Keep sportsmanship alive

Clausie Smith Enlarge photo

July 28, 2011

Everyone knows that I’m an avid sports fan. I love football, baseball and basketball, and since my grandchildren have competed, I have developed an appreciation for soccer, tennis, swimming and track.

Sports have always been a big part of my life. When I was young I had the good fortune to take part in football in both high school and college. I enjoyed basketball, but I wasn’t that good. As far as track was concerned, I never ran in one place for too long.

In short, I love sports, but I am concerned about some facets. I am sorry to see that the ideals of fair and honest play and sportsmanship are fading away. The notion that you play for the love of the game or for recreation is becoming as relevant as a mechanic’s guide to a Model T Ford. Anymore, 5-year-olds are being selected for premier teams and as long as their parents pay, they will compete. It becomes a way of life with the entire family committed to spending virtually every weekend at expensive tournaments, as well as numerous mid-week practices.

Make no mistake, premier-type sports have superior competition; however, there is a downside. Competing is expensive and time-consuming. I know, many believe that top-flight competition will help a young person’s chances for a college scholarship, and that may well be true. But there needs to be a dose of realism — unless you are very, very good, sports scholarships can be as scarce as snow balls at a Fourth of July picnic.

What bothers me even more is the lack of sportsmanship. Recently, a 14-year-old pitcher was having an outstanding game, so one parent on the opposite team decided to see if he could cause a distraction. Every time the pitcher was in his wind-up, the parent would shout “balk” or scream the kids’ name to try to throw off his concentration.

It is not just baseball that has a sportsmanship problem as I have seen parents, stretch their legs into the basketball court to disrupt players. I have heard players are urged to hurt opponents during hockey games and I know that it happens during youth football. In short, there are many parents who set bad examples when it comes to sportsmanship.

Of course, professional football players, baseball and basketball players provide terrible examples. If I had my way, there would be no end zone celebrations following touchdowns or chest beating after a slam dunk. In the case of football, I would disallow any touchdown that is preceded by high-stepping into the end zone. Yes, I know that is old-fashioned, but back in the dark ages when I played football, if you were fortunate enough to score a touchdown (I never was), you simply handed the ball to the referee and trotted back to your team. Sportsmanship was expected from all players.

I really believe sports for kids should be fun. Let’s be honest, only a small portion of kids who compete earn college scholarships. There are even a smaller proportion of competitors who become professional athletes. Between Bonner Springs and Basehor-Linwood there might be a handful of athletes who have spent any time in the professional ranks.

People need to remember sports are a diversion. Games are something to be enjoyed and are not a matter of life and death. At their worst, die-hard sports fans can cause real trouble as we saw in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup finals. Fans erupted in a needless, destructive and violent riot. They caused major damage to both property and the city’s image.

Yes, I am proud to be a die-hard sports fans, but I think we should remember the words of Grantland Rice, who wrote, “When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

I’ll see you at the ball game.

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