Monday, January 26, 2009

About that coach who got fired for winning

The first instinct was to steer clear of the story about the Texas high school basketball coach, Micah Grimes, who was canned in the wake his team winning a game 100-0 (and he being none too repentant about it).

It's bad blog form to rubberneck at "the flavor of the day for network newscasts who would flit to the next human interest saga soon enough," (editorial, Dallas Morning News). The media does not care about the eight young women on The Dallas Academy who were skunked a hundred to nothing. Be that as it may, Christopher Sells at HoopsVibe also says a life lesson was lost as the opportunist reached out to embrace the losing team.
"... accepting all of the pity coming its way is teaching the team the wrong sort of lesson. People will be better than you at some things. It’s a fact of life. Learning how to deal with that is important. Learning how to look someone in the eye and congratulate them on being superior to you is a hard thing to do, but these girls did it. But now, the better team is supposed to hand them a victory because they were too much better? Bad form, in my eyes."
The media also seemed blinkered to an important bit of subtext — the "school choice" debate that has raged in the U.S. for the last two decades. It's somewhat responsible for what happened.

In the great state of Texas and elsewhere, there are politicians and parents who believe in school vouchers — i.e., using public money to pay private school tuition. There are so many in Texas that they have their own high school athletic association, which both of these schools play in. Critics, who, yes, are disposed of a left-of-centre sensibility, say it hurts the public schools' ability to do a decent job.

In other words, a student attending such schools is gets a leg up at getting into a good university and a better shot at a good life, while those left in the public system suffer as a direct result. In other words, some have unfair advantage, yet it's a basketball coach who gets nuked.

It's just such a double standard with sports. No one squawks when the gifted-and-talent magnet high school cleans up at the science fair, or the math contest.

A one-time associate met it head-on when he coached a high school hockey team several years ago. The principal was hectoring him about why he gave more ice time to the more talented players and being obsessed with winning. He shot back, "Fine, let's have the kids in basic classes go in the science fair." He never heard about it again.

One-sided losses happen in high school sports, where a team's strength is pretty much predicated on the size of the school and nature of its demographics. It's happened at least once in my experience, and it's important to have sympathy for the coaches who are just trying to get their players to use the skills they've developed. Here's a case in point from one of my earlier newspaper gigs:
Feb. 13, 2006


Normally, the coach of a 9-1 basketball team doesn't sound so frustrated.

But as he politely gave his side of what happened in the first basketball game at the new Simcoe Composite School gymnasium last Tuesday, James Warman's voice carried the kind of edge that comes when you're defending the indefensible.

Warman says he would "gladly issue an apology" for letting his Simcoe Sabres junior boys team run up 100 points against Port Dover that day.

That's good to hear. There is no defence for what Simcoe did to an all-Grade 9 team that had just five players that day and didn't win a single game this season.

For the No. 1 Sabres fan, principal Bob Foster, seeing a team win 100-33 — the type of score that needs a 10-dollar adjective put in front of it — presents a real dilemma.

"We don't disrespect another school by apologizing for working hard," Foster said. "I know if I was on the wrong end of a high score, I would feel patronized if someone apologized to me for it.

"I know our school wishes every game was close. Five-point games are the best games. That's where everyone learns something."

It's hard to have that in a league that has AAA schools competing against single-A schools (Ontario's smallest classification). Warman's team also had a two-week exam break followed by games against the two non-playoff teams before the playoffs.

"My whole thing was to keep my team motivated," Warman said. "I was trying to work in some new things we'll need for NSSAA (playoffs) or for a CWOSSA (regional) qualifier."

Lakers coach Dan Avey declined to comment. When I outlined Warman's predicament to Port Dover teacher and coach Derek McConnell, his comment was, "Well, too bad."

In McConnell's view, this was no ordinary one-sided wipeout. Not after the Sabres played full-court man-to-man defence throughout the second half in what Warman admitted was an effort to reach the 100-point plateau.

"I just don't think you do that at the expense of other kids," McConnell said, adding, "The coach (Avey) and the kids handled it well, but I don't want it to discourage them."

At halftime, Simcoe had allowed just five points and scored close to 50, but Warman wanted to keep his guys interested.

"When the guys decided to go for 100, I said, 'fine, if you think you can, go for it,'" Warman related. "I didn't think they could, but I offered them the challenge."

In hindsight: "It was maybe not the right call."

Veteran SCS coach Chris Harvey said after the game, he spoke with Warman - "we wanted to give him some options" - about how to handle a similar situation.

For instance, what about having the clock run the entire second half? Simcoe could have kept pressing, but would have fallen short of 100 points and there would have been no controversy.

"Running the clock would have been a good idea," Warman said.

Clearly, Warman realizes nothing good came out of this.

"He is a good young coach that ended up in a situation that neither team ended up benefiting from," Harvey said on Thursday.

That young coach is understandably feeling frustrated for catching flack. But there were drawbacks to thinking only of this week's playoffs.

People are making a big deal of it and I didn't see it coming," Warman said. "It's become a big deal, and I'll gladly issue an apology."

Addressing the dilemma is better than apologizing. It appears SCS realizes what kind of message it sends when the first basketball game sees a team needlessly pounding on an overmatched team.

Foster knows that isn't the kind of image that truly reflects his school. SCS is in a privileged position these days, thanks to publicity generated by the new gym. It's kind of sad the junior team's 100-point binge came in the first basketball game there.

"For us, it's a learning experience as well," Foster said. "Since it happened, we've talked about it — what we do the future if that situation comes up again, what would we expect of the other team if we were on the other side. Hopefully we can go from there."

I'm told that last Tuesday, SCS fans applauded the Lakers' Cody Mummery for hitting a three-pointer right before the final buzzer that cut the margin of victory to a mere 67 points.

Clearly, SCS is showing a little remorse. As well it should.
The point is these mismatches have become a fact of life in high school athletics in North America. No one is more frustrated by it than coaches. The media missed the point on this as they rushed to make an example out of Micah Grimes and give a show of false compassion for the losing side.

100-0 (Christopher Sells, HoopsVibe)

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