Opinion: High School Sports Hard Lessons this Spring

paulb

4/6/20

As we all sit and wait for the anticipated re-opening of everything in our daily lives it is hard not to think about and be sad for this year’s group of High School Seniors. The year began with the first time the State High School Football Championships were played outside a dome since the late 70’s and the first time they were played at 3 High School fields in we don’t know when to be truthful. But everyone rallied and the stands were packed and each game was special and the crowds electric. The Volleyball teams had their 2nd round of a 2 week tournament format in Yakima and the the 2A tournament was set to go at their regular location at St Martins but a scheduling error forced that tournament to move at the last minute to Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

The Winter sports began and all was just fine as we cruised through December, the Holiday tournaments and into January. Districts begin and in the background this virus thing is starting to make noise and as the month of February clicks away the issue is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We at ESN are now concerned whether or not the State Tournament will be played and we are in constant communication with the WIAA who are in constant contact with the Governor’s office, the State Superintendent and DSHS.

We are planning for all scenarios for the State Basketball Championships from moving the games out of Tacoma to another location out of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to playing all the games with no fans and how do we then offer the live stream for free and at the same time crossing our fingers the games are allowed to be played. In the end with direction from the health professionals the WIAA is given the green light to hold the tournaments in all of their regular locations with some provisions at each location like readily available hand sanitizing stations throughout each facility, additional cleaning and several announcements among them.

The tournaments did get in just under the wire. Literally 2 more days and they would have been lost. Only Washington, Nevada and Arizona got in their tournaments while Oregon, California, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico did not or they were played in front of no fans or got only a day of competition in throughout the Western zone of the NFHS. No one in the country has been able to begin any Spring sports and we also lost other events such as State Drill and Dance, Debate, Drama and several Music and Singing events.

The WIAA and the Districts have not been sitting at home doing nothing they have created provisional plans for Spring sports and the other events for when classes can go back in session. There was a plan if they could have gone back on the original date of April 27. That has been moved now to no earlier than May 4. They have plans for shortened regular seasons, different District formats and the scheduled State events. If that date gets moved to May 11 or 18 they have other plans to at least create modified District tournaments even if the State events can’t logically be held. The last thing would be at least some head to head match-ups with natural rivals, District Directors say they will not give up until they simply run out of time.

It is really cool to hear this. Our AD’s, Coaches and the WIAA working to create any type of opportunity to get some competition in before the clock strikes zero. Unfortunately it appears the clock will likely strike zero and good chance the entire Spring will be washed away. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdahl says this is entirely the call of the Governor and although he is giving him input Reykdahl says the final decision is out of his hands.

The problem is even if some modified back to school session can begin will there be restrictions to say Seniors only and in limited numbers spreading them out all over the school or staggered schedules or only those who need to graduate and they come to take just the required class or classes. The question is when we get back to normal will it be like opening the starting gates of a horse race with a stampede that is over in 60-seconds or so or will the come back to normal plan be more like NASCAR in rows of 2 at a time working your way up to full speed?

If it’s the NASCAR model can that all be accomplished in the first 2 weeks of May? So unless we are going to get an all across the board all-clear on a certain date I am guessing allowing large crowds gather to watch state high school tournaments over 2 days is likely very low on the Governor’s list of must have’s. I hope I am wrong but also don’t want the work we all have done to minimize this disaster as well as we have to be wasted.

It is time to think past this tragedy that Seniors don’t get to participate in their final season of sports and rather think how would those kids feel if they did allow the games to be played and a Grandparent came to watch and although the virus had flattened it hadn’t completely been dispelled and they caught it and god forbid there was a death. Is that how they would want to remember this experience that is so often talked about?

Yes it is sad these kids likely will not get to play at all and if they do it will be completely different than anyone else ever. But the risk is what must be weighed and I know I am in no position to determine that risk.

In a broader sense I also have to ask this, isn’t this current situation why we who support High School sports insist this is as important as many elective classes our kids take in school? Don’t we want them to learn teamwork, using your mind, skills and creativity to solve problems, sacrificing for others and most of all not everyone wins and you have to deal with disappointment? Yes, this is why we have High School sports, this is why we want our kids to be part of this and not for a ridiculous hope of a full ride D-1 scholarship.

This should be a HUGE kick in the butt to all of us and our priorities. Is it really important to scream at an official “I hope you choke on your whistle and die” which in fact I did hear from a parent at a basketball game this year. Is it so important for all students to “experience” a State Tournament to the point teams that don’t deserve a spot in the tournament are now being included and they suffer humiliating losses in the first round? Is it so important to run a coach out of a job because you think your child should be playing more? Are you going to go to their bosses when they are 32 demanding they get promoted?

