Off The Press
October 1, 2008
By Jim Feehan
Fair play alive and well among prep athletes
With five minutes remaining in the Liberty High School football game against Mercer Island two weeks ago, Patriot coach Steve Valach called a timeout. It seemed odd to some sideline observers, because Liberty was cruising to an easy victory over the Islanders.
Valach then turned to his bench and said, “Anyone who hasn’t played raise their hand. All right, you guys go in.”
That late summer evening, the Patriot players and fans learned a valuable lesson about sportsmanship. Instead of running up the score against Mercer Island, and with it padding the offensive statistics for Liberty’s vaunted offense, Valach chose the higher path and emptied his bench. Those nonstarting athletes show up for practice, work hard all week and for a brief shining moment they had an opportunity to play under the Friday night lights. And that is the true sense of sport — participation.
Most athletes won’t go on to play professional sports, and only a few will win scholarships to play at college. Good sportsmanship means not having a win-at-any-cost attitude. Athletes who don’t have a win-at-any-cost attitude talk about how much they love their sport and how much personal satisfaction and enjoyment they get from participation. It’s great to be a champion; it’s even better to have enjoyed the process of trying to reach the top. The journey is every bit as important as reaching the destination. Being a good sport involves being a good winner, as well as being a good loser.
Coaching is an honor and a privilege that carries with it a responsibility to contribute to the healthy character development of young players. Coaches who equate trying your best as the definition of success — and who value, expect and demand good sportsmanship from their players — help shape the moral, ethical and spiritual character of our future leaders.
These life lessons are not lost on the gridiron, baseball diamond or municipal pool for swim meets. Some players will go onto excel in business, law and medicine. Some may become journalists. They will remember the camaraderie among teammates and that sense of fellowship with one’s competitors for years to come.
Sportsmanship can be found in other high school athletics in the Issaquah School District. This past spring, Issaquah High School’s baseball team returned to Safeco Field to defend its state title. The Eagles came up short and placed third. The players were magnanimous in victory and in defeat. In true sportsmanlike manner, they applauded the pitching prowess, crisp fielding and timely hitting of their opponents.
At a dual swim meet last week between Skyline and Liberty, swimmers and divers cheered on their opponents. Skyline coach Susie Miller and Liberty coach Kris Daughters are to be commended for encouraging fair play, sportsmanship and character among their athletes. Success can be measured by milliseconds in swim meets. Success can also be measured in other ways. Successful athletes acknowledge and applaud a good effort, even when someone on the other team makes them. The swimmers and divers cheered on teammates with positive statements and avoided trash-talking and taunting opponents.
Valach, Reese, Miller and Daughters make sportsmanship a core goal of their work. You won’t see their athletes showboating; losing their temper; hurling negative criticism of teammates, coaches and referees or blaming teammates for mistakes.
In a sports world filled with egocentric, pampered college and professional athletes it is refreshing to see sportsmanship is alive and well among our area high school athletes.