SPORTSMANSHIP: IT'S MORE THAN JUST A HANDSHAKE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

To many fans and players, sportsmanship is like the National Anthem.They can recite the Seattle Mariners lineup, but don't know all the words to the Star Spangled Banner.

They know the word "sportsmanship," but don't ask them what it means.

Talk to student/athletes and ask them about sportsmanship and youmight get the answer, "There doesn't seem to be any. If you are better, the other team and their fans hate you."

My opinion is that the kids of the 1990s look at sportsmanship as shaking hands after verbally and physically trying to the hurt the other guy. Because they shake hands, they think it makes all the underhanded shenanigans right.

Should it be that way? Should one team be so jealous of another and its success that it would wish or inflict verbal, or even physical, harm?

What is sportsmanship anyway?

Tuesday is National Sportsmanship Day, and St. Mary's has made it a top priority. And just maybe, more schools should, too.

Together with the Saints' administration, Athletic Director Carmine Blades has set up a panel of eight speakers to address the values of sportsmanship. The panel will speak to the entire student body and field questions after the respective talks.

"What we hope to accomplish is that our kids will understand that proper behavior at games by both the players and fans can resultin just as much fun, if not more, than doing things like they do in the colleges and pros," said Blades.

Blades is concerned that someof the rude chanting and foul language shouted by fans at college basketball games will trickle down to the high schools.

"There is a problem at the high school level, but thank goodness it is not as badas the colleges and pros," Blades said.

Webster's Dictionary defines "sportsmanship" as "qualities and behavior befitting a sportsman," and a sportsman as "a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity and courtesy."

It doesn't say shaking hands classifies someone as being a sportsman. It tells us that those whodisplay respect for their opponents by playing fair are sportsmanlike, whether they shake hands or not.

"It's an old, old cliche, but I think some people have forgotten it's only a game," Blades said.

In that regard, one of the best-known and glorified remarks about playing the game was made by former major-league baseball player and manager Leo Durocher.

"Nice guys finish last," he said, adding, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you an idiot."

As much as I admired Durocher's intensity, I disliked the statement about nice guys finishing in the cellar. There have been a lot of good, quality people who have finished first, such as Sparky Anderson, Casey Stengel and Walter Alston in baseball; Don Shula in football; and John Wooden in basketball.

Durocher's attitude, which he carried into his life off the field, probably is what kept him out of the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately, what he stood for is a product of the media.

Fred Hewitt, Athletic Director at Severn School, will be on the St. Mary's panel Tuesday. That's a statement from Blades and Hewitt, a statement of mutual respect from schools that are arch-rivals.

Within this school year, Hewitt, who is also second vice president of both the Maryland Scholastic Association and Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, wrote an excellent paper on sportsmanship.

I'm sure many of the ideas in his letter to the MSA and the athletic directors will be shared with the student body at St. Mary's.

Hewitt has strong feelings about coaches and athletic administrators making sportsmanship a top priority, and says, "Television and the other media constantly re-enforce outlandish behavior within the professional ranks, and unfortunately, the universities and colleges are little better."

It's their shadow that is cast on the high schools, and that's precisely the way the late, great Brooklyn Dodger executive Branch Rickey described the Durochers of the world. "Leo Durocher is a man with an infinite capacity for immediately making a bad thing worse," he said.

High school kids see the antics and hear the language of the often-rude Duke University basketball fans and listen to announcer Dick Vitale ranting and raving about the Blue Devils' school spirit.

Vitaleoften encourages ignorance and justifies it by saying it's a vital part of college sports.

It's only natural that high school kids emulate the ignorant college fans. Think about it.

I'm sure you've heard some of that chanting from time to time at our local high schools.

"I like the shadow of leadership analogy," Hewitt wrote in his letter on sportsmanship. "Simply enough, those of us in charge of athletic programs cast potentially a very large shadow. We must be certain that our shadow is a correct one because both coaches, athletes andothers will emulate it.

"To be a leader in athletics is, of course, to be a teacher, a mentor, a role model, a substitute parent figure, a cheerleader."

Let's shake hands on that.

When you have coaches and athletic types who command that kind of respect, problems with sportsmanship usually are few and far between. The kids respect their coach enough not to be unsportsmanlike.

It also works the other way, when a coach encourages bad behavior by his actions, and then has the audacity to expect the other team to pass through the assembly line shaking hands and saying, "Nice game."

This taunting business has reached frightening proportions in professional and collegiatesports. Living in this electronic, cable age, our kids see it all and soon believe it's the way to behave.

It needs to be discouraged,and that starts with the coach who tells his players he doesn't everwant to see him taunt an opponent or rub it in. Instead, be willing to give him a sincere verbal, physical or spiritual response of "nicetry."

I really think it's the coach who plays the most important role of all because he runs the team during the game, and how he runsit is how he can expect everyone around him to react.

The athletic director and principal can lay down all the rules they want, but it's the coach who has to carry them out and see to it his players do.

When you see a team whose players never argue with officials, or who are immediately reprimanded by the coach for attempting to, you see a team learning sportsmanship and respect of authority.

At the same time, I see nothing wrong with a coach fighting for his team by arguing with an official who may be grossly inferior or not putting forth a good effort. That same coach must make sure, though, that his kids don't show disrespect.

Lack of effort and a "don't give a damn" attitude on the part of the officials is not a good example to the kids, either. There are some officials who are guilty of that, and the coach has a right to get upset. After all, the coach is teaching his or her kids to give it their best, so why shouldn't the officials?

I've always found it pretty tough to disagree with an official whomay have bad judgement, but who is otherwise very professional. Officials, too, play a part in this sportsmanship business and the games should be fun for everyone.

A great question raised by Hewitt at the end of his letter is, "Have you ever been watching a game and beenstruck by the thought, 'Is anyone having fun?' "

That includes the players, coaches, officials and fans, and therein lies the answer.

So, remember kids, play hard, but with respect for your opponent, remembering that he or she may want to win as badly as you. Remember,coaches, that what you say and how you say it is how your kids will behave.

Remember, officials, to be professional in appearance and actions, and to hustle. You can set the tone and make it a pleasure for everyone. Don't try to be the show. Let the kids be the show and help them along. And remember, fans, cheer hard and long.

In fact, aim to get laughs from everyone, adults included, with what you yell.Make it fun and avoid firing shots to start a war. Fill the atmosphere with spirit and fun, and when all is said and done, go home friends, not enemies.

It's all so simple and really a reflection of what's not going on in the world around the arenas. And maybe if you tookit with you into everything you do, you could make a difference.

This sportsmanship issue is all about life.

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