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The YMCA in Reno sponsors a PeeWee basketball program, which in itself is not earthshaking news. What is earthshaking, or at least depressing, to those who insist on looking upon sports as fun, is word that Bill Berrum, the Reno Y's physical director, has had to bar parents and other spectators from PeeWee games because officials had been exposed to intolerable abuse during the games.
"The PeeWee program is beginning to resemble the Little League image in terms of adult interference," Berrum said. He pointed out that since the rules provide that every boy on each team must play at least half of each game, "winning cannot be the primary objective." Barring spectators, he said, was designed to take pressure off the 10-to-12-year-old players, as well as coaches and officials, and put the program "back into perspective."
During one game an overwrought spectator went to midcourt and challenged the referee. In another, a parent who had caused two technical fouls to be called against his son's team because of his interference shoved the referee around after the game.
"That was the last straw," Berrum said. "I don't think the coaches and I have to be policemen. I think the parents should police themselves. Are we really doing our kids justice when we teach them, by example, to cry about or make excuses for a 'bad' call? Let's encourage them to try harder instead of crying harder."
WIN, WIN, WIN
This win-at-all-costs philosophy is dear to the hearts of certain coaches and their unquestioning admirers, of whom there seems to be an ever-increasing number. Their faith is built on stern Cromwellian maxims that make sport sound like total war, and their prophets include such as Leo Durocher, who, despite his supposedly desperate insistence on victory, has in his long career as player and manager finished in the second division twice as otten as he has finished first, without losing his killer reputation.
Adolph Rupp, the venerable basketball coach at Kentucky, recently was quoted thus: "To say that winning or losing is not more important than how you play the game is like my surgeon telling me it's not important whether I live or die but how he makes the incision." Such specious reasoning is taken as gospel. It seems silly to pick Rupp up on this, but does he seriously equate surgery with playing basketball? Is the reason for surgery the opportunity it gives a man to wield a knife? Is the reason for basketball, or any sport, victory and nothing else?
Vince Lombardi's line, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," is the most quoted tenet of this school of thought. Lombardi had a point, if you look at it from his position. For Lombardi, as for any professional or big-time college coach, winning is the only thing, because without it you get fired. But to apply his often ruthless philosophy to all levels of play is a serious mistake.
Competition—the excitement of putting yourself or your team against an opponent as good or even better than you—is the lifeblood of sport, not victory alone. Victory is better than defeat, no question about that. It is much more fun to win than to lose. But when you have done your best, when you have gone to the last second, the last out, the last inch before losing, when you have been a vital part of a tremendously stimulating game, is the failure to win really such a terrible disgrace?