This past Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the annual WPIAL Sportsmanship Summit at the Heinz History Center with our athletic director, Mr. Short and several of our student athletes. I had never been to the Heinz History Center before and that in and of itself was a great opportunity. If you have never been there before, I highly recommend it. Beyond that, the Summit was an impressive collection of WPIAL athletes from around our region, who had an opportunity to interact and collaborate on issues that are relevant to all young people, not just athletes.
Students were broken into teams and were assigned tasks to discuss. They were asked to thank someone, to clean up after themselves, to pick someone up, and to compliment someone. The students then took some time and worked together on their ideas in what appeared to be valuable conversation. A few students from each group then took the stage to share out with the larger group on their findings.
The first group of students talked about thanking the usual recipients: parents, coaches, teammates - all worthy people who should be thanked. But they also talked about thanking the unsung heroes who make sports happen including bus drivers, custodians, and score keepers/game workers just to name a few. The message that I took from listening to them is that these young people do pay attention to things and are able to see those who are responsible for the opportunity to do something they love, like participate in athletics, and they are able to articulate their gratitude.
The second group of students talked about cleaning up after themselves. Locker rooms, benches, practice fields; these were the places that they mentioned, which were to be expected. What was unusual was the common sense behind their thinking. One young lady made the comment, “We made the mess, if we don’t clean it up and someone else has to do it.” A novel idea indeed that is rooted in the blue collar work ethic still much a part of the fabric of Western Pennsylvania.
The third group of students talked about picking someone up. The anecdotes that they shared truly revealed the essence of sportsmanship as they involved athletes encouraging teammates after blowing a game, or suffering through a devastating injury, or coming together for a greater good beyond the individuals involved in the effort. When watching sports, but especially scholastic sport, fans sometimes forget these lessons and their importance. Competition should bring out the best in individuals, but oftentimes it brings out the worst in fans. Listening to these student athletes share tales of solace found in teammates and of the brotherhood/sisterhood bond formed on basketball courts and playing fields and the “we are stronger than I,” ideology being put into practice was sportsmanship defined.
The last group of students shared stories and ideas about complimenting someone. Listening to them, I was reminded of a tweet that I had read just the day before that said, “Compliment a child today. You may just make their day, and yours.” Athletes fully embracing the notion of complimenting their opponents, in victory or defeat, were very much in line with the theme of the summit, Respect the Game.
It was refreshing to be around a group of young people who get it such as the student athletes that were gathered last Thursday do. As with athletics in general, the themes discussed on Thursday have broader applications than on just the playing field and I hope that Hopewell High School can embrace some of these ideas moving forward in our effort to Be Awesome in 15-16. Stay tuned.