“Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.”
In light of recent events, those words from Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Lemon may be particularly prophetic now more than ever. And that isn’t exclusive to baseball; it’s sports in general.
Two events involving youth athletics have caught my attention recently. First, on Feb. 11, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago that won the national title last season was stripped of its championship because team officials (Apparently Little League teams have those now) knowingly played kids from outside of the team’s residential boundaries. Then, just this week, a story out of Tennessee about made me sick.
In case you missed that last one, here’s what happened: Saturday, the varsity girls basketball teams from Riverdale and Smyrna high schools met in a district playoff game. Because of how the bracket was set up, the winner of that game would advance to play the No. 1-ranked team in the state. It must be a double-elimination tournament, because the team that lost was set to play a much more “beatable” opponent in the next round. As such, the coaches from both schools allegedly instructed their players to lose.
Let me say that again: The coaches (allegedly) INSTRUCTED their players TO LOSE!!!!
Are you kidding me?
According to The Tennessean, a referee from the game filed a report with the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association noting that Riverdale “intentionally missed 12-of-16 free throws” and Smyrna “wouldn’t get the ball across the half-court line to get a 10-second count or to make us call an over and back violation intentionally.” Apparently it got so bad that at one point a girl from Riverdale stood in the lane and actually signaled to the official to call a 3-second violation on her.
As a result, both schools have been placed on restrictive probation for the remainder of this school year and probation for the 2015-16 school year by the TSSAA.
First of all, I’m not going to say the student-athletes are void of all guilt. They still bought into what their coaches were asking them to do and made fools of themselves and their schools in the process. Perhaps I’m just more competitive than most, but I can’t think of any scenario in which I would intentionally lose anything. In the words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game!”
That said, what are these coaches thinking? What kind of messages are they sending to these girls?
Sports at an amateur level are supposed to teach you about, among other things, overcoming adversity and trying your best no matter how long the odds are. Essentially these coaches not only taught the girls to “always take the path of least resistance” and that going at something half-hearted is OK because it might just work out in the end, but also told them they weren’t good enough to beat the team that awaited the winner. I don’t know these two teams. Maybe they weren’t. But athletes at all levels overcome unspeakable odds every day, but only if they have the right attitude. The coaches robbed them of what I would call a pretty great opportunity.
The girls on these basketball teams, as ill-advised as they were, were just following instructions of their coaches. That’s something else sports are supposed to teach you; to take instruction and work as a team. Now they and their schools are paying for the idiotic actions of adults that are supposed to be mentoring them.
Back to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The kids on that squad were an inspiration last summer. They were a group of kids from an impoverished part of Chicago who played with class and great skill to achieve great things. But, because of some poor choices made by the adults they were entrusted with, those accomplishments have been wiped away.
I realize these are two pretty extreme examples. There are great, well-meaning adults involved in youth athletics all over the world. Those people deserve more praise than they get. But to those who put their own interests in front of the kids, it’s time to get out of the way. You’ll only screw things up.