Losing and Finding My Faith In Sports At The Girls State Championship Game

Posted on March 11, 2012

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I type this, bittersweet, minutes after watching the Butte Central Varsity Girls team lose the state championship game that would have crowned them repeat champions. I followed their title defense this entire last weekend, pulling for a team that includes a cousin (in the Butte, Montana sense of woven family relation) and a former 5th grade student of mine from P-Burg. It’s never easy to take a loss like the one tonight, nor should it ever be, but there is something larger in play. I guess I’m cursed with a philosophy of the whole; one in which I simultaneously see the heartbreak of lost dreams and the value of lessons attained; much like the forging of two lesser metals into a stronger, more resilient alloy.

During the course of the game, I felt less and less of a sports fan. I know, that sounds weird to even think about, but tonight brought forth a couple glaring reasons for this statement:

  1. I assumed parents of athletes had some semblance of conduct.
  2. Sports are never really about sports.

Cass and I and a handful of family sat among the Butte Central (BC) faithful a few rows behind the team’s bench. This, alone, was the worst decision I’ve made in years. Worst. Without question. I have a connection to the team, but it pales in comparison to the families of the players-we should have known better. Parents to their credit, do anything to have their child succeed–I think it’s simply a human instinct. Parents of athletes have invested incredible amounts of time, not to mention investing financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually (in the case of BC,anyway–Butte’s catholic high school) to have their players succeed. To me, that is beautiful. That is the reason why I told my parents I loved them after every one of my h.s. football banquets. I know it’s not easy; I know it takes a lot; and it’s likely one of American society’s most selfless acts. It showed me I was worth it all. Me.

Tonight, however, that very same beauty fueled a blind passion I will not soon forget. The people you look up to in life-parents-put on a display of grossly misguided unsportsmanlike conduct; to a point that I was embarrassed at the juvenile ignorance thrown so haphazardly. The range and amount of cussing was inexcusable,  referee name-calling and threats was disheartening, and the arguments were more often than not blatantly incorrect and contradictory. It got so bad that Cass started writing down some of the things that people actually said… grown people… aside from the under-the-breath huffs of “bout time they call that,” to far worse:

  • [Referee is a] bald headed piece of Sh*t
  • They don’t have to just beat Billings Central, they have to beat God
  • They did the same sh*t last night
  • We were playing against 8 all night (5 players + 3 refs)
  • These guys are getting baptized
  • Number of time lady behind and to our left shouted the word “shit”: 11
  • I’m gonna turn around in 2 seconds if he doesn’t shut his f***ing mouth.

This is not meant to be a shot anywhere near BC fans; it just happens to be the school and place causing the generation of thought. What really torques me about the entire situation is the message we are allowing to get passed on. Is it acceptable for our children to scream obscenities and throw tantrums when things don’t go perfectly for us; we scream at referees for calling (legitimate) fouls on our team. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep track of the positive, truly supportive comments people offered, but I’m 100% sure comments of support  were the minority. Support is step towards positive; away from hurtful degrading remarks.

And never, ever cheer for others mistakes. I guess it’s acceptable for our children to laugh at people when they see someone struggling-we cheered our loudest when a player throws the ball out-of-bounds. This bellwether of our hatred as a culture is absolutely ridiculous. When did this behavior become acceptable and the holding oneself to standards of class forgotten? It’s likely tolerated by the sprinkling of an insincere required veil here-of shaking the other teams hands before the game-and an insincere veil there-clapping to support the other teams injured player. The list goes on…

I’m sorry world, I will encourage my children to do their very best at whatever sport they choose. I will invest everything and more to foster their success, but never, ever will I stoop to the misguided and juvenilistic low of a name calling rant unacceptable on an elementary school playground. The state championship should be a celebration of all that has been accomplished; a battle of titans-in which you become a crutch to lift your team to a victory, not slice your opponent down for personal gain. It is everything that is wrong with the world. We should, me included, be better than that.

I talked about what sports truly mean in a previous post about my old coach, Rubick, and what he meant to my life. I forever stand by the idea that sports are not actually about sports.

I am blessed to be part of a family that was given the talents to play the game at a high level. Looking back now, with (what I like to think is) the wisdom of time,  I see that it was never the game itself-the x’s and o’s-that mattered. The value of football is what players take away from the field, the conditioning, the practices, the D meetings, the conditioning, the off season weights, and coaches, that mattered most. One may not know this for years after, nor ever. Football is just a vehicle.

For those girls that football field was the hardwood of the Butte Civic Center and that vehicle was basketball. But it’s all the same. Tonight is gonna hurt, and it might hurt forever, but you will gain something far more valuable than a metal and a ribbon to hang around your neck. You will forge yourself into that alloy. You will work harder to reach your goals not only in basketball, but in life and school and work. You will meet a an obstacle, it’s name won’t be Billings Central, it might be drugs or abuse or homework and without you even knowing it, you’ll work harder than you ever thought possible because of your experience tonight. You will carry yourself with confidence in the face of adversity, you will do your very best, and you will be fair. If you lose, lose graciously; win, do the same. That integrity is reason for sports. Just as winning and losing are a yin-yang of lessons; followership may be just as important as leadership.

These are not the qualities you remember when one of those silly Facebook motivational quotes pops up on your timeline. These are the ones that smolder deep within, raw and unnoticed, never to surface, but make their presence known through sound decisions you make. Over time, the decisions you make-how to accept losing the state championship, what you need to do to improve yourself, how to stand up for what’s right, how to carry yourself with class and dignity-form something much more important: character.

Every now and then I need a reminding that character is what restores my faith in sport.  Thank you girls.

Lady Maroons, you played a damn fine game and had one hell of a season. You wore the colors well; be proud of yourselves and what you’ve done as a team; I am. Though it’s tough to swallow, it’s your loss to own. Knowing the feeling of hoisting up both the championship and second place trophy will be better athletes and people because of both.

This loss, will only help to forge yourself into something amazing.

Now share this with every athlete’s parent in the whole country… they should get some forging done, as well.

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Posted in: Think