WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2013 - Over the weekend, there was about as much basketball as one could hope to watch. Not only was March Madness on up to four channels at once, but our local high school played in the Minnesota state championship. As a transplanted Hoosier, I was in heaven.
It was a weekend of listening to squeaky shoes and watching for examples of sportsmanship. Following are three take-aways from the basketball-full weekend:
1. Drawing attention to sportsmanship issues really does work. On Saturday morning, many hours before the Apple Valley High School basketball team took on Park Center at the Target Center, a Facebook post mentioned that at Thursday’s qualifier, our students turned their backs when the opposing team was announced.
Almost immediately, adults commented on the post. Most of the comments were from me parents who thought that was a lousy thing to do. A few were from parents who basically said, “Kids will be kids! That’s just what they do!”
Since I’d be remiss in not trying to keep that same thing from happening at the championship game that night, I posted a comment on the Patch’s Facebook page and gave my own kids a little reminder. I said, “I better not catch you doing something like that! Remember that it’s always better to respect opponents than disrespect them.”
That night, as about 18,000 people watched the two teams play, our student section (who was guilty of the aforementioned shunning) cheered loudly and wildly and didn’t once turn their backs or do anything that wasn’t in keeping with school spirit. That, plus a big win, made a lot of us really proud of our community.
2. Bad sportsmanship is contagious and almost no one is immune. The process of getting a seat to watch the high school team play consisted of waiting in a bunched-up line of about 150 people, on the second floor of the arena in muggy crowd heat, and hoping that fans of earlier games would high-tail it out of there so we could watch.
Once we were finally allowed to nearly crush ourselves on the stairs to the first floor, most of our group split off, which left five of us: two adults and three little girls. I spotted several loose chairs up against the railing and asked a guy who was sitting at the end of the row if they were taken. His exact words: “People were sitting there, but they left.” I directed my people to grab them, quickly. He also said they might be coming back, but there was nothing to indicate that anyone was saving them so we sat down.
A few minutes later, I heard a loud-ish voice. “So I guess there’s no respect when I tell someone not to sit there.” By the tone, I knew it was directed at me. So I ignored him. A few minutes after that, I heard a different voice, “Nice job, lady, thanks a lot for listening when my friend told you not to sit there.”
That one I didn’t ignore, and instead looked at the guy. He was glaring. So I, forgetting for a moment that I’m the CHILL Manager and all, did this: I gave him the “Too bad, buddy!” look and also the universal “Oh yeah, what are you gonna do about it?” shoulder-shrug pose. He did it back and looked really mean. That was not exactly how I wanted it to go.
I was reminded that we’re not perfect, and that practicing good sportsmanship (and anti-poor sportsmanship) is hard and nerve-wracking, and takes lots of patience and practice.
3. When a team plays because they love playing, they are fun to watch, easy to support, and great ambassadors. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, a little-known team from Florida Gulf Coast University wrecked just about everyone’s brackets, except maybe their families’, by beating Georgetown. I didn’t watch that game, but the excitement the team generated started showing up in the coverage of other games. On Sunday, FGCU shocked even more people when they beat San Diego State, a 7-seed, by ten points. With that win, FGCU became the first 15-seed to ever make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
In that game, the athleticism of FGCU was noticeably higher than San Diego State’s. But even more impressive was their sixth man on the court: Enthusiasm. The FGCU players smiled when they made shots, congratulated each other after great plays, nodded to the head coach, Andy Enfield, and had what seemed like a great time.
After the game, when Coach Enfield was asked what made his team unstoppable that night, he said, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we try to have fun.”
FGCU’s most dynamic player, Sherwood Brown, was embraced by SDS’s Jamaal Franklin during the handshake. “He just told us that we did a great job and he was just saying to keep this thing going,” said Brown afterwards. “We’re doing something special, and he just wants us to keep it moving. Don’t stop now.”
Brown went on to shake the hands of the rest of San Diego’s team, their coaches, and even the television commentators. Players hugged each other; they hugged the coaches. In the locker room, Coach Enfield was soaked through with water then hoisted up on players’ shoulders.
Throughout all of that, all I could think was, “That’s it. That’s what sportsmanship is all about. That’s what CHILL Manager is promoting.”
Win or lose next weekend, Florida Gulf Coast has shown us that respect for coaches, officials, opponents, and each other can pay off in a Sweet way. Luckily, our team from Apple Valley figured out the same thing. Now if we could all be a little more clear when we’re saving seats…
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