We expect issues like abortion, gun control, smoking bans and gay marriage to polarize America. I never thought a high school girls’ varsity basketball game could join this short list of divisive hot button issues.
For the couple of weeks, the talk of Texas – and much of the nation – is the reaction to The Covenant School defeating Dallas Academy 100-0 in a matchup of two Dallas-area Christian schools. This story endured several news cycles because:
· The Covenant School apologized a week after the game, calling its 100-point victory “shameful and “an embarrassment,” and offered to forfeit the victory
· Micah Grimes, Covenant’s head coach, publicly disagreed with his school’s apology, saying his team played with “honor and integrity”
· The Covenant School fired Coach Grimes within hours of his public statement
Reading message boards about this game has been fascinating. Not surprisingly, many Americans balked at Coach Grimes’ lack of sportsmanship and suggested that he should be fired (before he actually was). What was surprising – and frankly somewhat scary – was the vast majority of message board authors wholeheartedly believe that a team should score as many points as possible and never let up.
Everyone tried to place blame. The winning coach should be fired for his lack of class and sportsmanship. The losing coach should be fired for fielding such an awful squad. The athletic directors should be fired for scheduling the game. The only group to survive the daggers in this debate was the officials, who enjoyed a rare exemption from a controversial sports outcome.
Before I offer some much-needed common sense to this debate, let me provide some perspective as a veteran basketball official. First of all, lopsided basketball scores happen more often than you think. Check the sports pages of any newspaper. Some private schools focus on teaching academics and/or religious beliefs. Basketball is simply a relatively inexpensive extracurricular activity they can offer to their students to supplement the high school experience. These schools have no feeder programs, and some of the student-athletes have never played basketball before.
A couple of years ago, I officiated a lopsided 94-5 game between two small Christian schools in Minnesota that didn’t make any headlines. Before you assume the winning coach “ran up the score,” I can tell you firsthand he didn’t. He called off the press after a 20-some-point lead, didn’t play his starters the second half and instructed his bench players to sit in a zone and not steal the ball on every possession.
This year, the Minnesota State High School League, adopted a “mercy rule” for varsity basketball games, which is consistent with rules in most other sports. The new rule states that if one team is leading by 35 or more points, the clock will move to “running time” for the last nine minutes of the game. Look for other states to consider adopting a similar rule in the wake of Covenant’s victory.
This hollow 100-donut game – and the reaction to it – begs for some common-sense conclusions:
· Did Coach Grimes run up the score? Of course he did. Once Covenant reached 100 points, it decided not to score during the final four minutes of the game. He obviously wanted to score triple figures and obtained his goal.
· Should Coach Grimes have been fired for the 100-0 victory? No, a good athletic director would have questioned his judgment and used it as a teaching opportunity. (Publicly disagreeing with the school through the media is a different issue, however)
· Should Covenant forfeit the victory? No, that is simply a damage-control olive branch that doesn’t make sense and punishes the players
· Does the coach of the losing team have some culpability for not having his players ready to play? I think so. Even players with minimal talent or athletic ability can improve with proper coaching, practice and repetition.
America remains polarized about this game. It’s a classic – and thankfully competitive – match-up between the pro-sportsmanship faction appalled by Coach Grimes’ behavior and the win-at-all-costs mob that has zero sympathy for the losing team and believes political correctness has gone too far. There is some common ground here. If this game ended 98-2, it never would have become a large national story, and Coach Grimes would not be out of work.
Too often, we fail to recognize and acknowledge that school sporting events are simply an extension of the classroom. Sports are a great opportunity to teach participants about hustle, determination, teamwork, getting along with others, perseverance, appropriate behavior, losing with dignity and the much-need lesson absent in this game: winning with class. Fortunately, those lessons last a lifetime, long after the clock runs out and the scoreboard is unplugged. Unfortunately, the people who could benefit the most from these lessons are adults who act like juveniles.