Sunday, August 19, 2012

We are--JPII.

This is the assembly address to students on August 20, 2012.

It’s easy, isn’t it, to point to examples of absurdly bad sportsmanship. We allow our gym to be used for local youth teams on the weekends. Last year, you may recall, during a second grade basketball game, the referee punched one of the coaches during a time out. It made national news—not exactly the kind of story I want linked to our school.  In my hometown in Montgomery, Al, during a high school basketball game, a fight on the court broke into a free for all in the stands, with parents throwing punches, food and anything else they could get their hands on, all the while shouting expletives at each other. That, too, made the national news, and certainly didn’t improve the nation’s opinion of Alabama.  Those of you who are NBA fans may remember the infamous brawl that was dubbed “Malice in the Palace”-- during a game at the Palace of Auburn Hills arena, Ron Artest went after a fan in the bleachers and began beating him, leading to an all out war that resulted in arrests and the suspension of nine NBA players. 

Those examples of poor sportsmanship are pretty clear, easy to label. But there are lesser and more common examples, and as we begin this year and begin cheering for our teams here at JPII, I want to talk about a few of these with you.

Sports ignites our passions. Normal, buttoned up people can become raving lunatics when they’re cheering for their favorite teams or competing on the courts or ball fields. I confess that I am a living example of that. At the age of 32, I was thrown out of church league basketball game for trading elbows with a guy I was clearing out for a rebound. I felt like an idiot as I walked out of the gym—church league! What happened to me?

Competition happened, and I got caught up in it. When we compete against each other, or when we cheer for our team vs. their team, it’s easy to lose our balance, easy to forget that cheering FOR us doesn’t mean we cheer AGAINST them. And that distinction—cheering for us but not against the other—is the essence of good sportsmanship and the distinction I want us to uphold as a Catholic, Christian school here at JPII.

Look, I hope you come to our games en masse and cheer crazily for our teams. I am sure they appreciate the support.  Coach Joslin told you at the pep rally he wanted our student body to be our “12th man” to give us a true home field advantage.  Let’s do that. I support that 100%. But don’t ridicule the other team. Don’t pick out a player on the other side and begin laughing at some peculiar physical feature he possesses as we did at a basketball game last year. Unacceptable-it's not Christian behavior and speaks poorly of us. Blue man group, paint yourselves up, wave flags, pump us up. But handle yourself with class and dignity when you are out in Hendersonville and at local eating establishments—you cannot represent us poorly in public.  Unacceptable. People are more than willing to judge the entire student body of JPII on the basis of a 20-30 second encounter with you, fairly or unfairly, and I want them to know you as I do—smart, talented, caring, fun-loving—not boorish and self-centered.

Authentic cheering doesn’t draw attention to ourselves, but brings attention to the players and the game we’re watching. Authentic cheering builds our teams up, and doesn’t tear the other team down—cheering, but not jeering, yelling but not booing. Real sportsmanship is kind in victory and gracious in defeat.  

At the risk of embarrassing him a little bit, I want to tell you we vetted Coach Joslin pretty well before we offered him the job here. I went back on the internet and read every article I could find about him, what his players said, what other coaches said, what HE said in interviews. I noticed a trend that convinced me he’d be a good fit for us. He was unfailingly positive. Whenever he had the opportunity to say something nice about the team he was playing or the team he just beat, he used it.  I don’t remember the exact words, but to give you a sense of it, if his Cookeville team just hammered somebody, the first thing he’d say in the interview, before he talked about his team, would be something like: “You have to admire those guys—even when they were down, they were still firing off and hitting hard. There’s no quit in them.”

Let’s follow our coach’s lead here. Let’s be the kind of school that is classy in victory, classy in defeat, that builds up our team without putting the other team down.

We are JPII. Go Knights!

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