Ostensibly, a trip to the basketball gym at South Torrance High School to watch my little girl Emily performing a dance routine with other young cheer campers should have been an exercise in joy and pride, and the journey into the gym itself a little jaunt down Memory Lane since I’d played many a basketball game there in my youth. And while both of those things did in fact happen – Emily and the little campers strutted their stuff flawlessly (and cutely) and I recalled my days of full-haired, youthful glory – I still walked away from the experience sad and disgusted by most of the things I saw and heard during the course of the varsity hoops game.
It started with the players.
Now perhaps this has always been the case with youth and high school sports, but I’ve never seen a group as uninterested in playing a Friday night basketball game as the boys from Torrance and South looked on this night. I hate to already pull an “I remember in my day…” reference in this post, but I seem to recall Friday night football and basketball games being a seriously big deal, and while the crowd was large (the gym was packed) and enthusiastic, the players for both teams all appeared like they would all like to be doing anything except playing basketball on this night.
I have no idea of the won-loss records for either school, and I don’t know the history of any of the players, but I could tell that the Torrance squad appeared to have both size and talent in their favor in this match-up, however Torrance missed many shots in the early going from close range, and there was no desire on their part to go after offensive rebounds. There was one kid in particular on Torrance who did not play a lick of defense and was forever chucking up long-range shots and seen admiring each shot rather than crashing the key to track down his frequent misses. The center for Torrance seemed like a guy who has a future in the game, but he appeared to delight more in his indifference to the sport of basketball and the shape of his awesome hair than doing anything resembling a big man’s game.
The players from South meanwhile, seemed a little more focused, but lacked in the skills department.
Being a Torrance Tartar (hello Class of 1985), it would seem that I would have a healthy disdain for the Spartans of South, but with Emily cheering-on the green and white I felt the need to remain objective, and since we were sitting right on the court next to the Spartan bench I really felt a kinship with my sworn enemy. Still, it was difficult to watch at times as the Spartans had some chuckers who were heaving shots from 3-point land with not much accuracy in the first half, and their best player – their center – was a big man lacking a soft touch.
He even air-balled a free throw.
The game was very entertaining, and when Torrance would expand a mostly undeserved lead to double digits the South squad would claw its way back into the game and narrow the gap through grit and tenacity.
Entertaining yes, but still troubling for another ugly aspect.
While I mentioned previously that both teams seem disinterested in the contest, the players did seem to settle in nicely as the flow of competition heated up, but something a little more sinister was brewing on the South High bench that pretty much ruined the whole experience for me.
Poor sportsmanship. Bad leadership. Faulty coaching.
Call it what you want, but whatever it was that the South Torrance coaching staff subscribed to when it came to being the adults leading the young men on this particular night, it was filled with poor judgement, harsh words and actions that left a big black eye on the sport, as well as a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach for anyone within earshot of the South bench on this particular night.
Sure, I’ve been a fan of sports all my life and I’ve taken issue with poor officiating from the comfort of my arena seat or sofa many, many times, but never to the point of being obnoxious and certainly never threatening or vulgar. What started as an almost running gag from the opening tip, both the South Torrance head coach and assistant were up in arms about every single call the two officials made against their squad, as well as any non-calls when their team failed to execute and they felt certain that it had to do with a Torrance foul rather than the poor execution of the South players. The jumping off the bench, exasperated head-slapping and referee baiting was worthy of multiple technical fouls and perhaps an ejection, but to the credit of these two officials they mostly ignored both South coaches and let the game be decided by the players.
Unfortunately, as the game wore on and became tantalizingly close in the final minutes, the actions and words of both South coaches only got worse, with F-bombs and accusations flowing like water.
The most unfortunate aspect of these coaches’ words and actions was the impact on the South Torrance players, as over time they too succumbed to being supposed victims of poor officiating rather than facing a difficult opponent. By the end of the third quarter and for most of the fourth the Spartan players could be seen gesticulating wildly with every call that went against South.
An obvious goaltending call against the Spartans was met with derision and cursing.
A non-call when the South High center missed a lay-up was met with gnashing of teeth and mocking.
Now I’m certainly no saint, but I have some ideas about the responsibility of youth and high school sports coaching and they feature an emphasis on equipping kids to succeed by showing them leadership and sportsmanship even in the face of adversity.
This was not a good example of that apparently high ideal.
With less than a minute remaining and the outcome of the game very much in doubt, the South Torrance center had the ball down low and took a short shot that would give the Spartans the lead, but he missed.
The Spartan bench erupted in fury.
To his credit, the center claimed the rebound from his own missed shot, but missed a seemingly easy put-back. Bodies were flying in every which direction under the basket, as the previously disinterested players for both teams were in a mad scramble for the loose ball. Torrance came up with it and advanced it to midcourt.
