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Bad Acts in Youth Sports: 1st Quarter 2009 Edition

The worst acts from January to March, 2009 were:

1. The Chicago Public Schools experienced a wave of gun violence; indeed, over 30 CPS students were murdered in the 2008-09 school year. Some of this gun violence spilled over to athletic contests. In January, Chicago had two shooting incidents at high school basketball games.

2. Chicago wasn’t the only place experiencing gun violence. A fight after a basketball game led to a shooting at William Penn High School in Delaware in January.

3. The most highly publicized bad act of the year was the riot that broke out between Carver and Valley High Schools in the Alabama State High School Basketball Playoffs in February. This brawl was caught on video, and the spectacle of seeing players and spectators storming the court and brawling was certainly compelling television. This incident led to multiple arrests, and the suspension of both schools from the State Basketball Playoffs.

4. Basketball wasn’t the only sport to see violence. A fight between rival spectators spilled out of the stands and interrupted a wrestling match at Trinity High School in Washington, Pennsylvania in January. This fight was also caught on video.

5. Not all bad acts involve fighting. The Covenant High School girls’ basketball team beat an opponent 100 – 0 in January. Covenant received a substantial amount of criticism in the aftermath of the game, and ultimately offered to forfeit the game.

Interestingly enough, Covenant’s coach had a number of prominent defenders. One reporter on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” show reserved his criticism for the school that lost, arguing that they shouldn’t be playing an opponent who’s so much better than them, and that they may be better off playing at the JV level. This argument probably reflects ignorance more than malice.

People who are familiar with youth and high school sports are aware that mismatches are inevitable at this level – either due to compelled mismatches in league play, tournament scheduling quirks or other oddities. Most people involved in youth sports understand that the lesser team in a gross mismatch will lose by a large margin, and only ask that the better team draw a balance between letting their players play in a manner that doesn’t make a mockery out of the game and using strategies that slow the tempo and hold the score down. Some common basketball strategies are lifting the press, and working on offensive sets that require five or six passes. These strategies allow the winning team to continue to play basketball, but force the winning team to play in a manner that doesn’t generally lead to the piling on of points. Where a team wins 100 – 0, most people familiar with youth sports would quite reasonably conclude that the winning team attempted to “run 100” on the opponent. That’s not sportsmanlike – no matter what some ESPN reporters may think.

6. Some bad acts defied belief. In February, the rival scorekeepers had a fight at a Watertown, Massachusetts basketball game. Fights between scorekeepers are incredibly rare.

7. One spectator goes down as both a poor sport and the unluckiest guy of the year. In February, this Indiana fan was arrested for attacking a referee after a high school basketball game. It turns out the referee was a State Trooper. The fan allegedly said, “You can’t arrest me; you’re a referee” when she was placed under arrest.

In each listing of “bad acts” I will point out a good act, program or organization. In this listing, I refer you to Dekalb High School in Illinois. In February, Johntell Franklin, a senior at Milwaukee Madison High School, told his coach he was going to miss a basketball game following his mother’s death. Consequently, Johntell’s coach didn’t list Johntell in the scorebook. Johntell changed his mind, and showed up in the second quarter. His surprised coach immediately inserted Johntell in the game, but basketball rules require a technical foul for playing someone who isn’t in the scorebook. Dekalb’s coach and players knew that Johntell’s mother had died, but they were required to shoot two free throws for the technical foul. Darius McNeal, a Dekalb player, did the right thing by intentionally missing the free throws – proving that one can sometimes be a winner by refusing to score.