Sad to see integrity becoming a lost point


Sports historians may note Feb. 1, 2006, as a watershed date for high school athletics, a date when the quaint notion of integrity took a big hit all over the country.

Wednesday was the first date that high school athletes could sign national letters of intent to commit to colleges for the coming year, in many cases reneging on promises they made to other schools.

And, while those letters were being signed, a travesty was being committed in a basketball game in Manhattan by a girl named Epiphanny Prince, who scored 113 points and made a mockery of her opponents, her teammates and of sports itself.

The two may appear to be unconnected on the surface, but they speak to a lack of honor that has sadly begun to permeate the high school scene.

Of course, it's not uncommon for a high school kid to change his or her mind about which college to attend. For those who haven't already married, the selection of a college is the most important decision most high schoolers will make to that point in their lives.

Not surprisingly, a lot of kids arrive at a college and find that it's not the right fit. A Philadelphia Inquirer story last week found that among major colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, some schools reported that as many as 32 percent of the freshman class of 2004-05 didn't return for their sophomore year.

But at least those kids made it to campus. The college athletic process has sadly become a place where kids tell one college to get a uniform ready, then sign on the dotted line with another.

Maryland fans lamented the loss of Forestville High guard Antonio Logan-El to Penn State after he had orally committed to the Terps in his sophomore year. And apparently, football coach Ralph Friedgen had to go hard to make sure Melvin Alaeze, the Randallstown defensive lineman who went to prep school to bring up his test scores, stayed in the fold.

Now, before Terps fans and coaches claim the moral high ground, that they were wronged beyond repair, they should be reminded that Poly's LaQuan Williams, who signed to play for Maryland last week, originally committed to James Madison.

The recruiting process is a decidedly brutal one, with the advantages heavily weighted toward the schools, thanks to the onerous letter of intent, which binds a recruit to a school for at least a year, and makes getting out of an institution as easy as getting Kobe Bryant to share the ball.

But it increasingly appears that the old saw that an oral agreement isn't worth the paper it's printed on is trumping the new saying of the hip-hop generation that "word is bond."

Meanwhile, as hundreds of kids were turning their backs on their previous commitments, Prince was laying waste to the twin concepts of decorum and good sportsmanship with a sickening display of scoring as her Murry Bergtraum team beat Brandeis, 137-32.

Prince hit 54 of 60 shots, most of them layups, on the way to a national schoolgirl scoring record, eclipsing the 105 points scored by Cheryl Miller 24 years earlier.

Leading 74-11 at halftime and with his team clearly superior to Brandeis', Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky chose to leave Prince in the game - even though she had surpassed her career high of 51 points with a 58-point half.

Prince, who is headed to Rutgers next year, understandably wanted Miller's record, and on some other day, if the situation necessitated that she score an inordinate number of points to help Bergtraum win, she could have been encouraged to go for it.

And that's why the blame for this falls on Grezinsky, who clearly forgot that for high school coaches, every surface their players play on is an extension of the classroom. Grezinsky failed to teach Prince and her teammates a valuable lesson: The object of competition is to win, not to embarrass or humiliate the opposition.

Both Prince and Grezinsky invoked the name of Bryant and his 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors last month as justification of the player's pursuit of 100 points, conveniently forgetting that Bryant was helping his team overcome an 18-point third-quarter deficit with his offensive outpouring.

Perhaps they should have looked more closely at Bryant's 62-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 20. There, Bryant, who amassed all his points in three quarters, was held out of the fourth period by Lakers coach Phil Jackson because Los Angeles was leading by 30.

Jackson and Bryant believed the game's integrity was more important than any individual achievement. Hopefully, more coaches and players will keep integrity living and breathing at earlier stages of play, before it dies off.

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