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Blubaugh: Here's hoping lessons learned from lax game

In my former life as a sportswriter, I covered a lot of games. I mean a lot. Over 25 or so years, by my calculation, I attended, watched and wrote about some 500 college games, maybe close to 1,000 high school games, a few hundred Major League Baseball games, 100 or so NFL games and a fair number of sporting events played by kids, by seniors and even by animals.

I can’t ever remember a game being stopped early because it had gotten so violent that everyone involved feared someone was going to get seriously hurt.

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I’ve seen plenty of cheap shots. Plenty of fights. Plenty of unsportsmanlike conduct. But never so bad that the game had to be ended prematurely.

That’s what happened Tuesday night when Westminster hosted Mount St. Joseph in boys lacrosse. I wasn’t at the game, but just shook my head as I read accounts of it and continued to do so as we heard from interested observers in the aftermath.

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Westminster won the game, avenging the only defeat the Owls suffered in all of 2018, as if anyone cares about that at this point.

UnitedHealth Group, with revenues north of $200 billion, has seen its stock price triple over the past five years. Athem’s stock price has also tripled in five years. So has Aetna’s. And 10 years? Now you’re talking 10x. Sure wish my 401(k) had returns like that.

It was, by all accounts, a physical game. With at least one fight. At least one player left with a potentially serious injury not incurred during the normal course of play. Three players were ejected. And the game was halted early in the fourth quarter after what the officials termed a “violent” hit to the head of a “defenseless player” when writing it up in their postgame report.

This is an embarrassing black eye. Lacrosse is already maligned in certain circles, viewed by some as a sport played by those who believe the rules don’t apply to them. Locally, at least, this won’t help that perception.

Some of the talk since the game has been about assessing blame. The officials are the easiest target and at least three different parents who contacted us placed the blame squarely on their shoulders.

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It’s hard to imagine officiating didn’t play some role. Anyone who follows sports is familiar with situations where the officials “let them play” a bit too much early and lost control of the game.

I’ve seen that happen a lot over the years in a number of different sports. But, again, I’ve never seen a game called early because the players were deemed to be in danger not from deteriorating field conditions, but because things had gotten out of hand.

Here’s the good part, though. These are high school kids and high school kids are still very susceptible to learning. They spend parts of their days learning about calculus and chemistry and composition and the rest learning about life.

Too bad Facebook wasn’t down Friday. That’s when the world saw the decidedly darker side of the internet and social media working perfectly in sync with the most vile side of humanity. 

Inside of school, a lot of that learning is fostered by teachers. Once the school day ends, a lot by parents and the other adult figures in their lives. For athletes, that means coaches.

Make no mistake, this is a teachable moment. But that only happens if the adults involved resist the temptation to place all the blame on the other team or on the officials.

Recognizing that myriad factors played into it and that youthful mistakes will be made, the kids need to be held accountable. Let’s hope that’s what’s going on.

In some cases, that might just mean a conversation, clearly explaining why what happened was wrong and can’t happen again. Ever. In other cases, it should mean that same conversation coupled with repercussions. Maybe that means a suspension from the team. Maybe it just means a week without a phone. But it has to mean something.

The coaches and players at Mount St. Joseph and Westminster need to spend the rest of the season tending to that black eye — making people forget the last game and showing that lessons were learned.

Both of these teams undoubtedly began the week thinking a championship would equal a successful season. Winning games should now be viewed as secondary. Finishing games, and doing so with class, is much more important.

After the ugly ending, apparently many of the players from both teams made peace, shook hands and got together in a prayer circle.

That was a great first step. Here’s hoping the rest of the season is devoted to more of the same.

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