The Perfect Score

February 12th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

A losing team offers a lesson in playing for more than the final score.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

When a Texas basketball collided with this American aphorism— It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game —there was an explosion of conflicting opinions about the true meaning of victory and doing the right thing.

The score heard ‘round the world--100 to 0—came to light in January, with the infamous mismatch of two girls’ high school basketball teams in Dallas. The Covenant School—Christian and private—pummeled Dallas Academy, small and private and catering to students with dyslexia, “concentration” problems, and “learning differences.”

The Academy girls haven’t won a game for more than four years, but Covenant’s unrelenting steal-and-layup punishment offered its own lessons.

“My girls never quit,” the Academy’s proud coach told a local newspaper reporter. “They played as hard as they could to the end.”

His words were a layup to readers’ hearts. Soon another aphorism— Everyone loves a winner —was being turned upside down.

In a rapid cascade of events, Covenant’s headmaster posted an unprecedented apology on the school’s website, calling his team’s winning performance “shameful” and “a victory without honor” which “does not reflect a Christ-like” approach to competition. Announcing it was forfeiting the game, Covenant praised losing Dallas Academy for their “strength, composure and fortitude in a game in which they clearly emerged the winner.”

Covenant’s coach disagreed with the headmaster’s mea culpa. “We played the game as it was meant to be played,” "he wrote to a newspaper, and refused to apologize for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity.” Hours later he was fired.

“Our national ethics lesson,” one reporter dubbed the incident which left many divided over who did or didn’t do the right thing. Dallas Academy knew the rules going in, some said, and if it couldn't stand the heat, it shouldn't have played the game. Others lamented the loss of sportsmanship. Some felt that the school’s apology and the coach’s firing were unnecessary, while others said winning doesn’t matter and the schools shouldn’t have kept score.

Tell us what you think: Who bears what responsibility in this case—the Covenant coach, the Covenant team, the Dallas Academy team? Who won, who lost? Is it really true that winning doesn’t matter?

_For information about creating positive sports experiences for kids, log on to ResponsibleSports.com. Sponsored by Liberty Mutual, the site offers parents and coaches tips, tools, and advice designed to help maximize their kids’ youth sports experience. Parents can also take part in online discussions, asking questions and sharing experiences about how best to help kids apply the life lessons of sports--on and off the field. Because, as The Home Run reminds us, there’s more to the game than winning.