Sportsmanship, not scoreboard, defines winners

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of covering the Elkins Little League 9-10-year-old All-Star District 8 tournament in Summersville. It was the culmination of regular and post-season play, during which time I sat through countless ballgames.

Children at this age are a joy to watch because they’ve learned the fundamentals and are at a point where they work to foster maturity on the field. Sometimes the kids make amazing plays and sometimes opportunity – much like the ball – slips through their fingers, or in this case, the glove.

Given how fresh and new these youngsters are, one has patience and understanding when the kids show what some consider to be too much emotion. Whether it’s excess celebration or disappointment that results in tears on the field, I’ve seen it all this season.

These are teachable moments when the adults in these children’s lives should use sports as a way to impart core values that build character. That’s the way things are supposed to happen, in theory at least.

Sadly, that’s not always the case, especially with regard to one’s opponent. What I’ve also witnessed at these sporting events is the same erratic, uncontrolled and, yes, I’ll say it, unsportsmanlike conduct exhibited by a few of the adults in attendance. It has happened not just here locally, but at the tournament level as well. And the offenders: well they are parents, other spectators, coaches and even umpires.

While many involved in youth sports work very hard to set a good example of sportsmanship, a few can and do lose their cool. This devalues the countless hours other role models invest in trying to set a good example. Kids – heck, people in general – tend to remember the bad more readily than the good. Why? Perhaps it is because conflict has an element of danger or excitement to it for some.

But so, too, do playing by the rules, doing your best and battling it out on the field of contest. Winning against a worthy adversary always feels sweeter than facing no competition at all. Isn’t that what we love about sports?

My father always taught me that any team could best another on any given day. It all depends on how much you want the win, how prepared you are in that moment and how prepared or focused your opponent isn’t. That’s how legends fall – if only for one match-up – and how Cinderella stories make their way into the record book.

Sports in our culture always will be hotly debated. They evoke strong emotions and almost force us to pick sides. Games – which truly are just that: playtime – are overseen and run by individuals who are human like you and me. We’re all fallible on and off the field.

Sometimes players, coaches and umps or referees make the right move. Sometimes they don’t. The same is true of fans.

State tournaments will commence shortly. If they are anything like districts or the games leading up to them, I’m sure there will be a multitude of errors on both sides of the fence.

Calls will be blown, kids will play like the youngsters they are and everyone can learn from the mishaps.

The only aspect of the game we fans truly can control is our game plan for handling the inevitable: imperfection in sports. I hope that everyone involved with this great pastime remembers sportsmanship, not the scoreboard, defines winners. That’s what not only makes a champion, but it also develops future leaders – a true hallmark of sports at its finest.