The South bench was incredulous. There is no way with all the bodies flying around and two missed shots that the Spartans were NOT fouled, right? More yelling, screaming and cursing at the officials. A timeout was called and players retreated to their respective benches before the climactic final seconds were played out.
That’s when things got a little more interesting and personal for me.
The South Torrance coach walked away from his players as they came over to huddle for instruction. The players looked confused as they watched their coach stomp across the court to speak to one of the school’s administrators, whom I’m assuming was the Athletic Director. Even with the energetic crowd still buzzing loudly from the last play before the timeout the coach’s voice was easily heard from my vantage point as he screamed to the A.D. –
“These f***ing guys better never be allowed to f***ing ref another f***ing game in this gym!”
The A.D. seemed to agree and made some sort of guarantee that these two officials would never be allowed on South’s sacred court ever again.
This is when I could take it no longer.
I’d paid for my daughter to attend South High’s cheer camp and we’d paid for the tickets to the game, so I felt I was within my rights to say something about the sad, sad example that this coach, and now with the A.D. onboard, the school was setting. Even still, my thought bubble was telling me to bite my tongue and say nothing as the coach stomped back past me towards his beleaguered team.
“Don’t say anything Don. Just stay cool. It’s not your problem….”
Yeah, it was my problem. But I’d stay reasonably cool.
“Way to play the victim card coach!”
Okay, it wasn’t entirely original, and perhaps I had sunk a bit to his level, but I became more and more convinced that as the game continued that the message coming from the South Torrance coaches to the Spartan players was that they were victims of bad calls and that was it. There were no opportunities to do anything different, play defense a little better, box-out for rebounds a little more effectively or knock down easy shots and free throws.
No, it was all on the officials.
“What did you say?”
Now the South coach was glaring right at me from only a few feet away and he wanted to know what I’d said.
“Way to play the victim card coach!”
He didn’t hesitate (or break from character).
“Mind your own f***ing business,” was his retort.
Meanwhile, the Athletic Director sensed a tempest brewing and he approached, but rather than simply telling his coach to settle down he barked at me to “Shut the f*** up!”
Oh geez. I guess Emily and Trevor are not going to be received with open arms should we decide to enroll them at South High in seven and twelve years respectively. There goes the neighborhood!
Cooler heads prevailed and coach went back to complaining and coaching, A.D. went back to supervising and sulking, and I went back to being a silent witness to the “victimization” of South Torrance High’s basketball team for the final few seconds.
It was a draining experience, but one that has left me thinking about the sad state of youth and high school athletics if this is to be the example of how things are and will be. Is this really how it is going to be? I thought back to my little league, basketball and soccer experiences of youth as well as my athletic endeavors of high school and I do recall there being a lot of politics when it came to certain aspects of the selection process and for the most part I remember some parents being vocal to the point of obnoxiousness, but nothing as damning as what I’d seen on Friday night. Still, I remained hopeful that what I’d seen, heard, and ultimately experienced was an aberration. The exception and not the rule.
So I had hope….
Sunday afternoon had us at the park with friends when I took note of a youth basketball clinic being given on the courts in the center of the park. I saw a few green South High caps as I approached, but I did not see either the head or assistant Spartan coach, so I was fairly relieved. I stood near one of the hoops to watch the little guys running up and down the court in a scrimmage and took heart in the fact that the coaches were very patient and encouraging.
Good. There is hope for humanity.
Well, then there was “Jeremy.”
Jeremy (all the boys had on matching camp t-shirts with a number and first name on the back) was the biggest little kid on the court, but Jeremy wasn’t interested in running.
But Jeremy was very good at yelling at his teammates and demanding that he be given the ball. Jeremy was extremely skilled in blaming others when things did not go his way. When Jeremy heaved a shot over the backboard and onto the grass he was heard blaming another player on is team. When his team turned the ball over Jeremy was heard to exclaim, “Why did you do that?” to the unfortunate little mate who dared to make a mistake.
Certainly Jeremy’s parents were unhappy with this display, and just as soon as I’d had that thought I saw a lady telling someone on her cell phone to hold on. She cupped her hand over the phone and then screeched as loudly as possible, “Stop whining Jeremy!”
Oh Jeremy. You’re going to fit in quite nicely on the South Torrance basketball team in a few years.
Here’s to hoping that the poor parenting, failed leadership and angst-filled mannerisms are not symptomatic of something in the water here in South Torrance, lest the Fultons find themselves subscribing to the victim/entitlement mentality so prevalent in the basketball examples I’ve presented you with on this day.
Perhaps we should consider a move back to blue-collar Pedro.
Nah, I think we’re here for the long haul so we’ll either need to adjust or take a stand, and while (somewhat passive-aggressive) words are fine and dandy I do think that if those high ideals I preached earlier are to take root around here I’ll likely need to get involved. What that means for me I have no clue, but I do have one idea…
Coach Fulton anyone?