the score was 72-1 at the half, so it wasn’t as though the final outcome was at risk. They should have ended the game at that point.

Another approach would be for the refs to take control and tell the two coaches at the half that the game is over. Trust me, nobody is going to protest that kind of decision. Why take the risk of someone getting hurt? Besides, the kids who are playing don’t want this nonsensical game to continue either.

 

Yes, I suppose some could make a case that playing in such a lopsided affair builds character for the losing team, but I just don’t buy that. The kids realize early on that they’re getting routed, and they just move on. They’re not interested in playing.

What’s the bottom line?

Coaches and refs….if you ever find yourself in a HS game where the margin of winning is 30-40 points at the half AND  in your judgment, the margin is only going to get worse, step up and be an adult and get together with the coaches, the AD’s, and make a decision at half-time to either end the game, or at least run the clock in the second half.

To me, that’s just the right thing to do.

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: What – If Anything – Should Be Done About Lopsided Scores?

Mismatches, Blow-outs, and Mercy Rules

By Doug Abrams

During the inter-semester break, yet another youth league blowout hit the headlines. The Fresno Bee reported that on December 26, Fresno’s Clovis West High School overwhelmed Rivera High-Los Angeles, 114-9, in a girls preseason basketball tournament in Huntington Beach, California. Clovis West led 42-3 after the first quarter and 74-3 at halftime. Eight Golden Eagles players each ended the game with more individual points than the entire Rivera team.

The Bee article’s web version reported that Clovis West “destroy[ed]” Rivera with “the biggest blowout in Central Section history.” After evident criticism directed at Clovis West, a follow-up Bee article by Marek Warszawski assumed a more restrained tone a few days later.

Warszawski said that the Golden Eagles showed restraint by ending their full-court press during the first quarter, by putting every player into the lineup without overplaying the starters, and by playing a looser defense in the second half. Clovis West’s coach told the Bee afterwards that “we never have nor will be ever intentionally rub someone’s nose in it,” but that the game “could have been a 200-point win – had we wanted that.” Warszawski reported that Rivera’s coach did not request invocation of the league’s “mercy rule,” which would have begun a running clock late in the game.

Controversy

The Clovis West-Rivera game highlights the controversy about how youth coaches, players, and parents should prevent and manage games whose scores spiral out of control. Recent headlines from coast to coast have concerned lopsided games not only in basketball, but also in football, baseball, softball, and other sports.

In many state high school athletic associations and youth leagues, mercy rules seek to hasten the end of especially one-sided games. Once a game reaches the prescribed score differential, the general approaches are either to run the clock in sports such as football and basketball that depend on time, or to call the game prematurely in sports such as softball and baseball. Sometimes the losing team holds the option whether to invoke the rule.

Proponents tend to defend mercy rules as safety measures because blowouts often stem from mismatched size and talent that invite injury, particularly in contact and collision sports. They also argue that mismatches inflict undue public embarrassment to the team on the short end. Proponents say that running up the score demonstrates lack of sportsmanship.

Opponents of mercy rules tend to argue that teams should not be shielded from even lopsided defeats because winning and losing are each part of the youth sports learning process. A solid defeat, opponents say, might even spur the losing team’s players to strive to improve their game. Opponents also argue that invoking a mercy rule can embarrass the underdogs even more than a lopsided final score can. Coaches of strong teams tend to argue that when “mercy” is not forced on them by rule, they can teach players self-control by adjusting their lineups and game plans.

Prevention

Sometimes the soundest – but often, the most ignored – first step is prevention. In interscholastic sports and youth sports leagues alike, mismatches normally do not happen by surprise. Unless one roster is suddenly depleted by illness or injury, mismatches are often predictable from imbalance that surfaces during the preseason period or early in the schedule.

Weaker teams can sometimes prevent mismatches by scheduling games carefully with teams of similar ability, but sometimes teams cannot determine their own schedule or placement.  A high school, for example, might have to play in a particular division for such factors as geography, the size of the school’s enrollment, or lack of sufficient divisions to permit truly competitive placement.

