It was a long week, between travel and work.
I should’ve written this sooner. Forgive me.
I needed time to absorb what unfolded and to formulate a response. Or, in this space, an opinion.
It was said the call changed the match. It didn’t. Though, to be fair, it may have played a role.
It was said the call was why they lost. It wasn’t.
If you don’t know what I speak of, allow me to review. Cheyenne Central vs. Thunder Basin for the Class 4A state championship. Central was up 1-0 midway through the first half. Goalkeeper Miranda Hinkle collided with Thunder Basin’s Grace Roswadovski inside the penalty area after racing after a 50-50 ball.
Roswadovski was awarded a penalty kick. The replay may have said otherwise. She tied the match seconds later.
Fans were outraged; players, too. They had reason. The official ruling from the head referee was Hinkle “got too much of” Roswadovski. Replay points to the exact opposite.
The call stood, despite growing cries of protest. The match was deadlocked 1-1 at halftime.
Central dominated the second half, but couldn’t score, and lost 2-1 in a penalty kick shootout.
I want to highlight something that gets overlooked too often. If you have attended any high school sporting event, you will recall the few sentences about sportsmanship read over the PA system about how it’s not about you, the parent, fan or sometimes heated player; how yelling or berating officials and/or players will not be tolerated; and how we are here to celebrate the accomplishments of these student-athletes AND to set a good example.
I often laugh when I hear that statement. Why? Too often it isn’t followed. Which, to be truthful, is a darn shame.
I remember growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, grinding through summer conditioning for the upcoming football season. It was hot. (No, not what you would call hot. There’s a thing called humidity in the Midwest. Trust me, you wouldn’t be a fan.) Two-a-days were the worst.
We labored through 95-plus degree days, going through the same drills over and over. Why? Because we were brothers, and we all had a common goal, just like every team – to win.
Our coach, one of the best high school football minds I’ve ever come across, taught us one of the most important values of sports – respect. If we ever disagreed with a call, our coach did the talking for us. Trust me, there were plenty of times where we didn’t agree. The biggest miss cost us our season in 2007. We were one win away from state. We lined up for an extra point, down by one. Our opponent blocked the kick with 12 players on the field. No call.
Were we heated? Of course. As much as it stung, we couldn’t do anything about it but move on. Coach taught us what mattered most was how he handled ourselves.
It was through those grueling times when we learned the value of respect – for one another, our opponents and officials.
Too many times, I’ve watched officials get verbally bashed over a call. Those same officials sacrifice time away from their families for some extra cash. Those same officials arrive early to ensure games are played to allow student-athletes to grow not only as competitors, but young men and women. Those same officials are drastically underpaid, yet still show up for duty with a smile on their faces.
Look, no one is perfect – myself included. It’s easy to point the finger from afar, sling profanities or inappropriate comments. It’s hard to take the high road.
Both Hinkle and Central coach Jeff Norman did the toughest thing, less than 15 minutes after being denied a second consecutive state championship. As the rain started to fall on the track inside William T. McIntosh Stadium in Jackson Hole in the late morning of May 18, both player and coach stood tall.
They won the moment, just like my old coach taught us so many times.
“The ref told me that I played the player, not the ball,” said Hinkle, doing her best to keep her emotions in check. “I disagreed, but that’s OK. I’m not a captain, so I can’t talk to them. And I didn’t feel it was necessary – he is not going to change his mind. He made the appropriate call from his perspective.”
Norman went a step further. At halftime, he had a chance to discuss the call with the officials. He chose not to.
“Because it doesn’t matter,” the coach said. “One, you can’t change it. Two, I’m not here to condemn the official – he is a human being. Was it a mistake or not? I don’t know, I’ll have to look at it on film. I’m sure a lot of people think it was. Maybe it was. But in the end, it doesn’t matter.
“What about the 34, 37, 38 shots that we took that didn’t go in the back of the net? That’s what it is. It’s not to blame anybody, but to take personal responsibility as individuals and as a team, and own the loss and grow from it as young women that they are.
“We could talk about officials, we could talk about the opposition, we could talk about being tired. But all of it is on us. It doesn’t do the players any good to empower others, so we have to empower ourselves and own it. By doing that, they will grow from it, they will learn from it, and they’ll learn more from this loss than if they had won the game, quite frankly.”
Hinkle and Norman handled that situation with class, despite the number of emotions they were dealing with.
We need more of that – sportsmanship. It’s a high school game, for crying out loud. Not life or death.
What’s happening and what continues to happen during games of any sport is embarrassing. Sad, really, that one can get so worked up over a game played between kids 14 to 18 years old that officials are the first ones to receive the brunt of every comment spewed out loud.
The most mind-boggling part of it? That we somehow have come to accept this behavior, turning a shoulder when it happens, rather than help fight it.
The aftermath of that state final was a welcomed relief.
Here’s hoping for change.