Being Good Sports in Life
Good sportsmanship is hard to define. Its hallmarks include winning without gloating, losing gracefully, and respecting everyone involved, including opponents, coaches, officials, fans, and administrators. In the heat of competition, will your better nature rise to manifest the good sport in you? Or will you instead listen to the negative voices and be a poor sport? Many youth and adults in our town recently had a chance to discover the answers to those questions when faced with a startling development.
Our Boulder City High School (BCHS) boys basketball team went 9-1 in league play this season, ending on a 9-game winning streak to tie for first place. Their expectations were high for both regional and state championships. However, just three days before their first tournament game, their hopes were abruptly dashed. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) received a player ineligibility complaint and promptly forfeited 16 of the team’s wins, including seven league games, disqualifying them from post-season play.
Nobody was previously aware of the ineligibility. Not even the ineligible player himself. Was it even legitimate? Nobody knew. Since November, the coaches and school administrators had believed that all 15 players were eligible. So did the parents and players. For months these student-athletes had worked hard in the classroom and practiced relentlessly on the court to be ready. They had won 17 games fair and square. But suddenly they were being labeled cheaters. The penalty seemed extremely harsh and unjust. Their whole season was being wiped away on a seeming technicality without even an opportunity to state their case. But what could be done?
Some immediately cried foul. Others began pointing fingers of blame. A few said rules are rules and so we should just accept the consequences. Everyone was paralyzed and in a state of utter disbelief.
After the initial shock wore off, however, one thing became clear. The entire BCHS community would need to set aside their negative reactionary feelings, band together, and act fast if there was going to be any chance of saving the season. Giving in to the temptation to be poor sports wasn’t going to change the outcome. Not surprisingly, it never does.
In case you haven’t noticed, bad sportsmanship never gets you anywhere. I’ve been a coach in one form or another for most of my adult life, including at the high school, junior high, and recreation league levels. But not once have I ever seen bad sportsmanship change the results of a game or a season for the better. In fact, it almost always makes matters worse. Have you ever seen a single positive result from trash talking your opponents, taunting them, blaming your teammates, being disrespectful to the refs, whining, making excuses for poor play, throwing an elbow, or retaliating in anger? I haven’t. Never.
I’ve been in many other contentious settings my entire life, including on the hot seat as a government leader, as an attorney in an adversarial courtroom, as a mediator resolving disputes, and like most of us, as a family member in perhaps the ultimate crucible of potential contention,
the home. Yet I’ve never seen bad sportsmanship cause anything but damage and misery. Put simply, bad sportsmanship is always counterproductive and harmful.
Fortunately, our BCHS community realized that before it was too late. What did they do instead? They simply exhibited good sportsmanship. And they did so repeatedly and tireless around the clock over the next 72 hours, uniting to change a bad outcome into a good one, all the while working within the rules. Administrators owned up to unintentional human errors and filed an emergency appeal. Coaches and teachers persistently lobbied NIAA officials to do the right thing. Mayors, legislators, and others made last-minute phone calls in support. Former players and elected officials contributed their legal, political, and technical expertise. Players and parents prayed and enlisted the media’s help, refusing to be anything but optimistic and complementary in their interviews.
And perhaps most telling of all, everyone stood behind their wrongly single-out teammate, reminding him it wasn’t his fault, constantly encouraging him, and showing him that they believed in him, were thankful to have him on the team, and would never throw him under the bus regardless of the outcome. Then he returned the favor with a supremely unselfish sacrifice, agreeing to sit out the remainder of the season so that the team could have its wins restored and continue marching toward championship glory.
I wish I could tell you that our boys won state or even regionals. Unfortunately, they didn’t. After winning their 10th in a row, they lost a close one in the regional semi-finals to the extraordinarily good eventual state champs. But when they did win, they won with humility and dignity. And when they lost a few, they always did so with grace and good sportsmanship despite their disappointment. They didn’t make excuses or blame anyone. In fact, they were anxious to express gratitude to the entire community who had helped them come so far.
We sometimes forget that life is about more than basketball or wins or championships. I’m grateful that we haven’t forgotten that here in BC. Thank you Boulder City for teaching our children to be good sports and even better human beings. It will take them far.