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By curtailing high school routs, Connecticut at head of the class


As the curtain is about to close on another school sports year, there is a promising development on the horizon for next year, namely the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's football committee's decision to try to limit running up scores.

The committee's action - to suspend for a game any coach whose team wins by 50 - is one of the more promising developments heard in high school sports.

Oh, the sports talk show crowd - never known for intellectualism - has had a field day with the new rule, calling it overprotection at best and an example of dreaded political correctness run amuck at worst.

The committee needs to refine some details to make the plan more workable, to be sure, but as far as the big picture goes, the CIAC has done a valuable thing.

Sadly, it has reached the point in high school athletics where a group thought it necessary to say that scoring points in a contest when you don't have to is wrong and there should be a penalty for it.

And since, in our overly litigious society, you can't hold children responsible for their conduct on the field on a Friday night or Saturday morning, not without some shyster heading to the local courthouse on Monday to sue everyone involved in punishing the kids, the coaches have to bear the burden.

There are, to be sure, some coaches who haven't learned to curb their competitive urges and keep the pedal pinned to the metal. Those are the ones who have forgotten that a coach, especially at the high school level, is an educator first and foremost, charged with teaching not just the game, but everything that comes with the game, to his student-athletes. That notion might be quaint, but it should still be what guides high school sports.

But, more often than not, it's obnoxious parents who can't or won't sit their kid down the first time and every time he (or she) shows up an opponent, who have brought us to the point where a coach has to draw the punishment.

However, if that's what it takes to bring some civility back to the process, then so be it.

Those who would say that the Connecticut rule change is stupid are deliberately misguided, flat out mean-spirited or, more likely, haven't been near a high school stadium since the cheerleaders wore argyle socks.

Yes, teams have been blowing opponents out since Fred Flintstone first suited up for Bedrock High, but Fred never had the kind of pressure, internal and external, to succeed that today's player, and by extension, his coach, had. These days, the post-game handshake between teams feels like a necessary evil rather than standard operating procedure at games of all sports.

Yes, kids have to learn about competition, that the world isn't fair, that the game demands your best effort and yada, yada, yada. We get that.

But they also have to learn about graciousness and respect for the game and for others. Most importantly, they have to learn that karma may come back to redistribute to you tomorrow the punishing you administer to someone else today.

Where the Connecticut committee missed is in applying a blanket rule that does not take into consideration special circumstances, such as injury.

For instance, is a coach whose team is clearly superior to another, but not terribly deep, running up the score if it leaves in, say a first-string quarterback, when the second-team player is hurt and the third-teamer is just up from junior varsity and unfamiliar with the offense?

The policy also fails in that it doesn't take into account the very real possibility that a team is vastly superior to all the teams it faces in its area.

Take the Mount Hebron girls lacrosse team, for example. To look coldly at the scores the Vikings have rolled up during their incredible 97-game winning streak that covers 10 straight state titles might suggest that current coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland and her predecessors have been deliberately embarrassing their opponents.

The truth, though, is that Mount Hebron is playing at a level that is far beyond what its nearest competitors can manage, and that may be the case in other places.

Connecticut might be better served by going to a running clock after one team gets up by 35 as Maryland does or by modifying its policy to impose a punishment on the third offense over, say, a two-year period with a warning letter on the second offense, rather than dropping the hammer on the first.

Still, if the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, we all ought to hope that other states, Maryland included, get out on the road with Connecticut.


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