I like flowers, food, traditions and all things Southern; however, I have never been a big sports enthusiast. There is something special, though, about watching my 18-year-old son play high school basketball. A new side of me emerges: I sit as close to the court as possible to be right next to the action.
Many of my closest friends are laughing as they read this. For years, they have been extolling the character-building virtues of organized athletics. I finally get it. I have enjoyed watching the camaraderie that develops, not only between the players and coaches, but also among the parents. I like watching the coach praise—and yes, even scold—the players.
I relish almost every bit of it, except when healthy competition becomes too serious and rears its ugly head. Instead of bringing to light the unpleasant things that I have witnessed, I thought that I would share some of the positive experiences of this past year.
In the fall, I attended several girls’ volleyball games. I have known most of the young ladies on the team since they were in preschool.
It was the second round of the state playoffs. Savannah Country Day School was poised to win against Wesleyan School. The SCDS team had won the first two games and was ahead by 5 points in the third game.
And then it happened: Wesleyan senior Alana Broe stopped play to tell the official that she had touched the ball before it went out of bounds. The point, which had been awarded to her school was overturned and given to Country Day. It was a crucial moment in the match, and a less honest player might have been inclined to ignore her own mistake rather than speak up and help the opposing team.
After Broe’s call, Ted Russell, head volleyball coach for Wesleyan, called a timeout and said to his players, “I am proud of Alana for making that call. Now, let’s go out there and beat these girls.” It was a rallying point for the Wesleyan girls, and they went on to win the round.
I spoke with Broe, and although her good sportsmanship impressed me, she seemed unphased by her own action. “In the moment, it was a big play,” she explained, “but as soon as the ball touched my hand I was fully prepared to tell the official that we had lost the point because my honor and playing a respectable game is always the most important.”
Wow. What a refreshing assertion from a young person! Broe’s attitude is certainly a reflection of her own upbringing, but there is no doubt in my mind that her coaches must have also shaped her mindset during her years of playing team sports. Teaching girls how to win with humility and lose with grace is a life lesson that Ted Russell tries to instill in all his players. As a 22-year veteran of education, Russell takes his coaching job seriously, and he believes that training his girls
to work as a single unit will help them throughout life. “It is easy when you are winning,” he explains, “but you have to deal with confrontation.”
Two other high school coaches I spoke with echoed Russell’s desire to teach more than just on-the-field skills to their players. Mike Harner, head boys’ basketball coach at Savannah Country Day, always stresses to his players to make the right choices both on and off the court. “I want our players to show respect not only for the game, “ says Harner, “but also to our opponents.” He says that he always reminds his players that they are role models for every younger child in the school.
Likewise, the girls’ basketball coach at Savannah Country Day, Dale Parker, practices collaboration with her players as well as free throws. “If they can function as part of a team,” she says, “they will be successful in other life situations.” Parker believes that while winning is important, it is even more crucial that coaches inspire their players.
With young people like Alana Broe, the bar has been set much higher—not only for the players, but for all of us watching and cheering. She is an inspiration!
As always, thanks for reading.
Photo Credit: Photo of Alana Broe is courtesy of Jack Miller
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