No one has devised a statistical meter for sportsmanship.
We need one. A statistic for sportsmanship could eradicate our scourge of high school basketball slaughters.
“Check this out!” a player could say to friends and family, “We’re so classy! So merciful! We might even win a state title in sportsmanship!”
Hey, we’re part of the problem. The Gazette celebrates statistics. The bigger, the better. If a player scores her/his 1,000th point, we clap really loud. All involved in the game – including college coaches holding those precious scholarships – watch those point totals.
Those numbers matter far too much to point-hungry players, coaches and moms and dads. (Especially the moms and dads.)
And what better time to pad those numbers than a blowout win? Easy baskets, and a chance to push that scoring average from 9.6 to an even 10.
No scoring star collects points sitting on the bench.
Routs are brutal for the losers. That’s easy to see. But the routs fail to nourish the winners, too. It’s bad, and it’s bad. Always the worst combo.
When Colorado Springs Christian girls basketball coach Mark Engesser examines the season for his 3A Lions, he first talks about battles with 4A Pueblo West and 5A Fruita Monument.
His Lions lost both games.
But the defeats to those powers exposed weakness and prepared his Lions for the terrors of the upcoming state tournament.
Engesser doesn’t want to talk – or think – about his 66-8 victory over Rye.
“I don’t even like those games,” Engesser said. “Unfortunately, you have to play your conference opponents. Rye, I’ll give them credit. They played hard, played all the way to the end.
“If I had a choice, I wouldn’t even play that game, I don’t like those games. It might help them a little bit to play a good team, but it doesn’t help us at all.”
The CSCS-Rye rampage is part of depressing trend of high school slaughters.
Let’s look at this month:
Sierra defeated Mitchell, 101-7. Mesa Ridge dropped four consecutive opponents by 333-114, including an 80-15 win over Mitchell. Engesser and CSCS have won its last five, 359-109.
In a 75-32 win over Vanguard, Engesser’s daughter Megan scored 39, or seven more than Vanguard. (Engesser points out the halftime score was a competitive 34-21.)
These bombardments are not new. Over a decade ago, the late Dennis Bruns directed his powerful Evangelical Christian Academy boys teams to nightly smackdowns.
Bruns was a kind man off the court but transformed with the clock running, pressing without mercy, running up scores and creating enemies. He collected a bundle of state titles, too. He won five.
Engesser has coached his children at every grade level. He’s endured massive losses. He understands the pain.
At CSCS, Engesser stops pressing once his lead hits 30 and starts but quickly pulls his starters in the fourth quarter.
“But,” he said, “you still have to play.”
Engesser speaks truth, the same truth spoken by coach Sierra Joe Williams after his 94-point rampage over Mitchell.
“My girls came out and competed. It’s competitive basketball,” Williams said. “I don’t tell my girls if you make a steal don’t use your athleticism.”
Clock running. Real game being played. And coach with humongous lead faces complicated choices, none positive.
Engesser, like other 3A coaches, is given only 19 games to prepare for the state tournament, and considers every minute a precious teaching opportunity. He dislikes battling against the Ryes on his schedule, but he won’t waste those nights. He and his team have work to do, improvements to make.
Can the Colorado High School Activities Association eliminate these blowouts? It won’t be easy. CHSSA implemented a mercy rule in the offseason that mandates a running clock in the fourth quarter if a team leads by 40 or more.
The rule worked, in a way, in Mesa Ridge’s recent 65-point win over Mitchell. The Grizzlies scored only six points in the fourth quarter.
But they already had scored 74 in the first three.
An obstacle to saner margins will stubbornly linger. An entrenched lack of competitive balance pollutes the games.
In Colorado, if a high school team in a metro area gets down, the team stays down.
A promising, talented basketball player heading into high school is unlikely to choose, say, Mitchell. Each year, promising, talented players choose winning teams, which insures losing teams keep losing.
This vicious cycle feeds the blowouts.
The best deterrent to out-of-control routs is fear. A 40-point lead should start a high school coach worrying about revenge in the hearts of a reeling opponent, and this thought of tomorrow should inspire today’s winning coach to halt aggressive scoring.
These lead-lowering thoughts are unlikely to arrive in the Colorado Springs area, where open enrollment keeps strong teams strong and weak teams weak.