If a team cannot influence the schedule, it may be able to join a division in which it will likely be competitive. But I have seen youth teams that chronically lose by lopsided scores because parents and coaches, acting for their own egos, set up the team for failure by committing to, say, the A Division rather than the B Division.

In some youth leagues, teams are encouraged or required to play preseason “declaration games,” exhibition games that enable league officials and coaches themselves to determine each team’s most appropriate placement. Despite the games’ worthy prevention efforts, I have seen coaches scheme to maneuver their team into a weaker division by underplaying their “big guns.”

Teams sometimes enter tournaments or play open “club” schedules without candidly assessing their own ability level compared to those of likely opponents. If a team fills a schedule by taking on all comers, some of the “comers” may be quite strong.

Tough Calls

When prevention fails for one reason or another in interscholastic and youth league sports leagues, mercy rules depend on tough calls. I know responsible people who support these rules, and I know responsible people who oppose them. I do not question either group’s motives or intent. At the end of the day:

I favor mercy rules when leagues find them advisable to help promote player safety in contact and collision sports. When one football team trounces another by 75 points, for example, significant size and weight disparities likely helped explain the outcome. These disparities can also increase risk of injury to the members of the outclassed team. In 2013, an Arizona high school football player died from a traumatic brain injury suffered in the fourth quarter of a first-round playoff game that his team lost, 60-6.

I do not support mercy rules as measures to help spare the underdogs’ sensibilities. I believe that with proper support and guidance from their parents and coaches, kids can absorb one-sided defeats. I also think that unless the underdog seeks to invoke the mercy rule, ending games prematurely can be as embarrassing as a lopsided score itself. In the big picture of things, players on the losing end will be fortunate if the mismatch turns out to be their only major disappointment on the road to adulthood. Besides, it does not hurt kids to learn that some teams are simply more skilled than others, and that hard work toward improvement remains a worthwhile goal. Most successful athletes learn how to win by learning how to lose.

In the absence of safety concerns, I would prefer to trust both teams’ coaches to manage one-sided games and use them as learning opportunities. Lopsided losses test a coach’s capacity to teach the players resilience and optimism in the face of adversity. Because adulthood brings frequent adversity, the lesson is worth teaching in sports, when the stakes are relatively low. With the parents’ support, talented youth coaches can deliver the right message if they are given the chance.

Coaching through one-sided wins can be as challenging as coaching through one-sided losses (and I have been on both sides of the fence). At least in my experience, most coaches of strong teams do not betray the trust to maintain the losers’ dignity in a mismatch. Most coaches know that without losers, there can be no winners. Most coaches do not seek to humiliate an adolescent opponent, and they feel a sense of embarrassment when the score begins to get out of hand.  Perceptive coaches also recognize that winning big can sometimes lead their own players to arrive at the next game overconfident, mentally unprepared, and primed for an unpleasant shock when the tables turn.

The stronger team’s coach can take reasonable measures to help control a lopsided score by fielding second- and third-stringers, who normally do not get much playing time (and who lose playing time altogether when a mercy rule short-circuits the game). The stronger team’s coach can also adjust the game plan. When my youth hockey teams found themselves on the top end of a lopsided score, for example, I usually asked our players at the bench whether they wanted to continue running up the score, or whether they wanted to slow things down without appearing to embarrass the opposition. They usually chose the latter approach, and their choice created a greater learning experience than a predetermined mercy rule would.

Our defensive players would then play forward, and our forwards would play defense, another learning experience because versatility strengthens any hockey team whose roster might be short some day from illness, injury or family commitments. I would encourage three or four passes in the offensive zone before a shot, useful because youth hockey players can always use more practice with their passing, especially in game situations. Sometimes we worked on new plays and patterns that we had not had much chance to try in games.

Fair Chances and Foregone Conclusions

In any league, one team will finish at the top and another at the bottom, but games challenge players most when both teams sense that they have a fair chance. In my 42 years coaching youth hockey, my teams occasionally won big and occasionally lost big, but the most invigorating games were ones whose outcomes were not foregone conclusions.

 

Sources: Clovis West Wins By 105 Points, Fresno Bee, Dec. 27, 2015; Marek Warszawski, Clovis West Girls Have No Reason To Apologize For 105-Point Win, Fresno Bee, Dec. 31, 2015.

