Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why I Boo

The EO Smith Men's basketball team played South Windsor High last week in South Windsor. I booed heartily during the varsity game and I'm sure some of you will insist this is bad sportsmanship. Allow me to disagree.

I haven't blogged much about basketball in the past few years because the detail that I used to dedicate to following the statistics is no longer possible given my schedule. I try to keep track of my own boys now but even then I enjoy being a spectator more than a statistician.

And let me tell you up front that EO lost the game to a team that was not very good. I am not writing this because we lost but because of the eerie continuation of last year's ugly contest.

Last year I blogged this:
inevitably every spectator eventually has to endure the team that brilliantly discovers the smash mouth epiphany.

The smash mouth epiphany is the realization by soccer and football coaches who work their way into the basketball world that you can bully basketball players on the other team enough to win with little more than excessive physical play on your team's part.

So last night, down by twenty or so points, I watched a South Windsor player pull the shirt down on an EO player so hard that the player fell down. No big deal because nobody got hurt and the ref signaled a foul. But basketball is not soccer. It is not.

But that incident was just another low point in a game characterized by slapping, yanking, pulling, banging, tripping, and so on. Any sport devolves into brutish, ugly play when the point of either team is to push the envelope on acceptable physical play to gain advantage or a win.

Basketball is and always was a demanding physical play in which athletes (not brutes) play hard, with plenty of contact and spirit to win. And I love to watch games like that. Congratulations to the JV and EO Smith coaches and players who did not allow themselves to be dragged into playing like brutes.
It is no surprise that this year's game reminded me of the near-forgotten experience of last year's game.

This year, in South Windsor, it quickly became apparent that intimidation and brutish behavior is normal operating behavior. EO Smith's basketball team has a loyal following of students who show up at away games top cheer and make some noise for their team. They sat themselves behind the hoop and were joking around when a South Windsor official began harassing them, shouting in their faces, sticking his finger at their noses, and calling in two police officers who seemed on the ready for a riot. They yanked a student or two out into the hallway, no doubt to pester and intimidate them and reminded them there will be no fun had here! Aside from South Windsor parents, the student body of that school had virtually no attendees, probably already knowing they weren't welcome in their own gym.

It was a brutal and unnecessary and unethical display of the abuse of authority.

The varsity game was refereed as if one of the referees were on the payroll of South Windsor or had also succumbed to the thug mentality of the South Windsor location.

EO Smith players again had their shirts pulled with no whistles and a stream of bizarre referee calls against them. EO Smith's players were lectured on not playing defense so closely as if this were an instructional league contest.

I booed because every year the officiating in a game or two of the season is so blatantly bad, so one-side, so paralyzing to the rhythm of one team that expressing one's distaste is, in fact, the best kind of good sportsmanship one can muster.

On one level I'm distressed by having attended a poorly called contest. On another, I'm okay with the honesty of my response and I can't blame other fans, young or old, for expecting more from a game.

Later, I found out that the freshman game, too, was poorly officiated to the point of EO Smith parents walking away in disgust and feeling that the game was fixed.

The governing body of high school athletics should take a hard look at what's going on in South Windsor. Two years in a row of unusual games precludes these observations from being cosmic co-incidence.

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