Bear Hater? The secret's out.

Note: Originally written June, 2011    
     I have the opportunity during the school year to cover high school sports throughout Southwest Michigan.  As needed, part time and am grateful for what income it provides.   Regardless of the sport, observing the young athletes with varied skills interact as teams, the officials, school staff and the parents is a continual learning experience.
     Occasionally one gets to see moments of athletic brilliance, at least for a local level, but most of the time these students are learning to operate within the systems they've been coached, to achieve common goals, as best as they can.
     Two weeks ago I got to cover a local baseball rivalry of neighboring districts, one of which my older sons graduated from and my youngest still attends.  I don't often get to cover either of these schools for a variety of staffing reasons.  In particular it was nice because I know most of the players from 12 years of coaching or assistant coaching youth baseball.   These boys have played each other for years and will do so in the off season for those who play Legion ball.   Many of them attend the same churches.  They just happen to go to two different school districts in a county that has too many.
     The school district we live in came from behind to win the first game and then had a fairly easy time with the second game.   It was their moment and they won the conference championship in the process.  If I were still doing play by play on the radio, then bias is certainly allowed and called for.  In writing for newspapers about high school sports, there shouldn't be any of that.  I tell the story as I see it.
     I was very surprised then to learn that a three paragraph email came into the paper describing how clearly I was a Bear (school nickname) hater and a Lancer lover.  And maybe after they won the district title I'd give them some respect. 
     Really? From a parent whose school had won both games? It didn't feel like that when I went to every freshman and JV sporting event my sons participated in. I didn't feel like a hater a few years ago as I ran on onto the field when my son broke his neck playing football.  Or when he returned and started the next two years on the football team.   It didn't feel that way coaching local youth in sports for a dozen years, or watching my older boys graduate from the high school.
By the way, the two schools played again the following week in the state tournament and the outcome was reversed.  And neither team won the district.
     I understand the Michigan/Michigan State rivalries, but hatred for anyone, regardless of where they live or went to some school doesn't make any sense to me. I see the same misplaced anger all the time from parents (rarely coaches) bad mouthing the officials in ways they can hear.  Certainly that's really going to influence the umpires or referees to give your school more calls you like.
     It was particularly bad at this year's baseball districts I covered. Participating over the series of games were three different state baseball finals officials with over 50 years combined experience between them.   They got hammered by parents.  Sometimes, the parents shouted at each other across the diamond.
A desire to win I understand.  I have it, though mostly it gets put aside for the enjoyment and safety of others I'm participating with.  I guess there's hundreds of thousands of dollars in athletic scholarships riding on each high sporting event, and one human official's call will destroy that opportunity.
     Doubtful.  In fact the majority of these students won't participate in sports other than recreationally for the rest of their lives.  How can anyone really believe that who won this or that of the vast majority of this years high school sporting events is so crucial as to warrant hate and vitriol?
    Fortunately the vast majority of students I talk with know better.   There are outstanding positive attributes to team sports for youth and reams of data tracking social and developmental benefits.   Generally, its the parents who get in the way and do the damage.   Regretfully I'm sure there were days I behaved in some similar manner, and am grateful I now can watch without taking sides.  I think the years of coaching changed me.  Some days, "it's just baseball" as one coach recently told me.
     I could of course be completely mistaken.  It happens every now and then.
Bear Hater.  Of all the skeletons that's the one I least worried about.  I've been called much worse names, and some of them deservedly so.
     Now that the secret's out, I won't worry at all.

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