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Actions mean more than a title

March 28, 2011
By MIKE MATHISON, sports editor

About two weeks ago there was a small blurb on the front of USA Today about a high school girls basketball game that ended prematurely because of a brawl.

There were two reasons why this was on the front page of a national publication - because of where it happened and how it ended.

The game between Potters House Christian from Jacksonville, Fla., and Riverdale Baptist from Upper Marlboro, Md., ended due to a benches-clearing brawl in the title game of the National Christian School Athletic Association Class 1A basketball tournament in Erie, Pa.

Potters House, No. 4 in the USA Today Super 25 rankings, led No. 22 Riverdale Baptist 68-50 with 3:23 left in the game. Both benches cleared thanks to an argument on the court.

Because all the players who ran onto the court during that March 12 game because of the brawl were disqualified for their actions, neither team could field a team after the mess.

That left Nate Hartman, director of the NCSAA, and the referees no choice but to declare a double disqualification.

"It's definitely the first time it has happened to us," Hartman said in the article. "We're just not recognizing a champion. As Christians we do believe that we bear the name of Christ. Obviously, behavior like this and actions like this are not in line with the spirit of the God whose name we bear. We should expect more of ourselves.

"I hope this is something that causes the schools and even the organization to ask how we could have done our role differently.

"What is very clear is that while the fourth quarter was going on, there was angry jawing back and forth between players. You could hear coaches yelling at each other and even players. The position of the officials is it wasn't a safe game.

"I try not to go into who started the whole thing. It was a big, pressure-packed situation. For young kids at this age, competing for national championships and rankings and scouts, they think their basketball career is at stake.

"Any time you raise the stakes to a place that is maybe just a little too high, we all have to evaluate whether we've elevated sports into a place that's too important in our life."

Potters House won the first game between the two, 89-65.

"We don't want kids to think it's cool and OK to behave like that," Riverdale Baptist coach Diane Richardson told ESPNRise. "It's not a message we want the kids to have. (The no decision result) leaves a black mark on our sport."

I have talked to Hartman on the phone a few times about the tournament and about what the tournament represents.

The bottom line is that adults and kids made terrible choices and the emotional part of the game got the better of them.

"If we bring in teams on the basis of what makes the most impressive tournament, we are missing the mark," Hartman told ESPNRise. "This obviously is a really disappointing situation for us. It's great to see great basketball, great teams and great players.

"But our priority is not to see kids be built up as individuals, it's to honor team play and see that the kids are challenged spiritually. A situation like this undermines our mission."

Said Potters House coach Tony Bannister, "I hated to see it end that way. We play hard. Riverdale plays hard. It was going to be intense."

I say over and over that athletics is a great teaching tool to our kids.

It is also the same for adults to see how they react to a situation.

If a kid walks through the handshake line at the end of a game and throws a suckerpunch, that's a decision, not a mistake.

If a kid decides to show a basketball official he's No. 1 through a hand gesture, that's a decision, not a mistake.

If a kid becomes academically ineligible, that's a decision, not a mistake.

I have had the absolute pleasure of helping coach volleyball and girls basketball at Jefferson County Christian School and the girls hear from us all the time about their attitude and maintaining their testimony.

A sporting event can get as emotional as anything, but that does not excuse kids to show terrible behavior, to act like morons and disrespect their teammates, coaches, school, community, parents, family and, most important, God.

At the same time, adults must ensure kids do not act like that.

That includes the adults on the sidelines and the ones in the stands.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament has been brilliant with upsets, big shots and coaching moves.

People are saying that No. 11-seed VCU belonged in the tournament because of what the Rams have done, making it to the Final Four.

Look, folks, based on what the committee looks at, the Rams did not belong in the tournament.

They finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association, one game behind Hofstra and one game ahead of Drexel and two games ahead of James Madison.

They lost four of their last five.

So, please let's get off the Jay Bilas-doesn't-know-what-he's-talking-about bandwagon.

VCU has made a great run through the tournament to Houston, where it will face No. 8 seeded Butler.

It was great to watch the Rams whip Kansas.

It was even better to watch Butler smack Florida.

The Bulldogs had a terrible three-game losing streak, which finished with a 62-60 loss at Youngstown State. Since that terrible defeat at the hands of the Penguins, Butler was won 13 in a row.

VCU has won five in a row at the right time.

But, no one has played better in the last three weeks than UConn.

Kemba Walker is a man and has led the Huskies to nine straight victories, including five in a row to win the Big East, which got them the No. 3 seed. UConn is 11-6 this season against top-25 teams.

Kentucky shut down a game North Carolina squad in its win Sunday. The Wildcats are 9-1 this season against top-25 teams.

Walker vs. Brandon Knight - wow!

Should be a great Final Four.

I was listening to ESPN Radio the other day and Fran Fraschilla - who coached at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico - talked about the late-game mistakes in the tournament. His answer was that coaches were no longer spending as much time as they should on late-game situations.

That, to me, was never more evident than in Ohio State's loss to Kentucky.

Knight hit the jumper with Aaron Craft in his face late in the game.

Jon Diebler threw the ball into Craft and the Buckeyes rushed down the court seeking the tying- or game-winning bucket.

Craft tossed it to William Buford, who was 2-for-15 up to that point, and he missed the game-winning shot.

Meanwhile, Diebler, the best three-point shooter in the land, was trailing the play and was wide open at the top of the key - the same spot where he had just hit a trey to tie the game - and he didn't get the pass.

That is the late-game situation that needs to be gone over time and time again during January and February so players know exactly where to go in the rush to get up the floor.

And, since Diebler took the ball out and is the trailer, he would be wide open each time.

What's worse to watch, though, is the dozen-or-more travels that are not called in each game.

I am tired of watching players receive a pass then jump into the shot. That, refs, is a travel.

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel may survive this mess.

But, what happens in six months when the Buckeyes are hit with major violations and lose about 10 scholarships?

Remember, what Tressel did in tatoo-gate were not mistakes.

They were choices.

Apparently a Quinnipiac University poll came out Friday that said 83 percent of those who were aware of the allegations think Tressel should keep his job, 56 percent say he has been punished sufficiently, with 30 percent saying he got off easy.

Overall, 56 percent of those surveyed say they have a favorable opinion of Tressel. Sixty-six percent are Buckeyes football fans.

The telephone survey of 1,384 registered voters was conducted March 15 through March 21 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

Just curious - would those be the same numbers if we were talking about John Cooper?

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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