A local athletic director actually said to me, “If we are winning this award, we are losing games on the floor."
This award? The Gretchen Wolf Swartz Sportsmanship Award. And that mentality could deny students a shot at a big-time scholarship.
The award is a team honor given each year to the YAIAA boys’ and girls’ basketball programs that best display the qualities of honesty, integrity, cooperation, courage, teamwork and discipline.
These are high school kids earning recognition for superior sportsmanship. Yet this athletic director — a person in charge of creating the environment that shapes the character of these young adults — asserted that sportsmanship and winning are mutually exclusive pursuits.
Think about that for a moment …
I’ll explore the literal truth of that assessment later, but first more on the award.
Gretchen Wolf Swartz was a dedicated basketball official whose life was cut short by leukemia. Her fellow officials created the award and related scholarship fund as a way of honoring the values she — and most of us — hold dear.
At the conclusion of each basketball season since 2001, members of the York/Adams Chapter of PIAA Basketball Officials vote to determine the winning boys’ and girls’ programs, basing selections on their season-long observations of the conduct of players, coaches and fans in games involving teams from seventh grade through varsity.
That’s right: Fans' behavior counts, too.
Senior members of the winning programs then become eligible to win scholarships. The scholarship fund has grown significantly: Now, four members from each winning program can share up to $50,000 in scholarship money! That’s $100,000 awarded each year!
So, coaches, when you think your player was hacked on a misguided drive into traffic, and you stand up and berate the official, you might be costing one of your kids a shot at thousands of dollars in academic aid. And dads, when you shout at the ref after your daughter is caught reaching in at midcourt, you could be taking away someone’s chance at a college education.
Who’s losing here?
But back to the athletic director’s original assertion: Is there an inverse relationship between sportsmanship and wins?
Let’s look at Susquehannock’s girls.
They have won the award an incredible eight times in its 16-year existence.
In those eight seasons, the Warriors have gone 98-72, winning four YAIAA Division II championships, advancing to the District 3 tournament five times (finishing as the District 3 runner-up in 2013), and qualifying for the PIAA tournament on four occasions.
That, by every measure, is a winning program.
So this week, when your school tips it off, be a good sport and give your favorite basketball players a chance to win on the floor and off.
Gordie Kauffman is president of the York/Adams Chapter of PIAA Basketball Officials and a longtime member of the Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Fund board of directors.