Young athletes are often encouraged by their coaches to give 110 percent effort in every game. But what happens when they actually do their best and have a modicum of talent? They are chastised for exhibiting unsportsmanlike conduct.
It’s been called unsportsmanlike. It’s been called ugly. The question now is whether Christian Heritage (Utah) High, which routed West Ridge (Utah) Academy, 108-3, in a girls basketball game last week, actually did anything wrong by blowing out an overwhelmed opponent.
The stunning scoreline — from a varsity game in which Christian Heritage reportedly never used a full-court press — nearly defies belief. As reported in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, Christian Heritage scored 28 points per quarter for the first three periods and 24 in the fourth, providing a consistent average of nearly two baskets per minute across the entire game. . . .
“I don’t know why the score was that high, or what the point was,” Jamie Keefer, West Ridge’s athletic director and a coach for the girls’ team, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I don’t think it would’ve happened that way if it were the other way around.”
Yet while Christian Heritage is a clear and obvious target for criticism, Crusaders coach Rob McGill has argued that he had little choice. According to ABC 4 News out of Salt Lake City, the program had just nine players available for both the varsity and junior varsity games against West Ridge, leaving the coach with little option when considering whether to pull out his starters early in the game.
And with his starters still in the game, McGill decided it would be more disrespectful to slow the ball down and pass around the perimeter than continuing to run the team’s offense.
“I have been on the other side of this equation,” McGill told ABC 4. “It was very insulting when teams slowed the ball down and just passed it around. That’s why I’d rather have a team play me straight up, and that’s why I played them straight up. Because I didn’t want to taunt them, I didn’t want to embarrass them, I didn’t want them to think we could do whatever we want.”
Coach McGill is absolutely right. There is no shame in losing—even by 100 points—if you give your best effort. But it is shameful and dishonorable to treat a sports opponent as if they are not worthy of your full effort. When you step onto the playing field you want your competitor to play fairly and to the utmost of their skills and talent. As Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). That is what is required of an honorable sportsman.
Of course, this being America, if you exhibit excellence and talent you’ll likely hurt someone’s feelings, which means you’ll need to apologize. The administrators of Christian Heritage not only apologized to West Ridge for the 105-point margin but also agreed to meet again before the two teams play each other again on February 3 to ensure that “a blowout like this doesn’t happen again.”
“We’re going to sit down with them and make sure they know how we feel,” said Christian Heritage head of school Don Hopper. “We didn’t mean to do anything to hurt them or upset them. It got away from us, and we’re going to do things differently next time.”
What terrible lessons to be teaching these children. On one side they are told that if they work hard at honing their skills and teamwork, that they’ll be expected to hold back—give less than 110%—so that they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. On the other side they are being told that adults believe they are so fragile that the only recourse is to ask the other team to condescend to them and treat them as inferior.
The fact is that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get thrashed like Walter Mondale in ’84. That’s life. If we don’t have the courage to tell that to our children, then let’s adjust our expectations—and coaching clichés—accordingly.