Sports ethicists, coaches voice concerns on prep routs
By Jim Halley, USA TODAY
The game has been over for more than two weeks, but the score lives on.
The perfect awfulness of The Covenant School’s 100-0 defeat of Dallas Academy got the losing team on national television, the winning coach fired and ignited the issue of sportsmanship in girls basketball.
Tom Gonsalves, the coach at St. Mary’s (Stockton, Calif.), No. 16 in the USA TODAY Super 25 rankings, saw his team beat Stagg (Stockton) 98-10 in a district game last week, despite a running clock in the fourth quarter. He said his team reached 98 points with four minutes to go.
“We didn’t want to score 100,” he said. “It’s hard to tell my kids not to play hard. We are known for shooting 40 three-pointers a game. That’s the part of coaching I don’t enjoy right now. I’d hate to have my own kids embarrassed, so I understand.”
For sports ethicists, the issue is clear-cut. When a game gets out of hand, it’s the winning coach’s job to adjust.
“This is not a close question,” said Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute in Los Angeles. “You have to ask, what is the ultimate goal of coaching? It should be teaching good life skills. When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100, he did it against a professional team. It’s a huge difference when you’re dealing with children. It’s a terrible black eye to believe that people are defending the proposition that there is anything worthwhile about that type of game.”
Dan Doyle, executive director of the Institute for International Sport at the University of Rhode Island, says the solution can be subtle. “The line of demarcation was whether the outcome of the game was still in question,” he said. “Once you cross that line, the first thing you stop is the full-court press. Particularly if the press involves traps. You’re obligated to put your subs in. You don’t need to fast break. I never told my players to miss shots or let the other team shoot, but a discerning coach can manage in a way in which no one is wounded.
“There are so many values that can be taught. There’s also the value of empathy. It’s at the core of a moral society.”
The smoke from the firestorm surrounding a 100-0 score in Dallas has obscured that routs are common in high school girls basketball.
The most recent numbers from the National Federation of State High School Associations show basketball is the most popular high school girls sport with 449,450 participants. But that growth has meant more teams of inexperienced players occasionally playing powerhouses. The results aren’t always pretty.
In addition to St. Mary’s lopsided win last week, another Super 25 team, No. 14 Westbury Christian (Houston), defeated Lutheran South (Houston) 73-6, and No. 24 Nimitz (Irving, Texas) rolled to a 108-21 win vs. Aldine (Houston).
Sometimes, coaches say, there isn’t much a winning or losing team can do to avoid a rout.
“Westbury Christian did nothing wrong,” Lutheran South coach Gary Himmler said. “We were just outmatched. … Our tallest player is 5-6, and they have a couple of players over 6 foot and they’re fast and athletic. Westbury didn’t press us. But they still played an aggressive halfcourt defense, and we didn’t get very many shots off. We even jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but we just didn’t get many shots off after that.”
Gonsalves, whose team also has won by 107-17 and 107-30 scores this season, says there’s not much to be gained from a lopsided game for either team.
“We had one of those games last night,” he said of a 71-30 defeat of Edison (Fresno). “We didn’t play two of our starters. We didn’t press but played a 3-2 zone the whole game. We had a running clock the second half. All you do is get frustrated. You’re trying not to embarrass anybody, but you do have to try to get your team better.”
The trick, Westbury coach Reed Sutton says, is to find games within the game to keep your players involved without running up the score.
“The challenge is how you can keep the score down and make your kids feel like they’re getting better and not make the other team think that you’re being condescending,” Sutton said.
In The Covenant School’s (100-point blowout of Dallas Academy on Jan. 13:
•Covenant kept its defensive pressure through most of the game vs. a team that hadn’t won in four years. The score was 59-0 at halftime and 88-0 going into the fourth quarter. Covenant didn’t let up until it scored its 100th point midway through the fourth. There was no shot clock.
•Two days after the game, The Dallas Morning News wrote a story about it.
•Ten days after the game, The Covenant School said it would seek to forfeit the win and issued an apology to Dallas Academy.
•Micah Grimes, the coach at The Covenant School, was fired Sunday after he denounced his school’s apology for the rout.
Said Sutton: “We feel like defensively it’s the other team’s responsibility to score. Offensively, we play as hard as we can in the first half. Typically, at halftime we make adjustments. We substitute early and often. We try to treat it as a practice. We’ll work on our zone attack.”