At Back to School Night, one of our parents came up to me to share something about our cross country team. Now, to be totally honest with you, when a parent wants to share something about a sports team it usually isn't a positive. I learned that during my years as a high school athletic director. This time, though, it was different.
This parent wanted to tell me what she had witnessed during our cross country meet at Tewksbury. She was so impressed that our runners, once they had finished the race, were cheering on members of the opposing team. I was proud of both our kids and our coach. That type of sportsmanship is something that coaches develop through both words and deeds. At the same time, I was also a little saddened. Not because of what happened, but because it is so rare. Shouldn't that kind of behavior be the norm instead of the exception?
Coincidentally, a couple of days later, I ran across an article related to sportsmanship on the high school level. Check it out here: http://arkansasvarsity.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=992976
Once again, I was moved by a tremendous act of sportsmanship and saddened because it is seemingly so rare that it becomes part of the news.
These stories also reminded me of one that happened last year, as two college softball players carried an opponent around the bases so that the homerun she hit, her first, would count. The move cost the team a victory in a conference game. If you haven't seen this story, you can find it here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/01/earlyshow/main4061276.shtml
In reality, I am sure that sportsmanship is alive and well in athletic programs around the country; we just don't hear about it enough. If you turn on the television or go to a professional or major college sporting event, you'd probably think that my statement is incorrect.
Sports at all levels must be about sportsmanship, even more than winning. This statement comes from a person who hates to lose more than anyone. Actually, I don't even think that I like winning all that much, I just really hate to lose. If we don't teach our kids, though, at the youngest ages, that sportsmanship is paramount, they will never get it.
Middle school sports, in particular, must stress process over outcome. Doing things the right way - working hard, playing fair, and good sportsmanship - will ultimately lead to success both on and off the field. Thanks to coaches like Woodglen's Jen McGuigan, Cave City High School's Jon Bradley, Central Washington University's Gary Frederick and countless others at all levels of sport, kids are learning and displaying acts of sportsmanship that are supposed to define the games we play.
Next time you are at a game, keep that in mind when you or someone near you seems to have forgotten what it is supposed to be all about.