Are we open receivers or on the defensive?

Categories: Around the Diocese

A local look at tackling sportsmanship

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

At a Texas high school, two teenage football players were accused of blindsiding an official during a recent game. In the video footage, one player appears to tackle the referee to the ground and a second dives on top of him.

Days before, in a New Jersey high school, a football player was caught on video ripping off his opponent’s helmet and then using it to bash him in the head, requiring 10 stitches. These recent incidents splashed across social media beg the questions, what happened to good old-fashioned sportsmanship? Does it still exist? Are these isolated incidents or is this a more widespread issue?

Emmett Keenan, activities and athletic director at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, said that when he watched the video of the attack on the official in Texas, he didn’t even know how to react.

“I couldn’t believe that would be something we’d ever have to worry about here,” Keenan said. “But I was also at a Minnesota State High School League meeting last week and they talked about instances of players coming in contact with the officials. I think we just need to talk about respecting everyone in those circumstances.”

What is sportsmanship?

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Coaches Rick Fleege and Chad Walz stand with Cathedral High School football players during a practice Sept. 21. The coaches make it a priority to teach that sportsmanship is all about respect. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor

Like Keenan, Cathedral’s head football coach Andy Auger says sportsmanship is all about respect.

“We always talk in our program about respecting each other, respecting opponents and respecting the officials. I think that respect for others is a main characteristic of sportsmanship, whether we are talking about playing the game the right way or treating people the right way,” Auger said.

Although Auger said he doesn’t see the physical acts like those shown in the media recently, there are still occasional instances of poor sportsmanship locally.

We see [things like] verbal taunting and intentional deception,” Auger said. “Those things to me are just as unsportsmanlike as physically attacking an opponent or official.”

Both Auger and Keenan agree that these occurrences can be valuable teaching moments.

“Sportsmanship is a higher expectation of everybody,” Keenan said. “We are really fortunate that we have some pretty good kids from some great families. But, just like any other school, we have to continue to talk to our kids about respecting officials, their teammates, their opponents, respecting everybody involved in athletic contests.”

At the beginning of the year, Keenan works with teams and also the fans. He talks about expectations.

“We work with our fans, especially our student fans, on a continual basis,” he said. “Sometimes, I think we have to do a better job of working at it proactively rather than reactively, but we do talk about it a lot. One of the components that has been missed in many schools is working with adult fans on sportsmanship expectations. The bottom line is that 99 percent of the people are good. It’s the 1 percent that cause the issues, and we need to keep working until it’s 100 percent.”

Do unto others

When Cathedral senior Brady Buckentine takes the field, he’s there to have a good time while representing his team and his school as one of the captains of the football team. He said he learned good sportsmanship first from his parents, from coaches and also from the school’s athletic directors, Keenan and Julie Murphy.

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Cathedral High School football players participate in a practice Sept. 21. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor

“They taught us that when we are at games, on the field or in the crowd, we cheer for our team, not against the other team,” Buckentine said. “It’s important because everyone is there to have fun and you don’t want to ruin someone’s fun by being disrespectful or not being a good sport.”

Buckentine also wants to set a good example for his teammates.

“Sportsmanship means to respect your opponents and teammates, remembering that everyone is out there to have fun, telling people ‘good game,’ helping opponents up and not getting into other people’s faces when they mess up,” he said. “Our coaches have always told us to be good sports and set an example both for the people watching us but also for the younger kids on the team. That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s important to be a good sport because “Christians are supposed to treat others like you would like to be treated,” Buckentine said.

“If I mess up, I don’t want it rubbed in my face, so I like to treat them the same way,” he said.

Despite the recent incidents in the media, Keenan and Auger agree that poor sportsmanship is not a widespread issue.

“[It’s] a very isolated one that is getting more traction than it previously did due to the national media picking up on it,” Auger said. “I think a lot of the issues start with behavior at home, and what kids are allowed to do or how they are allowed to talk to and treat people by their parents or guardians.”

Keenan added that sporting events are not an excuse for poor behavior.

“We have to make sure that the expectations of respect and behavior are no different just because you put a uniform on and step onto a field than they are in school, in church, at the mall or the movie theater,” he said.

“If you substitute the word respect for sportsmanship,” he continued, “our faith teaches us that every human being is special, every human being deserves respect and every human being is a creation of God and loved by God. If you have that mindset, it’s hard to think of someone as an opponent or an adversary. In reality, they are doing everything you’re doing with a different color uniform on and they are deserving of that same respect because of who they are created by.”