In the stands, sportsmanship takes back seat
With 3:48 to go in the third quarter of Friday night’s Metro Conference clash between Nevada Union and visiting Yuba City, NU head coach Jeff Dellis looked down the sideline to Yuba City counterpart Brad MacIntire and smiled wide.
Miner junior Brennan McFadden had just sank one of two free throws to knot the contest at 31-31.
The crounching MacIntire caught Dellis’ glance and offered a good-natured grin of his own.
“We were having a great time,” Dellis said.
And why not?
Friday night’s showdown between last season’s co-conference champions was thrilling enough to have even this native of Hoosier Hysteria enjoying the back-and-forth battle.
The atmosphere was every bit as electric as any Friday night I ever witnessed as a basketball fan and sports writer born and raised on the high school hardwoods of the Hoosier state.
But then came the end of the game- and I’m not talking about the final score or the defensive shutout Nevada Union pitched in overtime to top Honkers 57-50.
It was what accompanied the end result that put a damper on what had been an absolute dandy of basketball game – namely, the chants echoing out of the Nevada Union student section.
“Just like football! Just like football!”
The students, of course, were referring to NU’s 55-28 dominance of Yuba City on the gridiron this past fall.
“You wish were a Miner! You wish you were a Miner!”
As if each Honker player, coach and fan headed back across Highway 20 Friday night thinking that their lives will never be complete due to the fact that they don’t have NU emblazoned across their chests.
“Start the bus! Start the bus!”
You get the idea.
The funny thing is, though, I didn’t hear such arrogance coming from that same crowd when NU trailed 57-50 with 4:17 remaining in regulation.
But, of course, when you’re down, the trash talk just doesn’t come as easily.
“We don’t hear it. If it bothered us, then we’re not focused on basketball,” said MacIntire. “As far as the fans, that’s why they’re in the seats and not playing the game. You know, they see that stuff on TV, so why not? Right or wrong, it’s just the society we’re in.”
MacIntire wasn’t about to point the finger at bad sportsmanship – which is fine, that’s my job. And actually, he said, the Miners might expect worse treatment when they get to Yuba City on Feb. 17, at least according to past history.
“You come down to Yuba City when we play there and you’ll think our fans seem tame,” he said. “You go to Yuba City and you’ve got fans pulling the hair on the back of our kids’ legs as they try to inbound the ball.
“You know, we’d like the fans to be positive and support us for the things we do. But, I love my crowd and love for them to come out and support us.”
If the trash talk ended with the game, it might be just as harmless as it would appear. But with a traditionally heated rivalry, such posturing sometimes spills over into fights amongst fans – which, according to Dellis, did happen to some degree a year ago.
The refreshing thing Friday night, though, was that the students actually participating in the event – the players on the floor – were class acts, which might have something to do with the approach administrators at both schools have taken toward sportsmanship.
NU athletic director Steve Pilcher said Miner coaches and players now often meet with traditional rivals in pre-game luncheons, which appear to head off any potential problems at the pass.
“What we’ve decided is that instead of being atagonistic toward each other – we’re all educators and teachers, just at different places – we’ll teach the kids sportsmanship,” he said. “These are all American kids. Someday, they could fight in wars together, work for the same company or even marry each other’s sisters. They’re all the same. They all work hard and they should respect each other for that. Also, this is high school athletics.
“Unfortunately, what you saw (Friday) night was some young fans in the crowd who have never been taught that.”
Judging from Friday night, the players have learned the lesson well, evidenced through the handshakes and “good game” wishes shared at the conclusion of the contest.
Just as obvious was the positive examples displayed by their coaches.
“You love the competition, but there’s nothing better than competing against someone you respect and trust that runs a clean program,” Dellis said of MacIntire.
Who says the education stops at classroom door?
“Those players reflect their coaches,” Pilcher said. “Brad MacIntire and Jeff Dellis both want to win, but they both also want to do it in style.
“We look at the basketball courts, the football fields and the wrestling mats as classrooms. If we don’t continue to teach, and teach them that sportsmanship, then we’re not doing our job.”
Apparently, we can consider that a job well done.
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4240.
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