I believe I'm getting soft in my old age.
Used to be, I'd crank out a 700-word rant any time I saw fans acting badly at a sporting event. In fact, I remember writing a whole column about a guy who was using the annoyingly loud, two-fingered whistle through the entirety of an UCBAC Championship boys soccer game, and I also wrote one in which I took to task an unruly crowd that had abused a referee at a boys basketball regional semifinal matchup (they'd chanted "Elmer Fudd" throughout the second half, as the ref in question was short and bald).
Those two incidents stand out in my mind, but over the last six years there have been a couple dozen instances of spectators garnering negative attention in these columns for what I deemed undignified behavior. My favorite aunt used to tell me, "act like you've got some sense," whenever she thought I wasn't behaving civilly, and it gets me worked up when I see other people acting like they don't have any, or at least it used to make me a lot more mad.
There was an incident at last Friday's 2A East boys basketball regional championship game that, had it happened in my younger, more mercurial days, would have sent me off the rails. Host team Joppatowne, which was trailing visiting Wicomico, 43-34, at the end of the third quarter, allowed 11 unanswered points in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter. That is where the game was decided, if you ask me. It took all the wind out of the Mariners' sails (I've literally been waiting six years to use that pun). The first nine points of the Wicomico's run, though exciting, were fairly pedestrian, but the last two were produced by the best, most thunderous slam dunk I've ever witnessed in a high school basketball game. Even the icy cold sports reporter in me went "holy moly" when I saw it.
The Wicomico end of the gymnasium went berserk, as you would expect. Its team had essentially just put the game out of reach, and capped the run with an electrifying play. One visiting fan, however, let his enthusiasm get the better of him. I had seen this guy already, as he'd spent the majority of the game out of his seat, jumping around and leading cheers. He was pretty young, and my guess is he'd been a member of the Wicomico team in the past. Anyway, this young man, not content to jump around in the bleachers anymore, sprinted onto the court just as Joppatowne inbounded the ball, ran to the player who'd been responsible for the dunk, and gave him a hug and a high five. I was standing next to the Joppatowne bench, and everyone, players and fans both, gave each other the "who the heck is this guy?" look.
For someone who used to get so hot under the collar over the little stuff, even I found myself chuckling at this kid who'd stormed the court. Was it stupid and rude to interrupt the game? Yes, most certainly. Should he have just stayed put and congratulated the players after the trophies were handed out? Absolutely. But, it was just a goofy, lose-your-head-for-10-seconds type of move, and we've all had them. I know I certainly have, though my own meltdowns tend to be less goofy, and more psychotic.
After the single Wicomico fan stormed the court, the refs blew their whistles, halting the game right there. The offending fan was escorted out of the gym by a group of Harford County sheriff's deputies, Wicomico was called for a technical foul, Joppatowne missed both of its free throws and the game kicked back into gear. I don't think the Wicomico fans even booed when the court stormer was led out of the gym, which was surprising.
After the game I walked up to one of the deputies and asked if the guy who'd held the game up had been arrested, or just kicked out. The deputy said, "no, no. We just led him out of the school. No need to haul him in for that." I agree, though if you would have asked me a few years ago, I'd have said "lock him up for the weekend!"