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Nothing to cheer about

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2001

Sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but there's nothing to cheer about. The most disturbing part about last week's six-card (five yellows, one red) performance by the Skyview High School boys soccer team wasn't really the number of cards handed out -- though that should be a cause for concern.

No, the most troubling part of the afternoon was the fact that people were actually cheering the foul play. Players trotted off the field after taking their card like it was some sort of badge of honor.

What happened to sportsmanship?

I don't think cheering when a player or coach loses his or her cool is what the Alaska School Activities Association had in mind when it adopted its sportsmanship creed -- the one read before games that encourages "positive support."

In fact, the next line of the creed asks spectators to "promote the ideals of good sportsmanship by applauding fair play and by showing respect for all participants and officials."

All cheering for foul play does is insult the 99 percent of the athletes who go out and give it their best while playing within the rules game-in and game-out.

The Webster's New World College Dictionary definition of a sportsman is a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity and courtesy.

While it may be unfair to expect every athlete to comport his or her self in such a manner all the time, every athlete should be "encouraged" to strive for that ideal, whether it be from the coach on the sidelines or the fans in the bleachers.

Along with sportsmanship, we've also lost sight of gamesmanship -- that subtle art of bending the rules, but doing it with class.

Take soccer as an example. Cheap tricks have always been part of the game -- things like grabbing a piece of jersey to slow an opponent down, cheating up on a defensive wall, or holding a ball before giving it back to an opponent for a free kick to give your own team a chance to get back and mark up.

While those tricks were cheap, they weren't dirty.

But gamesmanship has changed, too. We can blame Dennis Rodman for that one, I suppose. It now involves things like intimidation, trash-talking, taking a dive to draw a foul and, apparently, bullying your opponent when you can't beat him on skill alone -- the hack-a-Shaq strategy.

In other words, poor sportsmanship.

Poor sportsmanship certainly isn't limited to a few offenders at one school. In fact, the Soldotna boys soccer team has a player that's the dirtiest player I've seen in Region III. He takes every opportunity to push, shove, or hack at an opponent's ankle -- regardless of where the ball is. Against Palmer, he nailed an opposing player from behind several seconds after that player had passed the ball and the play was 30 yards down the field.

His "antics" cost his team a goal against Kenai last weekend -- a goal that turned out to be the margin of victory. With a throw-in deep in Soldotna's end of the field, he started bullying a Kenai player at the top of the penalty area.

The subsequent throw-in came to just about the spot he should have been, and at better than six feet tall, he easily could have headed the threat away.

Instead, he was 12 yards out of position and two Kenai players were able to get touches on the ball -- and that was the ballgame.

Giving up one goal doesn't really make up for a season's worth of poor sportsmanship, but it should make all of those athletes that played it clean all season feel a little bit better.

Of course, they should already be proud of what they've done.

It's up to the rest of us to continue to applaud their efforts.

Will Morrow is a sports reporter at the Peninsula Clarion. Comments or opinions can be sent to clarion@alaska.net.



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