Sunday, September 20, 2009

Everyone gets a trophy ... But Rudy earned his.

Sometimes I really hate the "touchy-feely" stuff and the vast complex of delusions that usually go towards sustaining it despite what should be obvious. I hate the tendency to want a prize for everything all the way through life, regardless of the circumstances.

Situation: Football team is getting shut out 46-0 and the losing coach calls timeout with 6 seconds to go, calls the number of his Downs player, runs to the other side to ask if they'll let him get a free touchdown. The winning team agrees. Both teams fake the play and let him score. Final: 46-6.

I like that the one team of players, taken completely by surprise, so quickly agreed to the crazy notion that they let a shutout go and let the kid with Downs Syndrome score his touchdown.
  • I don't like that the coach called the "Matt Play" BEFORE he set off to ask the winning team about it. What if they had said "No?" Do you tell Matt "Too bad, sit down?"
  • I don't like that the coach ran to the defensive huddle and sprung it on the opponent in the last seconds of a game. The opposing coach and team should have been given a graceful way to back out of this if they felt it unnecessarily dangerous, wanted to keep the shutout, or simply felt it a bad idea.
  • He didn't tell the refs about it. It would have been nice to be sure that Matt wasn't flagged for illegal motion, illegal formation, or a lineman called for holding.
  • "To minimize the danger, Matt doesn’t take part in full-contact drills at practices" -- You're going to put him in a real game with 21 players who don't have a good idea of what they're supposed to do? If you can't take a chance in practice, why take one in a real game? This isn't about overcoming a disability. Some Downs Syndrome kids can and do play football for real, and they play well if well-coached. If he's so delicate that he can't take a hit in practice, he should not be on the field.
  • One of the parents wasn't there because they knew it was the third game of the season - he'll never be put in.
  • The winning team lost their shutout. Shutouts are special and usually have meaning down the road when rankings and standings are decided. The winning team can know in their hearts that they won 46-0, but the official score says 46-6.
  • I don't like the precedent. Is this a tradition about to start? If they're being beaten by enough, does a losing team automatically get to trot out it's hard-luck cases for a free score? How much is that margin? Will this become a part of the "mercy rule?"
It also aggravates me that the Coach is calling it "understanding that winning isn't everything." Bullshit, Coach. You were getting spanked 46-0. You approached the other team and asked that they make an exception for a kid who isn't normally allowed on the field. They showed magnificent composure and true sportsmanship. You took advantage.

You didn't teach anyone about winning or the value of playing the game in an honorable fashion because the win was already in the bag. If you were down by 3 points, and they acceded to the request and allowed your team to win the game on the play, THAT would have shown that "winning isn't everything."

No to be all curmudgeonly about it, but this rings a little false to me. I can feel this guy coming up with this to ward off complaints that he got shut out by the cross-town rival. Who's going to point out that he hadn't prepared his team properly for this game? Certainly not the athletic director - coincidentally, Matt's father.

McCamy could just as easily have talked to the other coach ahead of time and planned this out. First, the game is played to completion. Then the announcer, knowing his role in all this, says "The refs have put 6 seconds back on the clock." The refs do so, knowing their role - they also know to swallow the whistle. The clock operator puts the time up. Then, you run the scripted play against the other team who knows the game is over but have agreed to the stunt, and you achieve your goal of lying to your player.

The game would then have been honest and both teams would have been clear about their roles. The kid would have been safe and you'd still be a hero.

Of course, a cynic will wait to see if Coach uses this again this season. Matt won't know he's been conned and he'll expect to go in every game now. Coach can play the beneficent mentor and the team will never have to suffer another shutout.

The problem is, it's never a good idea to blatantly lie to your player.

The scrub who never plays has at least the satisfaction of knowing that he practiced hard and worked, that his few minutes of play were against an opponent who played just as hard, i.e., the other team's substitutes who just as desperately want to prove themselves. You know, the Rudy thing.

The softer side of me hopes that Matt will understand and be able to forgive his coach and his fellow teammates when he does find out that the whole thing was a sham. My experience with similar kids tells me that will be especially hard for the boy - this will chew at him. The sense of betrayal will not be assuaged by the thought that they did it for his sake. It will take him far longer to get over it.

Will the entire school be able to keep the secret? No. I figure it will be less than a week before some jerk tells him it was all a joke. Then the real problems will start. It's a 50% chance he'll stay on the team and a 0% chance he'll trust them again easily.

Maybe this will all work out. I hope so, but I have this sinking feeling.


