It’s how you play the game that matters

Let’s cut to the chase. Losing stinks.

Whether by one point or 100, when the scoreboard turns its back on you and your team, it stings.

While I’m quite a few years from my high school playing days (no big secret there), the lessons learned on the football field and on the wrestling mat — both good and bad — remain with me to this day.

“Don’t quit.” “Respect your opponent.” “Play the game the right way.” “Win with honor, lose with dignity.”

My coaches offered these regularly. As a father, I hope to share them with my son when or if he decides to play organized sports. These phrases are timeless because they hold meaning. They teach us how to deal with adversity, achieve goals and keep our egos in check in both sports and in life.

Unfortunately, for every good coach, there is a bad. You know, the ones that don’t bat an eye when given an opportunity to run up a score (cough, cough, Bill Belichick). They believe in winning at all costs and can give the profession a bad name.

So whenever a lopsided score pops up, regardless of sport, the same questions tend to follow: “Why didn’t they stop the game?” “How could they embarrass the other team like that?” “Why isn’t there a mercy rule?”

In Week 1 of the Indiana high school football season, we had our fair share of one-sided affairs. There’s no denying that fact.

Avon 41, Plainfield 0; Beech Grove 74, Indianapolis Lutheran 21; Columbus North 54, Franklin 7; Gibson Southern 63, Forest Park 0; Ben Davis 63, Arsenal Tech 0; New Palestine 56, Lawrenceburg 14; Greenfield-Central 70, Indianapolis Shortridge 0.

First things first: None of these final scores threatened to dethrone the debacle in Kansas when Haven High School pummeled Sylvia High School 256-0 in 1927.

Were some of last week’s margins gaudy? Sure. Were they malicious? Not quite.

Case in point, Greenfield-Central High School athletics director Jared Manning and football coach Roger Dodson didn’t go into last Friday’s game blind.

Under contract to play Class A Shortridge one last time, the two men discussed the possibility of a blowout. It wasn’t overconfidence. It was just the facts.

They knew the Blue Devils lost a considerable amount of talent from last year’s team that finished 8-3. They are rebuilding, while Class 4A Greenfield-Central’s enrollment and roster dwarfed them by a considerable amount.

So measures were put in place.

It was decided long before the opening kick: The starters would be pulled once the game was decided, a running clock would be offered, sportsmanship must come first.

“Obviously, we didn’t think we were going to score as much as we did, but having a plan before is important to get through some things on a night like that,” Manning said. “Our coaches had things they wanted to accomplish that night, but once the score got to a point where it was wasn’t going to do the teams any good, substitutions were made.”

Calling off the dogs is an unwritten rule in blowouts, and one Greenfield-Central deserves to be applauded for following. Scoring 35 points by the end of the first quarter, numerous records could have fallen at the expense of Shortridge. 

Instead, coach Dodson, and his 23-years of coaching wisdom, did the right thing … get your work in, execute the game plan, win the day, walk away with integrity.

After a 32-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, the Cougars didn’t score again. 70 points was more than enough.

“You never like seeing games like that, but to see a coaching staff really try to manage it so we don’t embarrass a team is nice to see,” Manning said. “They put a lot of thoughts into the things they were doing and really tried their best to make sure the score wasn’t run up.”

Class 5A New Palestine approached their game against Class 3A Lawrenceburg with a similar plan. Actually, it’s been the same since coach Kyle Ralph arrived three years ago.

Preparing for every week like it’s Week 15, the Dragons’ average margin of victory in 2014 was 46.6 points. They beat Lawrenceburg by 42 without scoring a single point in the fourth quarter.

“When it’s time to pull the plug, we get our kids out. We did it last week. We completely pulled the starting kids and put our freshman and JV kids in there and let them finish it up. They’ve earned that playing time,” Ralph said.

Even in defeat, the losing team deserves respect and the opportunity to learn and grow. Something coaches like Ralph believe is an essential part of the game.

Baseball has its 10-run mercy rule, which takes effect after five innings during a regular-season game. And in wrestling a 15-point margin results in a technical fall at any point in a match.

A running clock and sportsmanship is all you need in football, remarked Ralph, though he’s a little iffy on the former — unless the losing team agrees to it … just like Shortridge did in the third quarter.

“If we were on the flip side of things and were getting beat 70-0, I wouldn’t ask for mercy from anybody because our kids have got to know what that feels like,” Ralph said. “Disappointment and failure is a part of life. It’s going to teach you to work harder. … I don’t want a team to come out and take a knee on and second and third down and punt it away. I would be more embarrassed by that than if they score a 70th, 84th or 91st point.

“Sometimes it’s a motivational thing for kids. There’s a good and a bad with it, and you don’t want to embarrass anybody, but it’s how you play the game that matters.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.