Benner/Sports and High School Sports and Sports Business

BENNER: Arlington girls dealt hard—but valuable—life-long lesson

December 15, 2012

Let the record show—because it does, even though you have to go way, way back into the archives to find it—that I once played on a high school football team, Center Grove, that got smacked by our conference rival, Plainfield, 70-7.

Yes, Plainfield was loaded that year, with a boatload of seniors, a couple of all-state players and all kinds of size and speed.

Still, 70-7! In the moment, it was humiliating and humbling. After that kind of lickin’, there was nary a peep on the bus ride back to the Grove.

But what I do remember about that night was that no one quit on our side. When we got knocked down, we got back up and tried our hardest.

The next week, at practice, we put it behind us. We won our next game, and three of the last four.

Seventy-to-seven was a blemish we couldn’t erase, but it didn’t stay with us long. Soon came basketball season, then spring sports, then graduation, then life. What I remember from my participation wasn’t so much the records as much as being part of a team.

So where am I going with this? Of course, Bloomington South, 107; Arlington, 2.

That was the final of a girls’ high school basketball game on Dec. 11, and it touched off a firestorm of controversy.

On the one side, some opined that the Bloomington South coach, Larry Winters, was a heartless, unsportsmanlike, run-it-up jerk who exploited a woefully undermanned opponent. All he had to do to avoid handing out such devastating humiliation was to tell his girls to quit shooting, to play only his reserves, and to basically—if I can borrow the football term—take a knee.

But then, what was he supposed to do? Tell his girls to stop trying? Wouldn’t merely passing the ball to one another for most of what was certainly going to be a rout merely add further insult to Arlington’s injury?

And there were extenuating circumstances: He had only nine players at his disposal and members of his junior varsity team were unavailable, having just played in a tournament.

And did this really do irreparable harm to the psyche of the Arlington girls, who had lost 23 games in a row over two seasons, were averaging but 17 points a game, and already had absorbed two 50-point defeats?

Maybe, just maybe, some suggested, the Arlington coach, Ebony Jackson, is doing a lousy job of coaching. I can’t make that judgment. Like virtually all of those who were commenting on the game, I don’t know her or her talent level, and I haven’t seen her team play.

In either case, I’m reminded of what former Purdue University men’s basketball coach Gene Keady used to say:

Don’t get bitter, get better.

Despite some of the instant moralizing in the media and chat rooms—and especially the instant “how-dare-he” condemnation of the Bloomington South coach—I don’t believe the Arlington girls will be forever scarred.

In sports, you can learn as much by losing (if not more) as by winning. If the Arlington coach—and I was encouraged by her statement, “I’m focused on me and mine and we’ll just keep going”—and her players can handle this and maintain perspective, they can handle most anything.

Sports, like life, sometimes dishes up hard lessons. But there are so many things that matter more than what goes up on a high school scoreboard. I’m sure my old Center Grove teammates—70-7 losers on a night 46 years distant— would agree.

And to the Arlington girls, I would say this loss will only make the victory that will come that much sweeter.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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