These are hard lessons and they should be taught in school instead of softening everyone, how about we get back to teaching and coaching responsibility, commitment, appreciation, humility and empathy to name a few characteristics we are losing. Let’s also remind parents of this fact and this is a FACT. Less than 7% of ALL High School Athletes go on to play any type of college sports. Let’s be generous and round that up to 10% which means 90%, 9 out of 10 kids, 90 out of 100, 900 out of 1,000 will play their final organized sports outside of rec leagues as a high school senior.

So yes, this does make not being able to play at all this Spring even tougher but it is not unprecedented. Many athletes suffer a season or even career ending injury and have to sit on the bench cheering their team instead of playing. Some will say those kids at least got to hang out with the team and be part of it that way but come on, that is not how that athlete dreamed of their final season. In some ways that situation is harder because the games are being played and only you can’t be a part of it, in our current situation there is an odd camaraderie to our situation. No it does not replace being able to play that is not the suggestion but it is different for sure.

There are lessons for coaches too, like is it really important to win games by more than a comfortable margin? Of course some can’t be helped and that is sad but if you are up 5-0 in soccer with 10 minutes to play, SUBSTITUTE NOW! Basketball coaches carry a minimum of 10 on your bench and sub out your starters when you are up 30 with 3 minutes to play. Be fair, set your rules down at the beginning and follow them no matter who may break them.

School AD’s and Administrations also need to learn and get away from giving in to pressure from parents, school board members and anyone that you don’t believe has the overall program’s interest in mind and looking for a personal favor. I wrote a few years back a piece on Tumwater Coach Sid Otton the year he retired. I always make this point that he started his career at Tumwater 7-20 after his first 3 seasons, 1974-76. In fact in 76 Otton had his worst record ever going 1-8. How many schools would fire Otton in this day and age? By the way, Otton would retire in 2016 as the Winningest Coach in Sate history and he still is, 6 State Titles and 15 State placing Trophies.

Now for complete transparency I played for Otton from 79-82. We won the school’s first State play-off game and trophy in 1980 when I was a Sophomore but I didn’t play varsity.The following two season we were 5-4 and 6-3 and missed the play-offs in both years. In our Senior season we were one of the favorites in the State but in the first half of game #1 we lost our Senior QB to a broken collarbone. We would finish 6-3 in a 10-team league that saw only the top 2 advance to the play-offs. However, I will tell you this, I would never trade my time playing for Coach Otton for anything including a State Championship and I bet 99 if not 100% of all his players wouldn’t trade that experience. So I ask is this the type of coach we want, one who will make your child’s athletic experience so memorable that they carry that experience and the lessons learned with them for the rest of their lives? Or is it more important to be an ass, scream, yell and demand that your child is better than they are and for school administrators to fall to the pressure of such nonsense.

I had the very real pleasure and privilege to play for Coach Otton and I know there are many, many more coaches that are just as caring and have created similar programs where their kids take so much with them than possibly can be put into words. That IS High School sports!

This is a strange time, things are changing but this is not unprecedented. The current situation may be somewhat but there have been pandemics before did school kids get to go to school and graduate during the Spanish Flu? Were there school sports during World War II? I really don’t know but there are lessons to take from this and yes they are hard lessons and more than anything this is a great time to look in the mirror. What can I do to make a difference? How can I be part of the team in defeating this nasty virus? What kind of person do I want to be?

Put down the phones, i-pads and turn off the TV or video games. Talk with your family, engage with neighbors safely, set or re-set your goals and go out and compete every day without the self pity and woe is me attitude. Don’t wait for things to be “back to normal” or hope they are in time to play games or for a graduation ceremony or party. Make your plans now, create solutions now, anticipate what the government will do when will they allow the all-clear or what happens if they start with groups of 10 or 50 or 100. Commit yourself to a schedule to be ready while strategizing and preparing for all situations and follow through with your game plan.

Hmmm, prepare, plan, create, anticipate, focus, goal-set, communicate, sacrifice, commitment aren’t these some of the values and lessons we want our kids to learn from competing in High School sports? No not participate, compete and there are different levels to the word compete with the first one with yourself. Set your goals and work like hell, COMPETE to achieve. This is the one time you should be selfish and that is to achieve your personal goals.

I will end this with the thanks to those who read the whole thing but please remember this…Winner’s know this; Winning is the PRODUCT of these values we want instilled in our all of us, but these values are NOT the product of Winning.

 

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