Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gridiron Harmony: Winning Big & Sportsmanship

Finally Over by mdt1960
Finally Over, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
“Sportsmanship seems to fall by the wayside during the playoffs.” —2012 Montana Class C Six-Man title game spectator

FALL BY THE WAYSIDE: fail to persist in an endeavor or undertaking: many readers will fall by the wayside as the terminology becomes more complicated.

Sometimes good sportsmanship is a dicey thing to define but, if you ever need to see an illustration of good sportsmanship in its purest form, Montana Class C six-man football will likely give you the most prolific demonstration.

I found myself wondering about it as I watched the six-man title game in Hot Springs this past weekend. With a halftime score advantage of 49-0 over their opponent from Big Sandy, the Savage Heat continued to play their starters for the entire game despite establishing an unquestionable superiority over the Pioneers early on. The bleeding finally stopped when the last seconds ticked off even though the scoreboard read 77-0. Thank goodness for the continuous running clock.

From the Montana High School Association Football Handbook: “In Classes A, B or C (8 and 6 player) football game, if at any time the score differential reaches 35 points or more, the clock will not be stopped when: A) The ball goes out-of-bounds. B) A forward pass is incomplete. C) A fair catch is made or awarded. D) A touchback occurs. E) A first down is declared. If the score differential falls below 35 points, normal timing procedures will be utilized.”

Even the Billings Gazette mentioned the lopsided score, citing it as the largest winning victory in a title game, previously held by Moore when they defeated Brady 63-13 in the 1984 six-man championship. However, it fell just shy of the 80 points scored in one contest when Geraldine needed all but one of those 80 points to defeat Custer 80-78 in the 2003 title game.

When I asked a couple of Big Sandy fans about it, they weren’t as resentful as I would have suspected. In fact, the few I spoke with with were downright understanding but, they all agreed that pulling their starters after a big lead would have been their choice had they been the Hot Springs coach—if nothing else to give the reserve players the opportunity to have played in a title game.

Gray Breaks Free by mdt1960
Gray Breaks Free, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Let me say here that I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Hot Springs football team, and I take nothing away from their undisputed Class C Six-Man title. I’ve seen more than my share of six-man championships and this year’s Savage Heat could certainly run with the other past champions.

“It’s a coach’s prerogative,” cited one fan. “But, if I faced them another time and the tables were turned, I’d return today’s favor.”

I was tempted to ask one of the Savage Heat coaches what the motive was for leaving their starters in for the entire game with such a commanding lead but, I suspected that such a query would take away from a coach’s earned championship celebration. Simply put, it seemed like an unsportsmanlike question in the wake of such jubilation.

Ultimately my hope is that there was some hidden or unknown rationale for the apparent sportsmanship faux pas. Perhaps both coaches agreed before the game that no matter the outcome, they were going to play their starters the entire game because it would be their last (at least for the eight seniors from both teams who started). I’d like to believe that this rationale, although not obvious, was the factor in the overstated victory.

For all I know, there had been some trash talk going on between the two teams during the past week via an Internet chat room. That would certainly explain the game’s outcome as well.

Of course, some would say that such scores are often the nature of six-man football which I wouldn’t dispute. Yet, when an existing lopsided score becomes even more acute, it is often the result of the reserve teams adding their own tallies to the scoreboard.

Whatever the rationale behind the “piling on the points” by Hot Springs, I hope there was plenty of good intention behind it as opposed to the annihilation and humiliation of their opponent—which would be a contradiction to one of six-man football’s most outstanding attributes. Mind you, what often appears on the surface and the intentions underneath aren’t always the same, nor are they known by the average fan/spectator during such lopsided matches.

Small town high school football has always reminded me of the stories my father would tell when he played football in the early 1940s; a time when the game wasn’t hyped up, good sportsmanship was practiced by everyone who played, and there was an air of innocence to it—more so than today’s game. And back then, I’m told they didn’t have playoffs. So, after a 7-0 season all one could say was that their team went 7-0, period. There was nothing to prove beyond that.

Don’t get me wrong here: I look forward to the playoffs as much as anyone, but it is a bit disconcerting if their arrival somehow translates to a downgrade or dismissal of good sportsmanship.


Anonymous said...

My research shows that in 2009 Big Sandy beat Box Elder 103-0. Why is that ok? Big Sandy has been blowing teams out for years. This was only the second year for Hot Springs to play 6 man footabll. In this Championship game Hot Springs played ALL 15 kids on their roster. The seniors and starters deserved to play out their final game. If you were a senior would you want to sit out the whole second half of a State Championship game??? Probably NOT. The other 11 games of the season the starters only played half the game because of a major blowout.

Amy Gray said...

If you had taken the time to talk to one of the Hot Springs coaches, they would have been more than willing to explain the decision to play the three seniors throughout the entire game. The Savage Heat football team put up huge numbers all season long and in at least 4 if not more of the regular season games they had hit a score of 40 -0 by the end of the first quarter and the starters didn't play any more in those games and most of the rest of the games it was a running clock by the end of the first half and the starters were out for the second half. The starters on this team saw less playing time throughout the regular season than the rest of the boys because the coaches would have the starters on the sidelines and the reserves playing most of the game because of the score. There was a big joke with the kids on the team because the reserves earned their letter before the starters because they had played more quarters in the beginning of the season. Even during the playoff games, the starters found themselves on the sidelines during the games. The coach, who by the way is one of the nicest, most honorable and humble coaches you will ever come across promised our three seniors they could play one entire game this season no matter what because they had been out for so many of them. He did sub in the rest of the team during the entire game and every single one of the younger kids got to play in that championship game. I really wish you would have taken the time to talk to the coaches and get their side of the story. There was a reason for those boys to play... it was their last high school game and they had worked so hard to earn the chance to play and to get to play one entire game. There was never any intention of disrespecting the Big Sandy team at all. Coach Lawson, Coach Holland, and Coach Clairmont were just keeping a promise to three very deserving young men.

Wayne Cross said...

Hey Blogger, Anonymous and Amy Gray said it all, better and much nicer than i would. You're obviously a bleeding heart liberal who can't stand seein' some excellence and domination in sports !!! Come out of your parents basement and stop using those evil fossil fuels . wind power pal !!!
Wayne Cross

Morgan Tyree said...

Yes they did Wayne, and so much more elegant than you (i.e., sticking to the subject) ...why did you even bother?

Paula Morigeau said...

Just ran across your blog and love all your photos! I had a son on the Hot Springs team and am friends with Amy, she said it perfectly and I do hope people read her comment. The coaches this year were amazing at letting all the kids play in every game, including the championship game. My son is a freshman and actually earned enough points to letter before some of the starters this year because our coaches pulled them so early in all of our regular season games, just as Amy stated. It was an amazing experience for everyone on the team and all of us parents and fans as well.
As an aside, I loved all of your photos of Butte! One of my favorite places and you have a great eye for beauty. Glad I stumbled on your blog.

anitalewis said...

I recently spoke with a coach about this very same issue. Coming from a VERY small six man school, we are continuously getting dominated by our opponents who always seem to leave their big guys in until the very end. However, I just got a new perspective. If a coach were to put in his freshman for, say, the last quarter of a very lopsided game, and they were playing against a team of juniors and seniors who were all angry at outcome of the game, there is a very real chance of a smaller player getting hurt. I agree that some coaches are only in it to rack up the points, but I also believe that there are others out there who genuinely care about their players.