This is a terrific time of year in Iowa sports. I had the opportunity to cheer for my local high school team at the Iowa state bowling tournament last week. What I found were parents, student fans, athletes, and coaches all cheering each other on. It brought back a whisper of sportsmanship and camaraderie that I experienced when I was in high school. I was a four-sport letter winner, state champion, and all-state athlete from West Central, Maynard. I was also an accomplished musician earning a perfect score and outstanding performer at state solo and ensemble contest. I know what it is like to not only strive to be the best but to have the best brought out in me by my peers, coaches, and community. For that investment in me, I am eternally grateful.
Fast-forward to the recent boys sub-state basketball contest. The venue was ripe for a stellar contest between two schools that both deserved to win. The U.S. Cellular Center was buzzing with excitement as school colors illuminated the stands and the competition floor. We were ready for top-notch athletics the means only Iowa high schools can provide.
Then the tides turned… During the introduction of players, one school’s student section appeared to “Booo” the introduction of the other team’s players. If there was an unfavorable call, the players and coaches balked at the officials. While one young man shot free throws, from the other team’s student section someone yelled, “UNI sucks...” the choice of the shooter’s college education and future basketball ambition. One student was fouled hard and knocked to the ground, not a single person of the other team even motioned to help them up. At the end of the contest, rather than cheering for the other team’s awards ceremony, the coach began to lead his team into the locker room only to pause on the edge of the hardwood and face the other direction. What was most striking to me was the actions of the smallest water boy for one team. This little guy, possibly second grade or younger, mimicked every single action that the “big boys” made. Every eye roll at the refs, every raised hand of disgust and disdain for a missed opportunity, even a towel thrown to the ground in scorn.
I’d like to say that one side was more recalcitrant than the other. I can’t. Where has the spirit of sportsmanship gone? Where have we lost the fact that we are still teaching our student-athletes appropriate interaction with others, even when it is on the contest floor? These skills aren’t just for the sporting season of a youth’s life but translate into the success and failures of vocations, relationships, and life itself. We can’t always have it our way. Life isn’t a sandwich restaurant, where we can pick and choose the most favorable options. And when life doesn’t go our way, we can’t throw a fit because it is someone else’s fault.
I can’t say that I am perfect, nor are my children… who is? But we have to do better. We have to teach our students more than just the notion of “The Iowa High School Athletic Association urges your cooperation in making this (contest) a memorable experience for your players and coaches. Don’t confuse supporting your team with negative cheers directed at the opponent or booing the decisions of the officials. Those actions cause your team and school to be seen in a negative light.” We have to be vigilant in teaching our youth that they shouldn’t be looked down on, but to be examples for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. We need to train our children on how they should act, so when they grow up, they will not forget. And when our children make mistakes, we need to guide them to the right path. This is how we love our children, our schools, and our futures. We have to do this, because it takes a village to raise our youth.
We have to do better.