Rant: What Do You Want? A Medal?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard the big news from the sporting world, news that originated right here in Indiana. Last night Bloomington South defeated Arlington High School 107-2 in girls basketball ‘action’.

Predictably for this day and age people have taken to social media to express their outrage and shock that such a horrific event could happen in this era of participation medals and ‘good try, good effort’. Tweets are still flying telling Bloomington South players and administration that they should be ashamed of themselves while other comments go as far as stating this game was a ‘disgraceful blow to the integrity of Indiana High School basketball’. Even the Indy Star’s Matthew Tully penned a column demanding heads should roll at Bloomington South and chiming in with the opinion that “…while I have never met or talked to any of the adults in charge of the girls basketball program in Bloomington, clearly they lack common sense and have no business guiding young lives”

Um, what?

99.5% of the time I’m in agreement with what Matthew writes, however this time I think he is way out of line.

Let me start expressing my opinion with the full disclosure that I have personally been on both sides of this situation. I was a high school athlete in rural BFE western Kansas. I played football. I was a member of an eight man football team that defeated a team 93-6 in the same season that we were defeated 72-12. You know what I remember from the victory? It was homecoming and I had a hot date. You remember what I remember from the loss? Not much actually. We played hard. The other team played harder. The sun still came up on Saturday morning and my life of milking cows, blowing off homework, and busting my ass in practice for the sport I loved continued unabated and amazingly untainted by a ‘humiliating’ loss.

In response to Matthew’s day long Twitter outrage another Indy Star scribe, Carrie Ritchie, pointedly asked Matthew what Bloomington South should have done.

Matthew’s reply was ‘show a little decency’.

Ok Matthew, just how should Bloomington South have done that. Quit shooting? Sit down in the middle of the court? Intentionally throw every inbound out of bounds? That’s not how the game is played and that’s not how life is played. There are some accounts that Bloomington South was still using a full court press deep into the third quarter and if that is true some of Matthew’s condemnation is warranted, but I can honestly state from experience that getting your ass kicked by a team that is not even trying hurts ten times worse than getting beat by team that is giving you it’s best punch. Bloomington South coach Larry Winters apparently agrees with my sentiment, stating after the game “I didn’t tell my girls to stop shooting because that would have been more embarrassing to them”. Winters apparently was trying to ‘show some decency’ as he only dressed nine players for the game and rotated four new players every four minutes – a strategy that virtually guaranteed that nobody would get ‘in the zone’ or build a strong game chemistry.

Matthew also called out Bloomington South parents and administrators for apparently taking joy at whooping up on a poor inner city school.

Come again? I have neither seen nor heard any joy being taken at the expense of Arlington pride other than the fact that it adds a win to Bloomington South’s record. I understand that Arlington High School is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Indianapolis and that the school was recently taken over by a corporate entity but that excuse just doesn’t hold much weight. Sports are touted as the great equalizer of our society; sports are supposed to be blind to race, sexuality, and socioeconomic factors. The corporation running Arlington High School and girls basketball coach Ebony Jackson have to take some of the blame not only for the lack of competitiveness in this game but for at least two other games that Arlington has lost by more than 50 points this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I do empathize with the players and parents at Arlington High School. Getting your ass handed to you in a sporting event is a painful experience. You learn from it, you hopefully grow from it, and you move on as a person with a stronger sense of humility. My actual sympathies in this situation goes out to the players at Bloomington South. They are being vilified with a white hot hatred simply for being a good (not great as they do have a loss on the season) basketball team. How is this going to affect their psyche and what lessons are they supposed to take from this? Anytime you get an upper hand in life that you should just coast? Don’t do your best or people will hate you?

Whether it is wrong or right, today’s society treats sports as a metaphor for life. Lessons learned while being a student athlete stay with you forever but I’m concerned about exactly what is being taught by this incident. The last time I failed massively on a project I don’t remember a famous comedian giving me a pep talk. When I have succeeded beyond even my own wildest expectations I can’t recall anybody telling me to die in a fire.

What kind of life lessons are being taught to Indiana student athletes when the state association punishes schools for having successful sports programs in the guise of keeping a level playing field? In an American society filled with helicopter parents that refuse to keep score in soccer games to prevent hurting the feelings of their precious little snowflakes we have forgotten that the utopian purpose of school athletic programs is to develop a strong personal foundation and to prepare the student for life as a grown up. Guess what? Life is not fair. Life does not care about level playing fields. Life does not give out participation medals.

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