Newspaper sports columnists around the world jumped on an "incident" between two Texas schools involving a 100-0 blowout as a juicy opportunity to explore the issues surrounding youth athletic competition (see here, here, here, here and here). Aside from this well-reported ESPN.com piece by Jeff Miller on the history of high school blowouts, Barry Horn of The Dallas Morning News has provided much of the reporting muscle in this story that combines youth athletics, competitive values and Christian educational institutions. Horn's story Friday on how the losing school's athletic director marked the 100-0 loss up as a win because his "girls never quit" -- as the opposing team continued to apply a full-court press and score quick and easy layups despite the lopsidedness of the competition -- launched the international attention the schools are receiving. The game actually occurred about 10 days prior to the appearance of this article, but the frenzy that occurred after the article appeared touches some on the religious element that drifts in and out of the articles.
Here is Horns first article on the incident:
Queal said he hopes his school will work "behind the scenes" with Dallas Academy to make sure the schools continue their "long-standing" relationship.
"I'll say this," Queal said of the Dallas Academy girls, "that was an amazing testimony to their tenacity and perseverance."
Edd Burleson, director of 236-member TAPPS, had a different description. He called the Class 2A, District 3 game an "embarrassing incident."
"Our motto is 'Competition With Honor,'" Burleson said. "I can't see how the one school can live up to that."
TAPPS is the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, and the losing school announced in this article that they would no longer participate in the league and canceled a game later this month against the winning school. If one reads between the quotes in this article, this was not being considered a routine beatdown. Something deeper was at stake. Perhaps it is the special, undeserved, sacredness the number 100 receives in basketball lore?
Note how what becomes a series of articles starts out focusing on how the losing school played with the "amazing testimony" of "tenacity and perseverance." This morality tale quickly changed its focus.
The next day, Horn published an article on the "winning" school's apology for the "victory without honor." The school told TAPPS that they really wanted to forfeit the game, but the school on the losing end of the game said they didn't want to be considered to have won a game they didn't win on the basketball court.
That is when the national spotlight started shining brightly, according to Horn's article the following day. The story steamrolled as the coach of the "winning" team denounced his school's apology, stating that his girls "played with honor and integrity."
The article then quotes the entire statement/apology from the winning school, which interestingly includes the claim that the incident did "not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition." A companion piece explores further what it means to play athletics with honor:
Arin Harrison, an English teacher at Life School in Oak Cliff, experienced what it's like to lose a basketball game, 103-0. She was the center on a Duncanville ChristWay team that lost to Arlington Oakridge in the winning school's Christmas tournament in 1998.
"It was a very vulnerable feeling being out there on the court and having people watch and laugh at you, basically," she recalled, adding that the Covenant-Dallas Academy game brought back memories.
"It's also the responsibility of the coach on the winning team to teach lessons," Harrison said. "Let's not take this opportunity to completely crush another team's spirit. In high school sports, it should be about building skills and character as well, and it's the coach's responsibility to instill that character into players."
This talk of character, players' spirits and life lessons could easily be seen as secular, non-religious lessons, but I can't help but noting that many of these incidents, including the one from earlier this month, involved religious institutions. Many of the statements invoked Christian themes. Is there more to their statements when they say that they want to instill "character" into their student athletes? As the story plays out, apparently that is the case.
The next day, the "winning" coach was fired, giving Horn yet another opportunity to explore the morality of the story he had been covering over the weekend. I would love to know what Horn first thought about this story when he published the first story and whether he had any idea where it would go.
Here is the end of the article:
Cheryl Bugg, whose daughter is one of Covenant's top players, said she didn't want to talk about the firing.
She said the parents of the team's eight players met with school officials Saturday and outlined three goals for the program:
"We want to represent Christ with the highest respect, we don't want to humiliate anyone ever and we want our students to be enthusiastic in everything they do."
What does it mean, as the school said in its original statement apologizing for the loopsided margin of the victory, to play sports with a "Christ-like" approach? As the mother of one of the student athletes says above, what does it mean to "represent Christ?" Is there a deeper meaning to the athletic offense because the students, administrators and family members say they are representing Christ as opposed to a vaguer sense of secular athletic honor?
More specifically, do these student athletes hold themselves to a higher standard than one expected of athletes who do not play for religious institutions? More broadly, is there a religious angle to this story that could receive more attention in the news pages?