Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lost Opportunity to Teach Charity

Two small private schools that were little-known outside of the Dallas, Texas area were thrust into the spotlight last week. The Covenant School girls basketball team put a whuppin' on the girls from Dallas Academy, a whuppin' to the tune of 100-0. You read that right, Covenant scored 100 points in a high school girls game. That might be worth talking about under some circumstances. Most girls basketball contests end with the winner scoring in the 40's or 50's, so scoring 100 points shows that you either have an outstanding club, or the other team was really bad (at least in comparison), or some other freakish thing occurred such as a multiple overtime game. In this game, we can blame all of the above. Covenant is a Texas state-championship contender, Dallas Academy is not very good, and there was indeed something freakish afoot here. But that freakish event was not some multiple overtime thriller in which one team scored those 100 points and the other scored in the 90's. No, Dallas Academy scored zero points. None, nadda, zilch. They came up empty. They put up a donut. Nothing on the board, no balls through the hoop. Think about how hard this 100-0 thing is to have happen. There are 48 playing minutes in a regulation girls high school basketball game. Each basket is worth two points. To score 100 points, Covenant was scoring at better than a basket per minute throughout the game. Meanwhile, Dallas Academy did absolutely nothing. I overheard someone commenting on this game, that it would likely never happen in a boys game. Their reasoning was that at some point boys simply wouldn't have taken it any more, and there would have been a physical penalty inflicted on the leading team by the losers that would have slowed down the pace, or ended the game. Yep, he was talking about fighting. It isn't right either, but his point was that at some point the losing boys team would have taken matters into their own hands and let the winners know that the embarrassment had gone too far. At 10-0 you are off to a good start. At 20-0 you have taken complete control of the game. At 30-0 you have almost no chance to lose, especially at the high school level. At that point, and arguably far earlier, you have shown that your talent level is no match for the other squad. You probably have already gone to your 'bench', meaning you have put in your backup or substitute-level players and they have continued the dominance. At some point around this time, any further building of your lead has a simple phrase in the sporting world that describes what is happening: piling on. This is where Micah Grimes got it all wrong. He is the Covenant girls basketball coach, and his response was that "it just happened." Pardon me, Mr. Grimes, but something like a 100-0 sporting event between young girls can never 'just happen'. Rather as the coach you allowed it to happen. This was a teaching moment that someone in charge of our kids is supposed to take advantage of and use to better their lives. Long after the embarrassment of being on the winning side of a 100-0 game subsides, the lessons of a 50-0 victory could have been felt, perhaps for the rest of the lives of some of the girls involved. This was a moment to teach the virtue of charity, the generosity and helpfulness for the needy or suffering, the gift for a public benevolent purpose, the idea of benevolent good will. Grimes was in control. He controlled what was said to the girls on the sidelines. He controlled their playing time, both in this game and in future games. He had the ability to put on the brakes. What could he have done? He could have told his girls to walk the ball up the floor on every possession. He could have told them to play soft defense and allow the Dallas Academy girls to setup plays and take shots. He could have pulled a couple of his key on-court leaders aside and made sure that the girls stayed with this program on the floor. There are ways to handle this type of situation without making it look like a joke or a Harlem Globetrotters game. The fact is that the result was already settled, all that remained at a certain point was to determine the final score, and to determine how this level of a blowout would be remembered. Grimes should have taken this opportunity to speak to his girls about these very ideas of charity, generosity, good will, benevolence, and sportsmanship. He could have built his halftime speach around it. He could have reinforced it at every stoppage of play. He easily could have made the girls understand that they were in a unique situation, one that they may never be in again in their playing careers. He could have let them know that this was a one night reduction in their playing level intensity. There was obviously no real competition available to them here. He was wrong to say that it just happened. He allowed it to happen. In fact, he directed it to happen. He had his team keep up full pressure until the 100-0 mark had been achieved. From attendee accounts it was very obvious that the score was something that was seen as a goal as the game unfolded. Afterwards, coach Grimes felt no guilt or shame. The school, on the other hand, got it right. They fired Grimes in the immediate aftermath, the same day as the game, and issued a public apology. For his part, Grimes remained steadfast in disagreeing with the apology and saying that "Although a wide-margin victory is never evidence of compassion, my girls played with honor and integrity and showed respect to Dallas Academy." He got the first part right about a lack of compassion. But his team lost it's honor and integrity as they continued to effectively kick a person lying on the ground. How they showed any respect at all to Dallas Academy is beyond me. This was not a professional game where players are paid and must accept the consequences of any game. This is a high school where athletics are supposed to be only one part of a learning process for the kids involved, from players and cheerleaders to spectators and even disinterested students. Micah Grimes may have been just a coach at Covenant and not have had the official title of teacher, but he failed in that a big part of the job of every high school athletic coach is exactly that - teacher. He missed a huge opportunity to teach his girls, and his school, about charity. For the resulting magnitude of that failure, Grimes deserved to lose his job, and no high school should consider hiring him until he admits his mistake, shows that he truly understands its ramifications, apologizes to all involved, and takes steps to prove that he is ready to move forward with an adjusted mindset. There is never a need to sacrifice charity and compassion simply for winning a sporting event.

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