Stories of good sportsmanship are what make sports so beautiful

Sometimes, when all the news seems to be bad, we turn to sports for solace. We have had more than enough bad news of late, with hurricanes, shootings and wildfires. It’s nice to hear positive stories amid all the alarming news. I ran across one such story this week and, interestingly enough, it came out of one of the sad news items of recent days.

Before I tell you of the latest act of good sportsmanship, let me pass along a couple of others from years ago. The first one took place while I was still teaching and I used to share it with my sociology classes when we were discussing ethics.

A high school in Georgia won a state championship in basketball. The town was giddy (as Calvert sports fans can attest) as the team was escorted back from the tournament. A few days later it was brought to the attention of the coach that he inserted an ineligible player in the waning moments of an earlier blowout win along the tournament trail.

Apparently the student, a transfer from another school, was not eligible due to a clerical error that went unnoticed. When the coach found out he immediately contacted the Georgia State High School Athletic Association to inform them of the situation.

The GHSAA stripped the school of the title and those giddy people quickly turned on the coach. How could he report such an insignificant mistake and deprive their community of a state championship? The coach had a response to the question.

“How could I not report it when I have always preached to my kids that they have to play by the rules, both on and off the court?”

The furor subsided when the townspeople decided that they were more impressed with the coach’s decision than they initially realized. The lesson was learned and the people of the community bought a replica state championship trophy that is likely still resting in the school’s trophy case!

Most of you probably remember the college softball game that produced one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. The 2008 game pitted Western Oregon versus Central Washington in a game that would determine who would go on to the playoffs. The loser’s season would be over and there was a lot on the line.

Sara Tucholsky was a senior at W.O. and had just three hits in her last 34 at bats entering the game. She came to the plate with two runners on before hitting the second pitch over the left-centerfield wall. She had never hit a home run before, not even in practice, and she raced around first base where she saw the ball disappear over the fence.

Then she realized she had failed to touch first base. All she had to do was stop, go back and tag the base, but she panicked and quickly turned to correct her mistake. But the abrupt move caused her to tear the ACL in her knee and she could only fall back to the bag. She lay there clutching the base, unable to move.

As people gathered at her side the umpire ruled that she could not be helped around the bases by her teammates. The best that could happen was that an apparent three-run homer would become a two run single.

That’s when Central Washington first baseman Liz Wallace asked the umpire if it would be OK for her to help her opponent. The umpire was taken aback, but decided that it would be legal. Wallace then summoned teammate Mallory Holtman and the two of them picked up Tucholsky and carried her around the bases, lowering her at each base so she could touch the bag.

By the time they got to home plate there weren’t many dry eyes in the ballpark. The girls didn’t have to do what they did. They could have let it stand as a single. Most players probably would have done just that. They felt, however, that the girl deserved the home run and through their act of sportsmanship — she got what she deserved.

Central Washington University lost the game that day, but the whole country got a great lesson on sportsmanship that still resonates with many today.

So what is the latest act of good sportsmanship I alluded to? Well, you have all seen the pictures on TV of the California wildfires. One community in particular was completely devastated, and that was the town of Paradise. You likely read about their plight in yesterday’s A-T.

The Paradise High School football team had secured a playoff berth just prior to the outbreak of the wildfire. They were to play Red Bluff High School.

In a tremendous gesture of good will Red Bluff offered to forfeit the game to Paradise. Can you imagine a school actually making that offer in the “winning is paramount” world of high school athletics? Red Bluff did just that, presumably as a way to show their support for what the Paradise athletes were going through.

The forfeit took place though not the way you may think. The Paradise coach decided it was his school that would forfeit the game as nearly all of his players and coaching staff had lost their homes to the fire. Under the circumstances, winning a football game didn’t seem all that important. Red Bluff moved on, but their offer to forfeit was another example of good sportsmanship that makes sports so beautiful.

More bad news is likely to happen, that we can safely assume. Good news however, such as the above stories, will ultimately prevail. Of that I am also certain.

Yes, good will always triumph over bad. Sometimes it takes sports to remind us of that fact.

Al Stephenson is a sports columnist for The A-T.

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