SPORTSMANSHIP: Parents – It All Starts with You and Your Behavior

 September Is Sportsmanship Month

 By Doug Abrams

Liberty Mutual Insurance, through the Play Positive program with Positive Coaching Alliance, has named September as “Sportsmanship Month.” Several youth sports national governing bodies have joined. The initiative comes as sportsmanship in youth leagues continues to suffer strain, particularly among many adults who should be setting the example.

The Play Positive program reiterates disquieting findings from its 2014 Sportsmanship Survey, which questioned 2,000 parents and coaches of 7-12-year-old youth leaguers. The survey, conducted by ORC International, carried a margin of error of +/- 1.99%.

Sixty percent of respondents reported “either witnessing or participating in negative or abusive sideline behavior” by parents or youth coaches. Twenty-six percent of parents said that they had witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16% of parents said that they had witnessed a physical confrontation between parents. Fifty-five percent of coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own children, and two in five coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children.

The “Worst Behaved In the World”

In a similar survey that the Play Positive program commissioned in 2013, 40% of youth coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they had experienced parents yelling at them.

After several other national youth sports surveys found similar disturbing rates of abusive adult behavior, Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos jointly conducted a survey in 22 nations. The Reuters-Ipsos survey ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that they had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials. Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%) and Australia (50%).

The Role of Parents and Coaches

If Liberty Mutual’s 2014 survey holds a silver lining, it is that 75% of parents and coaches acknowledged that “teaching sportsmanship is the responsibility of parents.” Parents (and coaches) fulfill this responsibility by delivering two primary lessons about sportsmanship and the desire to win with respect. Delivery depends not only on the adults’ words, but also on their actions.

The First Lesson: Desire to Win

The first lesson is that sportsmanlike athletes want to win. Athletes who are indifferent or unconcerned about the score should not play because they deny themselves and opponents physically and emotionally invigorating competition.

But the integrity of sports also depends on pursuing victory within the rules of the game and the bounds of decorum, win, lose or draw. The British Association of Coaches strikes the right balance: “Sport without fair play is not sport and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

The Second Lesson: Respect

The second primary lesson (related to the first) is that by encouraging respect for the game, sportsmanship can strengthen the desire to win. Sportsmanlike competitors do not turn soft on opponents, and they do not let down their guard.

Ryne Sandberg hit the target at the ceremony enshrining him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2005. “[I]f there was a single reason I am here today,” the Chicago Cubs star told the local and national audience, “it is because of one word – respect.”

“I was taught,” he said, that “you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never ever your uniform.” “I played [the game] right because that’s what you’re supposed to do – play it right and with respect.

Sandberg’s respect fortified his desire to win and sustained his clean play throughout his 16-year big league career.  He would not have put up Hall of Fame numbers if he had softened his approach to competition, or if he had let down his guard.

Looking Toward the Future

Americans consistently link sports participation to children’s physical and emotional growth, so it may seem a shame that we need to recognize sportsmanship months or sportsmanship days in the first place. Ideally we should not have to hawk sportsmanship the way trade associations hawk “National Tulip Month” or similar commercial promotions designed to boost sales. Sportsmanship is a value and a virtue, not a commodity.

Youth leaguers are not born with attitudes about sportsmanship and respect but, like other children, learn what they watch over time. Youth leaguers react to the verbal and non-verbal cues passed by the adults most directly influential in their lives. Adults watch their children as they play, but the children also watch the adults. Surveys pointing southward appear troubling, but they can also stimulate beneficial change.

 

Sources: Liberty Mutual Insurance Declares September “Sportsmanship Month,” (press release Sept. 1, 2015); Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports, 2014 Sportsmanship Survey, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/2014-sportsmanship-survey; Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, New Survey Identifies Decline of Sportsmanship in Youth Sports According to Parents and Coaches, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/2014-sportsmanship-survey/press-release (June 3, 2014 press release); Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/youth-sports-survey (2013 survey); Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/article/1733/ (Sept. 7, 2013 press release); Reuters, U.S., India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/04/07/us-parents-sports-abuse-idUSTRE6360RJ20100407 (Apr. 7, 2010).

