IT'S not easy being a fan. Two weeks ago I sat in the stands at Durham Academy, with two Trinity Board members, watching a Varsity Boys basketball game. Between cheers and fist pumps we managed to have a rather interesting conversation about being good fans. I think we were all aware that we were walking that elusive line between passionate and obnoxious.

Then, last week, I went down to Southern Pines for a meeting of independent school heads across the state, the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association winter meeting. NCISAA had enlisted sports psychologist and Trinity parent, Greg Dale, to lead the group in a discussion of the “R-Word”—that is, recruiting, which is verboten but often alleged among private schools. We talked a lot about sportsmanship at that meeting--mainly because Greg was trying to keep the group focused on its stated purposes, which include things like sportsmanship and fair play. It's against these stated goals that anything like recruitment needs to be evaluated.

All this has gotten me thinking about sportsmanship and fair play. For our players, but also for our fans. I’d like to venture some opinions, and I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about this. I would love to hear your comments.

1. Trinity does athletics well. Our players play hard and play fairly. Our fans are, generally, more civil and generous-spirited than what you would expect at a high school athletic contest. Our coaches are not screamers and don’t throw chairs. I am very proud to be a part of Trinity athletics.

2. I’m going to talk about being a fan, even though I know that there are many other things that we are attending to in the world of athletics and beyond. The way we cheer is not the most important thing, but it is something. And it’s something that many others in our community, especially from other schools, notice.

3. The way we coach and cheer teaches our children more about what it means to follow Christ than our lectures and our Parent News columns. Christianity is caught as much as it is taught. Maybe more than it is taught.

4. Wanting to win is essential to excellence in sport; but wanting to win more than anything else will spoil the best things that sports can bring us. This is the line that recruiting (in the bad sense) crosses. It puts winning games above the more important things that a school like Trinity values in its athletic programs.

5. Passion for sports is a good thing, in players and in fans; but passion thrives on discipline. Players must channel their passion through rigorous discipline, and fans need to think about how they express their passionate loyalty and enthusiasm.

6. The things most worthy of our cheers and applause are the things that last: courage, perseverance, grit, hustle, striving, humility, service, kindness, and honesty. Most Trinity students aren’t planning to make a life out of playing basketball; they are all planning to make a life that thrives on these virtues.

7. The Cameron Crazies are not, for all their fame and appeal, our role models (this from a Duke alum and parent of a Duke senior currently residing in Krzyzewskiville). For a young school like Trinity, the temptation to imitate larger and more mature institutions is almost irresistible and often constructive. But this is one area where we would do well to forge our own path. My challenge to the Trinity community: Use our creativity to find ways of cheering that are our own, true to who we are, not slavishly imitative of a model that is powered by rudeness, taunting, mockery, and bombast. Do we really want to end up cheering, “Go to hell, DA”?

8. Cheer for our teams,; never against the other team,; and rarely against the refs. This last prohibition will be controversial. It is a national pastime to deride the refs—sometimes the show in the stands is more interesting than the game on the court. But I wonder what it teaches our children when we blame the bad call. Life is full of bad calls. I don’t want our students to walk around mad, hoping for a review and a reversal. I want them to get up, take their lumps, and play on, harder than before. I want them to channel the passion of their anger at a bad call into the triumph over their own worst tendencies. And to drive the lane and make the next shot. I don’t want to hear, “Are you blind?” I want to hear Trinity fans urging our players on, “Forget about it! Play on!”

9. Christian schools often earn a bad reputation at secular schools. It’s not fair—or is it?--that we are judged by a higher standard. We expect to find jerks in every crowd, but when they have the name of the Triune God on their sweatshirt, it’s not just interesting, or funny, or even annoying—it’s unconscionable.

One of the best experiences of this year was a soccer tournament game last fall, between Trinity School and Hickory Christian. Trinity won, but that’s not the best story. The best story was told by one of our parents, Rick Hove, when he wrote, on his own initiative, a letter to the Head of Hickory Christian, praising the play of both teams and the sportsmanship of the game. Rick wrote, “Your team played with such class and intensity. Their character and the chemistry of your team were evident from the onset. We play in some rough games, as I'm sure you do. . . . So when a team plays this way it not only reflects on the players, but the coaches and ultimately the headmaster and parents. Actually it reflects Christ.” That’s the kind of play we want to cheer. And that’s the kind of cheering we want to lead.

Non nobis.


Donya Rose said…
Chip, Thank you for stimulating thought and conversation about sportsmanship. There's so much that is noble and character-building about teams and sports, and there are also myriad temptations to all of our worst inclinations from pride to deceit to simple unkindness, for parents, coaches, athletes and fans.

Your post made me want to share one of the formative traditions that shaped my perspective on sports from a young age. At my summer camp (Nakanawa in Tennessee) there are two teams. On a camper's first night at camp, she becomes a member of one or the other, for life. And her daughters and granddaughters will inherit that legacy if they choose to do so. Those teams are serious business for young girls, and for their families. And they compete with passion for the now four week season (eight weeks when I became the first Valkyrie in our family).

At the end of each competition, the teams stand and face each other and take turns singing "The Rival Songs," the essence of which is that we love our rivals, we wish them well, we admire and respect them deeply. Each song ends in a cheer for the other team. It snaps all that competition right into focus and serves well to keep only the best aspects of competition thriving.

I don't suggest that Trinity write and rehearse a "Rival Song," but a hearty cheer for the other team at the close of a match is at least interesting to contemplate.

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