Good sportsmanship has never been in worse shape.
The past month has produced high-profile examples of deplorable and despicable behavior. Unfortunately, each incident occurred at an IHSA state tournament event, and each trumped the previous one in seriousness.
It’s a topic that will remain in the news this week as the IHSA ponders what punishment to mete out in the latest and most egregious situation.
“What we find,” said Marty Hickman, the IHSA executive director, “is that schools who work on that (good sportsmanship) during the school year don’t have near as much trouble at the end of the year.
“If you haven’t addressed it, in some ways you have a runaway freight train.”
Shortly after medals were distributed to state wrestling placers Feb. 16 at the Assembly Hall, one of the runner-up finishers decided his reward wasn’t worth having. He heaved it into the stands, and it landed near the press box.
A woman, presumed to be the boy’s mother, retrieved the medallion.
A week later at the Class 1A girls’ basketball state tournament at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena, the Mount Pulaski student section started a verbally abusive barrage against the referees and the opposing team early in the semifinal game.
After listening to the reaction of my colleagues on press row, and speaking with an administrator from the IHSA, I confirmed it was far more than my opinion that the conduct was unacceptable and was tarnishing the reputation of the school.
I tweeted it was some of the worst displays I’d seen in years.
The next day, the messenger unbelievably became the target.
Among the printable examples was this comment from a male student — but not the same one who had a kazoo confiscated — “Our sportsmanship would be better if the refs didn’t suck. Hey Fred, tweet that.”
What is a shame is that the actions of some cast the entire student body in a bad light. I’m certain not all students were as rude and inconsiderate as the most vocal ones, but I’m also certain those who weren’t part of the problem weren’t stepping forward to be part of the solution.
Hickman recognizes the mentality that has permeated some cheering sections.
“People have started to think if they are negative about another player, or the other team, they are supporting their team, and that is ridiculous,” Hickman said.
Last Friday, a new standard for terrible sportsmanship occurred during the playing of the national anthem at Mount Zion. The Chatham Glenwood student section totally disrupted the presentation. One spectator not associated with either of the competing schools called the immature actions “a mockery.”
The noise emanating from the student section was loud and derisive; in no way was it an effort to sing along.
I hope the reason school administrators didn’t intercede immediately was they didn’t want to further disrupt the anthem.
A day later, on the state’s biggest stage — a statewide television audience for the boys’ basketball championship game in Class 2A in Peoria — three technical fouls were assessed in the first half, one player was ejected (for bumping an official) and the losing team refused to come forward and accept the second-place trophy.
“The handbook provides for anything from a slap on the hand to having your membership revoked,” Hickman said. “This isn’t the kind of thing where we will say, ‘Don’t do it again.’ What took place was fairly serious.”
Hickman is giving state champion Harrisburg and second-place Seton Academy from South Holland a few days this week to file a report with the IHSA and possibly impose penalties or sanctions on themselves. An IHSA decision is expected prior to this weekend’s Class 3A and 4A state games to help discourage a repeat of the bad-boy actions that would mar another championship weekend.
One certainty is that Seton Academy will not have hardware to show for its 2013 appearance at state.
“We have it and do not plan on giving it to them,” Hickman said. “They were told (Saturday) if they were not back out there by the time we were done putting medals on Harrisburg they would not receive it.”
Hickman had never previously witnessed such an outburst at an awards ceremony.
“That was a first for me,” he said.
Brandon Thomas, Seton’s third-year coach, tossed away his second-place medal. Earlier this week, Thomas issued a statement which read, in part, “My actions have given the appearance of poor sportsmanship.”
It’s one thing when misguided teenagers became so enamored with winning that all other outcomes are considered failures and quite another when adults lose perspective and act childish.
Neither should be tolerated, but for adults, the consequences should be harsher and longer.
Here’s hoping the IHSA makes an example of those who blatantly disregard common courtesy and sportsmanship while starting the process of reversing this unthinkable trend.
We need more people who recognize the tenant from yesteryear, attributed to sports writer Grantland Rice more than 100 years ago: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”
It is, after all, a game. Cheers.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.