SPORTSMANSHIP: Instructing Kids to Throw Games: Why Do Youth Coaches Try to Cheat?

 

Tournaments, Tanking Games, and Hating Yourself in the Morning

By Doug Abrams

 

Youth sports tournaments can bring out the best in players, but sometimes the worst in their coaches. Too often, we read or hear about coaches who scheme to deliberately lose a tournament game, hoping to position the team for an easier opponent in a later round. Another tanking scandal surfaced last week in Portland, Oregon at the Little League Softball World Series for 11- and 12-year-old girls.

The coach of the South Snohomish (Washington) team was accused of throwing a game against Salisbury, North Carolina by benching his top players and instructing the team to bunt repeatedly rather than swing away, sometimes even with two strikes. Washington had won all three of its earlier tournament games in pool play, but lost this game, 8-0, on a no-hitter. Based on tiebreakers, North Carolina advanced with Washington to the next round. North Carolina’s victory eliminated Polk City, Iowa, which had earlier played Washington tough.

“Credible Reports”

In a press release responding to Iowa’s protest, Little League International said somewhat gently that it had “received credible reports that some teams did not play with the effort and spirit appropriate for any Little League game.” The reports were so credible that the governing body prescribed an extraordinary remedy. It ordered Washington and Iowa to play a special playoff game the next day to determine which team would advance.

In a statement reported in the Des Moines Register, the Washington league’s president acknowledged that his coach had strayed. Our coach was faced with a decision that, in the bubble of intense competition, appeared to him to be in the best interest of our team. In hindsight, it is very likely he would have made a different choice. Though the decision that [the coach] made did not violate the letter of the rules, I can see abundant evidence that it was not in line with the spirit of the game.”

The Washington league’s president placed the blame where it belonged. “[T]he decisions that have placed our team under scrutiny were decisions made by the coach. Our young ladies had no role in that. In fact, they have fought their hearts out to be in the World Series and nothing should take away from that accomplishment.” The president intimated that the coach had deprived the 11-12-year-old girls of “the opportunity to compete in a way that honors their commitment to fair play and open competition.” 

Iowa came from behind to win the special playoff game, 3-2. The victory ended Washington’s run, and North Carolina won the national title later in the week by downing Warwick, Rhode Island, 4-2, in the finals.

When a Coach Tanks a Game, the Players Lose

Last week’s events in Portland received coast-to-coast media attention because they occurred on a high-profile national stage awash in television coverage, the Little League Softball World Series. But in a variety of sports, even local and statewide tournaments below the media’s radar screen can tempt coaches to compromise (as Washington’s president put it) “fair play and open competition.”

Three stories – from Tennessee, Manitoba, and California — describe the invariable formula that unfolded in Portland last week. The coach schemes to lose the game, the players obey the coach’s instructions, and the players end up as the real losers in one way or another.

Tennessee: “A Farce”

In Tennessee early this year, Riverdale High School faced Smyrna High School in a Tennessee girls’ basketball district tournament. Obeying their head coaches’ instructions, both teams tried their hardest to lose the game.

The coaches knew that the winner would face defending state and national champion, Blackman High, in the semifinals, but that the loser would move into the opposite bracket. With both teams intent on throwing the game, the London Daily Mail called the contest “a farce.” Players on both teams deliberately missed more than a dozen free throws and committed multiple game violations.  When one girl was about to try to score on her own team’s basket, the referees finally stopped the game to warn both coaches.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association imposed sanctions that stigmatized innocent players for their coaches’ misdeeds. The Association dismissed both schools from the tournament and placed them on probation for the upcoming season.

Manitoba: “We Had To Put Up With It”

In 2011, tanking marred an early round of the Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) High School Hockey League’s A-Division playoffs.  The Westwood High School Warriors led College Jeanne Sauve, 3-2, late in the third period, when Westwood’s coaches schemed to lose the game by pulling their goalie to let the opponents score. The coaches knew that by losing, the Warriors would draw an easier opponent in the upcoming semifinal round and avoid a faceoff against the league’s regular-season champion. With their net empty, the Warriors gave up the tying and winning goals and lost, 4-3.

