The recent brawl at a high school boys basketball game gives us an opportunity to talk about high school sports.
All school activities should have education at their heart. Sports has a lot to teach young people — teamwork, sportsmanship, failure.
Learning resilience — the ability to fall behind and to keep trying, lose and bounce back, do your best within your limitations — is one of the greatest qualities sports can impart.
But all that goes by the wayside when the experience gets infected by the mentality that winning is everything, and if you’re already winning, then winning by a whole lot is even better.
Blowouts — and we see a lot of them in local high school competition, in various sports — are no fun, for losers or winners.
Close, competitive games, in which the better team puts in its second- or third-string players, if necessary, to keep the game close, give players the chance to play hard and test themselves, and give fans a more exciting experience.
You don’t get better by playing out of your league but by challenging yourself versus a closely matched opponent.
High school sports should not be judged by professional standards. Pros play for money, and winning is the point.
Pros cheat. Soccer players flop. Pitchers doctor baseballs. Tom Brady got his footballs softened. The sports world tolerates cheating and sometimes celebrates it.
But in high school, losing is regarded — or it should be — as far, far better than cheating. Losing is a learning experience.
The creeping professionalization of youth sports is sucking the joy out of it — the joy that has been captured, effortlessly and for generations, by neighborhood kids getting together for a pickup game of something or other.
One of the things we admire about Joe Girard, the high-scoring star of the Glens Falls basketball team, is he has insisted on continuing to also play football, despite the risk of injury, because he likes it. That is why everyone should play.
Professionalization carries risks of burnout and worse for young athletes. Those tempted to try performance-enhancing drugs risk criminal prosecution and compromised health.
Hard-fought rivalries have always been a part of high school sports, and we celebrate that tradition. But “hard-fought” refers to play that is by-the-rules, not pushing, shoving and taunting and certainly not a brawl that spills off the court and ends up injuring an officer. Adults who minimize this episode are being irresponsible.
But it is our misplaced priorities, not one unfortunate fight, that are the problem.
A good game is what we should be aiming for — a game that is fun to play and fun to watch — and if we do that, our sports programs will succeed.