Playing to One’s Potential, Or Running Up the Score?

The aftermath of the 100-0 girls’ high school basketball game played earlier this month in Texas has taken a predictable course, with reactions of anger and disgust on one side, defiance and cries of political correctness on the other.

You probably have heard the story by now.

On January 13th, The Covenant School defeated Dallas Academy by a score of 100-0. That score was reported in the Dallas Morning News the next day but it wasn’t until the newspaper wrote a story about the lopsided game on January 22nd that the story gained traction.

When it was reported that Dallas Academy hadn’t won a game in four seasons and that the small school specializes in teaching students with learning problems, the story of this 100-0 game became a national debate.

It was reported that Covenant led 59-0 at the half and 88-0 after three quarters and used a press in the 2nd half. Dallas Academy’s coach told the Dallas Morning News that he estimated his team got off only seven shots for the entire game.

A parent attending the game told the Associated Press that an assistant coach and some parents for the winning team were “cheering wildly” as the girls neared the 100-point mark.

The day the story broke nationally, The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Dallas, issued an apology saying the outcome was “shameful and an embarrassment” and “clearly does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition.”

The school said it would seek to forfeit the win.

Since the school’s statement on January 22nd came more than a week after the game was played, and only after the media furor, it appeared that the school’s response was a result of the negative publicity the story had generated.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the school’s coach, Micah Grimes, in an e-mail to the newspaper January 21st, called the incident “unfortunate” saying “I see this as a real learning opportunity, so we can prevent this from happening in the future.”

But on January 25th, he posted the following on a sports website “In response to the statement posted on The Covenant School Website, I respectfully disagree with the apology, especially the notion that the Covenant School girl’s basketball team should feel “embarrassed” or “ashamed”. “We played the game as it was meant to be played and would not intentionally run up the score on any opponent. Although a wide-margin victory is never evidence of compassion, my girls played with honor and integrity and showed respect to Dallas Academy.”

The school fired Grimes later in the day.

Reactions to the “wide-margin victory” were strong and immediate.

The Dallas Academy team and its coaches were showered with praise, becoming the toast of talk radio, the TV network morning shows and newspaper editorials, for playing hard and showing grace, composure and dignity during and after the rout. (If you saw the video of their post-game comments, you had to be impressed.)

The Covenant School coach was criticized by many for running up the score. Coach Grimes was vilified as a “bully” for crushing a clearly overmatched team.

Many called for Grimes to be fired. The outrage was intense and some of the anger was over the top.

There were others just as strong in support of the coach. They argued that the girls on the winning team were simply playing to their potential and shouldn’t be expected to “let-up” just because the score became lopsided. They argued that it was another example of “political correctness” and that kids shouldn’t be shielded from the disappointments of the “real world” where competition is fierce and not everyone goes home with a trophy.

To which I say, can we please remember what youth and high school sports are supposed to be all about?

Can we please stop taking the “preparing for life’s disappointments” argument to extremes?

Yes, there are lessons to be learned in defeat. But there are values to be learned from showing compassion, sportsmanship and following the “Golden Rule” as well. Having these virtues doesn’t mean an athlete is “soft” and it shouldn’t be viewed that way.

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By the way, these kinds of mismatches are much more commonplace than you may think. Maybe not 100-0, but there are a lot of very one-sided games played in high school sports, especially involving small schools playing much bigger ones, and especially involving girls basketball.

The response by the winning coach is almost always the same. It’s the “There was nothing we could do”, “The game just got away from us” or “I can’t ask my team not to play hard” argument.

Coaches make it sound like these high-scoring routs are unavoidable, as if there are no good options.

Nonsense.

The idea that coaches with much stronger teams can’t better control their scoring totals in lopsided basketball games is a complete joke and a copout.

Basketball is a sport where a coach CAN have the team play hard without running up the score and humiliating its opponent. It just takes some discipline.

What can the coach do?

Most of the routs occur because of turnovers. The overmatched team can’t get the ball up the court against the quicker, more talented team and the winning club turns the game into a lay-up drill. (Covenant’s point guard had 48 of her team’s 100-points.)

First of all, when playing an opponent that is obviously overmatched, call off the press! Coach Grimes states that his team did not press after the first 3-minutes of the game. Many at the game disagree. In any case, the idea that a team at this level would employ any presses or traps after building a huge lead is indefensible. (Please don’t use the excuse that “That’s the only way we play”).

Use the game as an opportunity to give your bench players significant playing time. (I understand that in some cases, the winning team has a short bench and starters are forced to play a lot of minutes but I’ve also seen plenty of games in which coaches leave starters in the game up 30 or 40-points in the 2nd half.)

Many coaches of strong teams are reluctant to adjust their style-of-play to the circumstances. If they have a running team, they will continue to run even when the score gets completely out-of-hand. That’s where the discipline part comes in.

Why not use such a game as an opportunity to teach, and make your team more well-rounded?

The ability to play effective, fundamental half-court basketball on offense and defense can only help a team and there are few clubs that wouldn’t benefit from becoming better at passing the basketball. There are ways to work on improving a team’s skills without “letting-up”.

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What about so-called “mercy” rules to end games early when predetermined scoring margins are reached in a game?

Such rules make sense with younger athletes and in “un-timed” sports like baseball and softball where scores can easily get out of hand and coaches have fewer options to control play. But in most cases, trying to legislate sportsmanship is a poor idea. We just need coaches to use common sense and remember what is truly important. We also need administrators who emphasize sportsmanship and talk with their coaches about the true meaning of winning with honor and integrity.

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That said, this story of a 100-0 game exposes a larger problem that will require us to look in the mirror.

Chuck Wilson
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Chuck Wilson

Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. He is the Founder of Even Field.
Chuck Wilson
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By |2016-12-05T15:57:34+00:00January 26th, 2009|Categories: Author: Chuck Wilson|Tags: , |

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