When did they take sportsmanship out of high school sports?

Dave Ongie • Feb 18, 2007 at 11:06 AM

What started out as a feel-good story about everything that's right with high school athletics ended as an indictment of everything that's wrong with prep sports.

When members of Sullivan North's girls basketball team woke up Thursday morning, many of them were greeted by a photo of their teammate's totaled truck on the front page of the paper.

Junior forward Merissa Williams was hospitalized in critical condition following a Wednesday morning accident, leaving her teammates with heavy hearts.

After coach Lloyd Griffin was urged by the Williams family to play Thursday night's district tournament game against powerhouse South Greene, the eight remaining Lady Raiders suited up and took the floor.

Anyone would agree that it was a brave thing to do, a triumph over adversity by a group of high school kids.

North's players brushed away tears as they took to the floor in a game that none of them held out much hope of winning.

Although the scoreboard didn't reflect it, the Lady Raiders did themselves, their school and their injured teammate proud for 32 minutes.

The deficit grew to 30 points in the second half, then 40 and finally 50, but it didn't matter - North's players gave it their all for four quarters.

But aggressiveness finally caught up with the Lady Raiders when a fourth member of the squad fouled out with 45 seconds left in the game.

There was a pause, then a murmur went through the crowd as fans realized North would have to finish the game shorthanded.

Griffin called a 30-second timeout to remind his players that they would have just four players on the floor.

I wish I could tell you that the game ended with a display of goodwill - that the Lady Rebels either closed out their 50-point rout by removing a player from the floor to make things even or at least sat back in a 2-3 zone and allowed North run out the clock with some dignity.

I'd like to tell you there was a happy ending, but unfortunately, I'd be lying.

South Greene's five players lined up in a full-court press against North's four players despite holding a 50-point lead with 45 seconds left on the clock.

It seems like many fans hold prep athletes to a high standard when it comes to their behavior while the adults who model the poor behavior in the first place are given a free pass.

Don't get me wrong, most coaches do a great job of handling the huge responsibility of teaching their players lessons that will help them long after the cheering crowds have faded into distant memories.

But when adults lose sight of their priorities, everyone loses.

While North was learning the value of battling through adversity, South Greene's coaches deprived their players of learning the value of compassion.

I'm not one of those touchy-feely folks who believes we shouldn't keep score and everyone should be allowed to be a winner - lessons learned while winning and losing are vital tools when teaching kids to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

But there is a right way to win, and kicking somebody when they are down isn't it.

South Greene's coaches missed an opportunity to teach their players an important life lesson because they were more concerned with making a statement than they were about making a good impression on their kids.

When it was all over the scoreboard said South Greene won 76-26, but the scoreboard is notorious for not telling the whole story.

The Lady Rebels lost out on an opportunity to lend a helping hand to eight young ladies in a rough situation, and that is the sort of loss we could all do without.

Dave Ongie is a sports writer with the Times-News. E-mail him at dongie@timesnews.net.

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