The Winnipeg Sun reported that many Warriors players left the ice “visibly distraught” because they knew that their coaches had deliberately thrown the game. “It was brutal,” a Warriors forward told the Sun.  “We were embarrassed, and we’re sad we had to put up with it.”

Westwood’s players assumed leadership after their coach abdicated his responsibilities. With the coach quickly suspended for unethical conduct, the players themselves agreed to face the regular-season champion in the semis, the match-up that a victory honestly earned against College Jeanne Sauve would have produced.

California: “Most of Us Did Not Like the Idea”

Coaching shenanigans marred the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region IV playoffs in Honolulu in June of 2003. With his team ahead 1-0 and about five minutes left to play, the coach of the U-17 De Anza Sharks of Cupertino, California instructed his girls to lose by scoring twice on themselves. The strategy was to avoid a strong opponent in the next round. The Sharks lost the game, 2-1.

“Our coach looked at the brackets,” a Sharks player told the Alameda (Calif.) Journal afterwards, “and he felt it would be best if we played a weaker opponent in the second round. He brought up [the idea of deliberately losing] to us before the game. Most of us did not like the idea, but he was our coach and he felt it was the best thing to do.”

Hating Yourself In the Morning

Many youth coaches doubtlessly weigh tactics during playoffs and other tournaments, which frequently feature multiple games in a few days, sometimes on only a few hours’ rest. To conserve stamina with the team comfortably ahead, for example, the coach may pace first-stringers and reward substitutes with extra playing time.

The ethical compass points in a different direction, however, when the coach deliberately tries to lose a game. The line between reasonable pacing and deliberately trying to lose may sometimes be hazy, but coaches cross the line when the players themselves figure out that the team is pulling a fast one. Players are perceptive enough to know what is happening when the coach instructs players to bunt their way through a no-hitter, instructs the team score on itself, or pulls the goalie when the team is winning late in the game.

The integrity of sports depends on competitors who try their best to win. Angling to lose brings dishonor by denying every competitor the spice that comes from physically and emotionally invigorating competition. The British Association of Coaches points the ethical compass in the right direction: “Sport without fair play is not sport and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

When they cut ethical corners, coaches and players alike may wake up hating themselves in the morning, when their scheming begins to sink in.  Not only that, but the coaches can pay a heavy price because no person of character respects a cheat for very long. I doubt that the Washington, Tennessee, Manitoba, or California coaches had much of a real future with their organizations, or with any other ethical organization that heard about how they let down their players.

Most youth league tankings do not reach the newspapers, but word gets around in cities, suburbs, and outstate areas alike. Even if a sullied coach returns, the cloud of suspicion and distrust can linger because Benjamin Franklin was right: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

In a real sense, then, the players are not the only losers when a youth team throws a game. The coach also loses because personal reputation endures longer than the aura of today’s victory. If the coach senses that players might recognize tanking, they probably will. When in doubt, don’t.

 

[Sources: John Naughton, Iowa Little League Squad Beats Team Accused of Tanking, But Loses in Semis, Des Moines Register & USA Today (Aug. 18, 2015);  Coach of Wash. Little League Softball Team Alleged to Have Thrown Game Lashes Out, USA TODAY, Aug. 20, 2015; Oliver O’Connell, Two High School Basketball Teams Suspended For BOTH Trying to Lose the Same Game – With One Player Even Shooting Into Her Own Basket, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2969629/We-NOT-champions-Two-girls-high-school-basketball-teams-suspended-trying-lose-game.html (Feb. 25, 2015); Tom Kreager & Mealand Ragland, Riverdale, Smyrna Coaches Suspended for 2015-16 Season, District Says, Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Feb. 25, 2015; Ken Wiebe, Swift Hockey Justice, Winnipeg Sun, Mar. 5, 2011, p. S3; Mike McGreehan, Board Takes Action Against Youth Coach, Alameda (Calif.) Journal, Sept. 23, 2003, p. B1]

SPORTSMANSHIP: When HS Coaches Play To Lose…..

