January 30, 2015

Be Our Guest / Michael O’Connor

CYO participant teaches lesson about sportsmanship and integrity

Perspective is often hard to find in today’s hyped-up, overheated world of Twitter, Instagram and the other multitude of “instant” news dissemination, all of which require us to make immediate determination on issues in which the facts are not fully known.

We don’t know conclusively yet if the footballs that the New England Patriots were using were deliberately underinflated, but we can be certain that it had little to do with the outcome of the game. I say that even though I’d love to find a reason that the Patriots weren’t simply better than my Colts team that day.

Whatever the outcome of “deflate-gate,” I am sure even when the facts are uncovered it will be debated as to whether they are the facts or not. We do know that decisions like this often muddy the real question of what is right and what is wrong. We can easily dismiss this as only sports, but it educates us for decisions that take place throughout our entire life.

I have been afforded the great opportunity to participate as a coach in a variety of sports and teams through the local Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) at Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis.

As coaches, we are reminded that our job is not necessarily to just coach fundamentals and to try to win games. We are teachers of young minds about how to play with sportsmanship, how to exercise honesty in play and how to maintain integrity in competitive situations.

As with most endeavors of this kind, I have always gotten more in return than I have given in time and effort. As I pondered “deflate-gate,” it reminded me of a coaching situation a few years ago.

My Holy Spirit seventh- and eighth-grade girls were playing a softball game against the Cardinal Ritter junior high team. It was a playoff game, and the winner moved on.

Holy Spirit built an early lead but, in the late innings, Ritter’s junior high team was making a run at us.

It was the final inning, and Ritter had base runners on, and the winning run was at the plate with two outs. The young lady from Ritter had two strikes, and the umpire had called a third strike on her, but it was possible that the bat made contact with the ball which would have allowed her to take another pitch.

The Ritter coach, doing his job, argued to the umpire that the bat made contact, and the umpire looked at the young lady and asked her if the ball had hit her bat?

The situation, if she said, “Yes, it did,” meant the game continues and they have a chance to win. If she said, “No, it didn’t,” the game is over and Holy Spirit moves on in the playoffs as Ritter heads home for the season. This young lady looked at the umpire and responded simply, “No, the ball didn’t hit the bat.”

I don’t remember that young lady’s name, but I made sure that the leaders of the Indianapolis CYO program were aware of the sportsmanship exhibited that day.

We may well be disappointed that a team playing in the Super Bowl won the wrong way, but we should feel comforted knowing that, where it really counts, the message about sportsmanship and integrity seems to be getting through.

(Michael O’Connor is a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis.)

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