There is such a thing as competitive etiquette
In Friday night’s Sonoma County League opener on the road, Sonoma Valley High School’s varsity football boys, who came into the game having posted a successful preseason 3-1 nonleague record, were overwhelmed by the speed, size and talent of the far-better Windsor Jaguars, who cruised to a 53-7 win.
Yes, the heavy pre-game underdogged Dragons were outplayed in all facets of the game by a juggernaut Windsor team which is not only the SCL title-favorite, but the top-rated team in the Redwood Empire that is ranked 16th in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Yes, Sonoma’s coaches, players and fans know what brought the Dragons down were their six turnovers in the game, with four of them directly resulting in 28 Windsor points, including an interception and stripped-fumble returned for touchdowns.
No, Sonoma faced reality and wasn’t a sore loser, but, on the other hand, Windsor surely wasn’t a gracious winner and didn’t show some respect for the opposition, which should always be a major part of high school athletics, sports in general.
Near the end and after the rout, there were some grumblings from the Sonoma sidelines, and bleachers of fans, about how Windsor finished off its one-sided win.
While Sonoma acknowledged its own shortcomings and totally confirmed the strength and quality of the Jaguars, there still was the questioning of “gamesmanship and etiquette” because of their playing of first-stringers, and still passing the ball, into the fourth quarter, while holding a 39-point lead.
On the other, Sonoma ended the third-quarter and started the fourth-quarter with backup players at most positions.
The question is why didn’t Windsor do the same, but, instead, run up the score?
To demonstrate its superiority in the league and the Empire?
To boost its power ratings in the Bay Area?
Or, as it was stated in a another newspaper, the coaches felt the team had to stop its sloppy play and needed to focus, despite holding a 40-0 halftime lead?
In the beginning of the third-quarter, the Dragons did take advantage of some so-called sloppy Windsor play and scored their lone touchdown.
So I guess the Jaguars felt their lead was being threatened to the point of keeping the first units employed into the fourth-quarter to secure their victory by tallying 13 more points.
I’m not saying that the players on winning teams should stop playing hard and go easy on their opponents.
Yet, with big leads – and this isn’t only directed at Windsor, but to all strong teams, because I see a lot of lopsided scores every week, like 61-0 over the weekend – I wonder how long those squads were using their first-teamers.
If a team has an insurmountable lead after three-quarters, why not put in its second-teamers for the fourth-quarter to get much-needed “game” experience and then clear the bench so all the kids get a chance for some real action.
And if the back-up players keep on marching down the field and adding points to a big lead late, that’s perfectly acceptable, because we’re talking competitive sports here and every athlete should be giving his or hers maximum efforts.
I’ve been covering high school sports for 19 years and, as a sportswriter, former very competitive prep and college athlete, all-around sports fan, and a parent, it’s really disconcerting and disrespecting to run up scores at the prep level – especially when the game is out way of reach.
What is gained by pummeling an athlete or a team when they are already down and out, with no chance to win?
And don’t tell me that at certain times there’s the question of what is a comfortable lead that can withstand a comeback?
I think a 39-point advantage after three quarters is a pretty comfortable lead.
The week before the Windsor game, the Dragons defeated Elsie Allen handily and could’ve tacked on a lot more points than their 37-point total, while not yielding 22 points, if they stayed with their starters into the fourth-quarter.
But Sonoma chose to show something called “competitive etiquette,” which should always be applied at the prep level.
This isn’t college or pro sports were talking about – it’s high school sports and the student-athletes who participate are in their mid-to-late teens and are dealing with enough pressure that they don’t need to be humiliated.
Again, I’m not saying a team or an athlete needs to hold back and not give his or her all for the sake of sparing feelings, because if someone competes, they better be able to accept defeat, because there’s always a winner and a loser. If you can’t handle it, don’t compete.
But once you’ve got a win well in hand, you don’t need to keep hammering away, because it’s best to be both a gracious winner and loser in both sports and life.