 How Youth Coaches Can Lose Players’ Respect Quickly:  Throw a Game

By Doug Abrams

 In Tennessee girls basketball action last week, Riverdale High School faced Smyrna High School in a district tournament match-up.  Both teams tried their hardest all game. The trouble was that, obeying their head coaches’ instructions, both teams tried their hardest to lose.

The coaches knew that the winner would face defending state and national champion Blackman High in the semifinals, but that the loser would move into the opposite bracket. With both teams intent on throwing the game, the London Daily Mail called the contest a “farce.” (Yes, the story quickly reached beyond the United States to an international audience.)

Players on both teams deliberately missed more than a dozen free throws and committed multiple game violations.  When one girl was about to try to score on her own team’s basket, the referees finally stopped the game to warn both coaches.

After the referees filed their game report, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) dismissed both schools from the tournament, fined both $1500, and placed both on probation for the upcoming season. The county schools director suspended both coaches for at least next season.

“We Were Embarrassed”

Manipulating tournament pairings by tanking games is not an entirely new youth league coaching strategy, but tanking usually leaves a foul taste in the mouths of players who know right from wrong. For coaches who covet their players’ respect, ordering the team to deliberately lose can quickly erase years of unblemished service.

Respect quickly evaporated, for example, in an early round of the Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) High School Hockey League’s A-Division playoffs in 2011.  The Westwood High School Warriors led College Jeanne Sauve, 3-2, late in the third period, when Westwood’s coaches schemed to lose the game by pulling their goalie to let the opponents score. The coaches knew that by losing, the Warriors would draw an easier opponent in the upcoming semifinal round and avoid a faceoff against the league’s regular-season champion. With their net empty, the Warriors gave up the tying and winning goals and lost, 4-3.

The Winnipeg Sun reported that many Warriors players left the ice “visibly distraught” because they knew that their coaches had deliberately thrown the game. “It was brutal,” a Warriors forward told the Sun.  “We were embarrassed, and we’re sad we had to put up with it.” With their coach quickly suspended for unethical conduct, Westwood’s players themselves agreed to face the regular-season champion in the semis, the match-up that a victory honestly earned against College Jeanne Sauve would have produced.

“Most of Us Did Not Like the Idea”

Similar coaching shenanigans marred the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region IV playoffs in Honolulu in June of 2003. With his team ahead 1-0 and about five minutes left to play, the coach of the U-17 De Anza Sharks of Cupertino, California instructed his girls to lose by scoring twice on themselves. Again the strategy was to avoid a strong opponent in the next round. The Sharks lost the game, 2-1.

“Our coach looked at the brackets,” a Sharks player told the Alameda (Calif.) Journal afterwards, “and he felt it would be best if we played a weaker opponent in the second round. He brought up [the idea of deliberately losing] to us before the game. Most of us did not like the idea, but he was our coach and he felt it was the best thing to do.”

The Ethical Compass

Many youth coaches doubtlessly weigh tactics during playoffs and other tournaments, which frequently feature multiple games in a few days, sometimes on only a few hours’ rest. To conserve stamina with the team comfortably ahead, for example, the coach may pace first-stringers and reward substitutes with extra playing time.

The ethical compass points in a different direction, however, when the coach deliberately tries to lose a game. The line between reasonable pacing and deliberately trying to lose may be hazy sometimes, but coaches cross the line when the players themselves figure out that their leaders are scheming to pull a fast one.

The integrity of sports depends on competitors who try their best to win. Angling to lose brings dishonor by denying every competitor the spice that comes from physically and emotionally invigorating competition. The British Association of Coaches points the ethical compass in the right direction: “Sport without fair play is not sport and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”

Only One Bad Deed

Reputation earned over time is the youth coach’s greatest asset. One serious ethical lapse can permanently destroy that asset because, as Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo wrote, reputation “is a plant of tender growth, and its bloom, once lost, is not easily restored.” Or as Benjamin Franklin taught more directly, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

 The Tennessee girls basketball coaches will doubtlessly find it difficult, if not impossible, to recover their reputations, even if their schools permit them to return to the sidelines after serving their suspensions next season. Players and parents may sometimes forgive a devoted coach’s errors of strategy, or even the coach’s lack of knowledge about the finer points of the game. But players and parents may find it difficult to forgive dishonesty that soils the values that drive sports.

