The greatest disappointments I experience in the administration of educational athletics are when I observe the program miss the opportunity to educate students in ways that will instill positive character traits. It happens in little ways every day; and sometimes it happens in really big ways when we fail to require people to accept the consequences of their actions.
During and immediately following a Regional Tennis match several years ago, a student displayed the kind of sportsmanship that offended everyone’s sense of appropriate behavior. There was no question he behaved badly, although the student and parents had many excuses for the behavior.
While the player was not disqualified at the time, his coach, athletic director and principal agreed the player should be withheld from the Final tournament, consistent with suspensions applied to other students in other sports at other times. The parents appealed the decision and the central office overturned the building level decision because “missing the Final tournament was too severe a penalty.” If it had been a regular-season contest, not the MHSAA Finals, the student would have been suspended.
So, what’s the lesson here? There are consequences for inappropriate behavior so long as it’s not an important event for the student and school. What kind of lesson is that?
And what a problem! For this lesson teaches that exceptions will be made for better players and bigger events, that standards of acceptable behavior are related to the persistence of the parents and the prestige of the competition.
The problem is that if people are not held accountable for their behavior in high school athletics, whenever will they? The problem is that if people are not held accountable for their acts – i.e., fail to develop character – a world going bad is going to get there faster.