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The Real Losers in the Game that Nobody Wanted to Win

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ennessee’s state high school athletic association (TSSAA) has booted two girls’ high school basketball teams out of the postseason and put them on probation for the next school year, after each team allegedly tried to lose their playoff game. NBC News reports that a high school referee in charge of the February 21 playoff game between Riverdale and Smyrna told the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association that “Both teams played to lose the game.” The referee said that from the start, both teams avoided playing their first-string players and passed the ball around aimlessly. When one coach told the team to foul the opponent’s players so that they could take easy foul shots, the shooters intentionally missed them. In his report to the TSSAA, the referee said that the last straw was when a Smyrna player was getting ready to take a shot at the wrong basket. At that point, he called both coaches together and warned them that they “were not going to make a travesty or mockery of the game,” according to the LA Times. What was behind the losing strategy? The winner of the Riverdale-Smyrna game would face Blackman High School, the defending state champions. So the loser would, in theory, have an easier time of advancing through the next round of playoffs. Both Riverdale and Smyrna principals have apologized. WSMV.com reports that both coaches have been suspended for the rest of the school year as well as for the 2015-2016 season. It’s a sad scenario that begs a larger question: Who are the real losers in a game that nobody wanted to win? The student athletes: As it stands now, both teams are banned for the postseason and on probation for the next academic year. Athletes want to play, not sit. For the girls’ basketball teams at Riverdale and Smyrna, the season is over. And what hurts the most is that the cloud over these teams and their postseason ban could take potential scholarship recipients out of the recruiting spotlight. The schools: To be fair, an administrator saw what was happening, approached the coach and asked why the starters weren’t playing. The coach then put the first-string in, according to USA Today. And the principals have apologized. But do a Google search for Riverdale and Smyrna High Schools in Tennessee and see what comes up – not exactly the kind of PR that administrators, parents and the student body are hoping to see for their schools. The taxpayers: Both teams were fined $1500 , not exactly small change for high school athletic programs. Many school administrators I know are looking for funds anywhere they can find them; having to shell out money to pay for fines at a time when there isn’t enough to cover essentials would be tough. And guess who picks up the tab when there’s a shortfall? All of us: Why? Because there doesn’t appear to have been a voice of reason on either team. Did the coaches and players really think their apathy would go unnoticed, that they would get away with trying to lose without ultimately being disciplined? Regardless of whoever was behind the idea to intentionally lose the game, it seems that no one had the courage to question it. The focus of education has changed. Our society demands a fast-food approach, one that seeks to measure “tangibles” to determine that a child has learned. But when we aim for the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, what we abandon is the stuff of what life is about. At a time when we seem to be abandoning the teaching of critical thinking in exchange for teaching to the test, this is another illustration of why contemplating consequences matters and why students need to understand cause-and-effect, not to mention ethics and sportsmanship. And, more importantly, if we’re not teaching kids to question authority when they know something isn’t right, then we have a whole other set of problems.      

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  • Well said. I didn’t realize the schools were fined. That is a significant amount for a high school and likely to cause more deficiencies and again, impact on the student athletes.

    March 17, 2015

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