The Tennessee high school basketball coaches’ ethical lapse counsels youth coaches against yielding to temptation to throw a tournament game for tactical advantage. We often speak of 20/20 hindsight, but coaches with values also need 20/20 foresight. Integrity is a youth coach’s foundation, and a permanently tattered reputation is too great a price to pay for today’s chance at tainted victory.

 

[Sources: Oliver O’Connell, Two High School Basketball Teams Suspended For BOTH Trying to Lose the Same Game – With One Player Even Shooting Into Her Own Basket, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2969629/We-NOT-champions-Two-girls-high-school-basketball-teams-suspended-trying-lose-game.html                   (Feb. 25, 2015); Tom Kreager and Mealand Ragland, Riverdale, Smyrna Coaches Suspended for 2015-16 Season, District Says, Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Feb. 25, 2015; Ken Wiebe, Swift Hockey Justice, Winnipeg Sun, Mar. 5, 2011, p. S3; Mike McGreehan, Board Takes Action Against Youth Coach, Alameda Journal, Sept. 23, 2003, p. B1]

SPORTSMANSHIP: Is It Appropriate to Help a Fallen Competitor?

The following incident occurred in the Minnesota State cross-country championship a couple of weeks ago….

Two HS runners, both upperclassmen – Kailee Kaminski of Esko HS, and Tierney Winter of Watertown HS, came across a freshman runner, Jessica Cristoffer, who had collapsed on the course about 50 meters from the finish line. Jessica is a student at Jackson County Central HS. The three girls didn’t know each other.

The two older runners didn’t hesitate – they helped Jessica get up and assisted her to finish the race.

They did this, even though a HS cross country official warned the two older girls that if they helped their opponent, they would be immediately disqualified. Minnesota state rules make it clear that you are not allowed to assist an opponent.

Well, the two girls did help Jessica finish, and they – along with the fallen runner – were indeed both disqualified from the race.

What do you think? Did these girls do the right thing?

Apparently the no-help rule is put in place so that if a runner goes down, a professional athletic trainer can attend to them, assess the situation, and prevent further possible injury. That is, it’s feared that if  a well-meaning opponent tries to help a fallen runner, they may end up doing more harm than good if moving the fallen runner might cause more physical damage.

That makes sense….but it also seems to me that we want to encourage good sportsmanship as well.

If nothing else, the two girls who helped will be long remembered for their act of sportsmanship more than for finishing the race.

Said one of the older runners afterwards: “I couldn’t leave her there….I’ve seen girls help each other out, so I was like, I’ll help her and see what happens. …I wouldn’t want to be left if it were I, so I just thought of myself there, too.”

Lots of response on my WFAN show this AM. Some callers felt that the girls should be applauded for their Good Samaritan act, not disqualified. Others commented that since an official was right there, and had warned them not to help, that they should be disqualified for not listening to an official.

In my correspondence this week with Doug Abrams, he pointed out that a similar situation had happened in Ohio two years ago, and the good Samaritan there was disqualified for helping a competitor who has fallen short of the tape. But then the authorities changed her mind and did count both girls as official finishers.

Doug also mentioned  a case in Tennessee where the situation was a little different. In that race, a boy went down in serious medical distress halfway through the course. It was in the woods, and there were no officials around. A runner, Seth Goldstein, who knew CPR from working as a lifeguard, could see the runner was having some of seizure. Seth stopped, helped give first aid to the runner, and waited with him until help arrived. Once they took care of the boy, Seth went back to finish his race. He, of course, finished last – the race was long over – but Seth saved the competitor’s life, and was considered a  true hero.

The ultimate teaching moment here was, “How did we educate our kids to be good sports and Good Samaritans? And how did they know when to lend a hand when it might mean disqualification? Of course, every situation is different, but if nothing else, we sure hope we raise our kids to think quickly, do the right thing, and always put things in proper perspective.