January 12, 2016
To the members of the WIAA,
I am disappointed by the recent actions taken by the WIAA targeting decades’ old fan chants and comments. I’ve been there. I was the 6’7” awkwardly skinny high school basketball player that came off the bench for the final 20 seconds of play after my team was already down by 20 points. On more than one occasion, I would take my shot for my first points of the season (although the season was already halfway done) only to miss the rim and backboard. There it was, the humiliating “air ball” chant. Hearing that quickly makes a 6’7” teenager feel like he would rather be 3’7” and quietly find an exit but today I look back with greater clarity on those moments.
I asked myself following those games – do I love basketball? The answer was yes! I decided if I loved the game, but did not enjoy the ridicule, I had two choices. I could take my ball and go home or I could work to become a better basketball player. I chose the latter and I am glad I did because it changed my life. I hit the gym, jumped rope, put on some weight and I always made it a point to play with players who were better than me. If you think a high school student section is rough, try playing basketball on a playground on the south side of Chicago.
After putting in a significant amount of work, I ended up being just good enough to play at the local community college followed by playing D3 basketball at Lakeland College in Sheboygan. I had three different head basketball coaches during my college career and the high school “air ball” chant was relatively easy to deal with compared to what my coaches yelled at me when I failed to properly box out. Several years later I joined the Army and met my first drill sergeants – all of a sudden my previous coaches and opposing fans seemed reserved in comparison.
I can continue but here is my point. Having our young people in the sporting arena makes them stronger – an arena that builds character includes jeers and cheers. High school athletes are our future leaders. There is education in learning how to deal with the opponent’s fans, embarrassment and losing.
Over 100 years ago academics and lawmakers were on the verge of banning the game of football. Fortunately, President Teddy Roosevelt came to the rescue and with some new rules and the creation of the NCAA, the game of football was saved. Teddy Roosevelt was motivated because he loved the game but as a patriot he also firmly believed the American Soldier was a cut above other nation’s soldiers because America’s youth were fierce competitors on the athletic fields.
Let the students play and let the fans be fans. The majority of athletes being jeered will build stronger character as a result and as Teddy Roosevelt stated “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”