Keep it fun

By Andy Kirkaldy
It was one thing for the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team to crack 100 points against Montpelier earlier this year. The Solons are a perfectly competent (7-6 as of Monday) Division II Vermont basketball team and were willing, at least the first time the two teams met, to run and gun with the Tigers.
It was another thing entirely, needless to say, for the Covenant School, a private Christian institution in Dallas, Texas, to ring up last week’s 100-0 girls’ basketball win over Dallas Academy, a school with 20 female students, eight of whom play for a program that has not won a game for four years.
Well, some people learned from the debacle. Covenant administrators said on the school Web site, “It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened,” and offered to forfeit the game.
According to other reports, Dallas Academy administrators said, essentially, apology accepted, but that’s enough, the result should stand. Observers praised the losing team for continuing to play hard, and journalists report the Dallas Academy athletes have basically shrugged off the result and moved on. Kids can do that.
Better than some adults, apparently.
Coach Micah Grimes of the winning team responded to administrators’ apologetic statement on the school Web site by emailing the Dallas Morning News with his own statement that he would not apologize “for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity.”
Yes, Grimes was soon fired.
It’s safe to say he missed the point. His athletes may have played with honor and integrity, but he and an assistant coach and spectators who were described as “cheering wildly” as the team neared 100 points sure didn’t act that way.
At some point all coaches face this issue. It took me two games into my now-ended four-year girls’ hoop coaching career. Back when they were third- and fourth-graders, we lost our first game at Ferrisburgh by something like 12-4, and next went to play Addison. In between the two games, something clicked in — we began to understand defense and hit shots. At the half, we were up by maybe 15-0.
I told the girls, like 99 out of 100 coaches would, back off on defense. Pass the ball at least four times before you shoot. It was common sense, and the other team got to handle the ball more and have more fun.
Grimes’ Covenant team pressed and shot three-pointers after taking a 59-0 lead at the half.
Was it his athletes’ fault? Maybe not. They probably were playing to the best of their ability. But Micah Grimes, you were not acting with “honor and integrity.”
Most coaches I know agonize over this stuff. Derek Bartlett of the Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team didn’t really want his team’s 18-0 win over Mount St. Joseph reported in the Independent. MSJ, already a shorthanded and winless team, had played without two key players, and Derek had gone deep into his bench early in the game. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Pete Brakeley’s MUHS football teams take a knee or play conservatively when they could tack on more points. And that’s just to name two of many.
But still there are some coaches who don’t get it. It does happen here, too. A Barre AAU travel team of 11-year-old girls beat Neshobe School’s sixth-grade basketball team, 49-0, last winter. Recently I saw a Rutland 7th-grade girls’ team with its starters still on the floor pressing with a 15-point lead in the final two minutes.
These are extreme examples, but I guess the bottom line is this, something I struggle to remember when I’m getting too wound up watching my daughters play sports:
It’s supposed to be a fun and healthy activity for kids — for all the kids on the floor or the field. Part of the process is learning to win and lose the right way.
Anything we can do as coaches, parents and fans to keep it fun and help kids learn, let’s.

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