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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
"We had adults acting like children."
That was how Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association executive director Bernard Childress described what he saw on tape of Saturday's brawl involving players and fans from Brainerd High School and Austin-East High School during the basketball game at Brainerd.
And how can anyone argue that assessment? However wrong, it's one thing to see opposing players leave their benches when they see a teammate scuffling with the opposition after the two young men went diving for a loose ball near the Austin-East bench. Emotions overflow among competitors at times. Worst-case scenario for either side would have been a two-game suspension for any player who participated.
But it's quite another to see adults pour out of the stands to become part of the problem rather than the solution. Whether they be parents, school employees or mere prep basketball fans, such lack of judgment is totally unacceptable.
Especially when, as Childress noted during a Tuesday phone interview, "Our number-one priority is to make sure our kids are safe. In our bylaws it states that the school principal is in charge of making sure his school has proper security. I've been here 23 years and I won't say this is the worst situation like this I've ever seen, but I will say I can't remember one that's been worse."
And for that reason alone, Childress quickly suspended both schools from further competition for the time being, and possibly far beyond that, depending on how severely each school is willing to discipline itself.
"Once we hear from each of them," he said, "we'll make a decision whether their sanctions are enough."
This newspaper's Kelly Smiddie didn't watch the brawl on video. He saw it up close and personal from a seat just behind the scorers' table. He saw a fiercely contested game between two storied hoops programs disintegrate into an embarrassment for all concerned.
"Some of (the fans) even fell down, they were in such a haste to get down there," Smiddle recalled. "There were sucker punches thrown and all that. In 30 years of doing this, I've never seen anything like it. Now there were certainly people trying to break it up, but you can only break up so many fights."
Though Childress is reserving judgment until he hears from each school's administrators, any adult who can be identified in video footage as making physical contact with another unless it's to stop a fight needs to be prosecuted, then banned from any future TSSAA event for no less than two years.
Beyond that, the coaches of both these programs should suffer some fairly severe penalty, if only to more strongly get across to their players that fighting is never the answer.
Yes, most of these men and women coach for the love of their sports. Almost none of them make enough money for the extra hours they put in and the headaches they endure from fans, parents, even players.
But as Childress also noted, "This is not what (high school athletics) is supposed to be about. We're here to teach kids how to be successful in life, to respect their opponents, to become outstanding citizens. And these aren't just lessons to be learned for high school sports. These are lessons to use for the rest of their lives."
Nor was his frustration aimed at school officials, coaches and players only.
"We have too many people putting too much emphasis on winning, or on the wrong definition of winning," Childress added. "Their definition of winning is on the scoreboard only. It's become a very big problem, and it's not the TSSAA's definition of winning. Sportsmanship has been eroded. We're supposed to be teaching ethics, integrity and character to these kids, and instead something like this happens."
Something ... like ... this.
It is here that we must return to the opening line of this column, to Childress's six-word statement that "we had adults acting like children."
We've had it far too often in the world of sports, if not all of society. There's the child molestation nightmare at Penn State, Louisville's use of prostitutes in recruiting, the North Carolina academic scandal, the ongoing FBI investigation into major college basketball coaches and their assistants pimping players for personal gain, and, of course, the ongoing sexual abuse investigation into the monster that is former Michigan State and U.S. Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar and all those who enabled his despicable criminal behavior to abuse more than 150 women over a span of more than 20 years.
In none of those did a single grown-up with the power to do so stand up and stop such deplorable behavior. Why can't adults act like adults? When, if ever, will they again? Why can seemingly no one in power do what's right anymore for the simple reason that it's right rather than because their hands are forced or they fear they might get caught?
We used to be better than this. We had morals and ethics and character whether anyone was watching or not. And if adults can't quit acting like children in this country, how will this generation of young folks, or the next, or the ones behind them, ever learn to act the way adults should?
Which is another way of saying that the adminstrators at Brainerd and Austin-East need to throw the book at themselves before Childress is forced to do it for them.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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