Rivals cooperate on touchdown for player with Down syndrome
The Kansas City Star
ST. JOSEPH | Matt Ziesel doesn’t stray far from coach Dan McCamy on the sidelines during St. Joseph Benton High School’s freshman football games. He likes to stay within earshot.
“I’m ready, Coach. … Coach, I’m ready,” Ziesel says.McCamy says he hears it about 10 times a game, and also at practices, from Ziesel, his 5-foot-3, 110-pound running back.
So in the final stages of Benton’s third game of the season on Monday at Maryville, McCamy decided it was time for Ziesel — a 15-year-old freshman with Down syndrome — to make his season debut.
With about 10 seconds left in the game, and Benton trailing 46-0, McCamy called his final timeout, told an assistant coach to organize the team for the “Matt play” and ran across the field to the Maryville defensive huddle — and to some puzzled looks from the opposing players.
“I’ve got a special situation,” McCamy remembers telling Maryville freshman defensive coach David McEnaney. “I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”
Several days have passed since Ziesel chugged more than 60 yards down a sideline for his first high school touchdown — but the buzz hasn’t.
The YouTube clip McCamy posted Tuesday morning had received more than 1,500 hits as of Thursday night. The e-mails and messages of support also have been rolling in all week — to McCamy as well as the Ziesel family.
“It’s just amazing how one play can mean so much to one kid and then to a team and then to a community,” McCamy said Thursday after practice. “And now it’s spread not just to the community of St. Joseph, but now it’s spread across the region. How something so simple can impact so many — to me, that’s the amazing part about it.”
Mike Ziesel, Matt’s dad, a longtime high school coach and the athletic director at Benton, was standing near the top of the bleachers Monday when a spectator told him it looked like Matt was about to enter the game. His wife, Patty, was at home. She hadn’t planned on Matt actually getting on the field Monday.
Neither had McCamy. As he headed across the field to talk to McEnaney, McCamy wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. He asked the players to avoid physical contact with Ziesel but to make it as real as possible for him.
“The (Maryville) players, they didn’t hesitate at all,” McEnaney said. “They jumped right on board.”
And so Matt Ziesel ran a sweep to the right and just kept going. This time, it was McCamy making sure he was close enough to be heard — running down the sideline alongside Matt, yelling as loud as he could.
“Come on, Matty! They’re coming!” McCamy yelled, making the play as real as possible for Ziesel.
Benton lost Monday’s game 46-6, but those six points made a bigger impact than McCamy could have ever imagined.
“It’s not necessarily about winning or losing,” said McCamy, a second-year coach who played college football at Missouri. “Obviously up in Maryville we lost the game. The end result, we lost the game, but when we went away, we were all kind of winners.”
After he posted the touchdown video on YouTube on Tuesday morning, McCamy sent the link to the Ziesels, so Patty could see her son’s first high school score, and to five fellow Benton coaches.
From there the highlight and the emotions it stirred just kept spreading.
“I don’t know that I (have) gotten one comment from somebody who said they didn’t cry” after watching the video, Patty Ziesel said.
Mike Ziesel, who coached boys basketball for 19 years, said what made him most proud was the way the rest of the players embraced the opportunity.
“It was just a good thing to see people realize that the value of winning is not (as) important as it is to participate and enjoy the game,” Mike Ziesel said.
Said McEnaney, who co-coaches the Maryville freshman team with Jordan Moree: “It just kind of takes you back to what it all really should be about.”
The truth is, Patty Ziesel had reservations about Matt joining the football team. And after she had taken him for the mandatory physical, she received a call from his pediatrician.
“When they got the report that said he was playing football, the pediatrician’s office said, ‘We just want you to know that (the doctor) doesn’t approve of him playing football,’ ” she recalled. “I said: ‘Well, neither do I, but here’s the deal: He wants to be part of the team, and he will be part of the team.’ ”
To minimize the danger, Matt doesn’t take part in full-contact drills at practices, and on his touchdown run he raced untouched as players from both teams trailed along.
Standing next to Matt on Thursday after practice, Patty said she hoped the players on both teams understood how important Monday’s touchdown — and their roles in it — were for her son.
McCamy is sure they do.
“Some of them get it now, but in due time all these kids who were a part of it will have a better understanding,” McCamy said. “When they grow up and they get older, everybody will realize the impact that maybe that play (has) had — not just on that kid’s life, because Matt will remember that forever — but on some of these other kids and what they may have been a part of.”

1 comment:

  1. I like this one better: