Yet another lesson in poor sportsmanship

If we’ve learned one thing in our years stewarding the sports pages of a community newspaper, it’s this:

Nobody screws up youth sports like adults.

“My kid isn’t getting enough playing time.”

“My kid deserves more recognition.”

“How come the newspaper never writes about my kid?”

We’ve heard it all – and it always stands in poor relief against the sportsmanship and fun the kids are showing on the court or in the field. The truism came home this week, with confirmation by the Seattle School District that a starter on the Chief Sealth girls basketball team has been playing in flagrant violation of eligibility rules for three years, claiming an address inside the district while residing elsewhere. No one would have noticed, were it not for a Seattle Times investigation that suggests rampant violations by those running a program that produced last year’s 3A champions, and is overwhelmingly favored to bring home the trophy again at this week’s state tournament.

The newspaper reports that a dozen parents, players and others familiar with the Sealth program say coaches have been recruiting top talent with promises of starting roles and college scholarships; several say coaches provided fake lease agreements so girls could enroll in the Seattle district despite non-residency. This, even as recruiting is proscribed by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association precisely to promote fair competition between the schools. (Perfunctory note: Sealth coaches deny the allegations.)

Chief Sealth, as Spartan fans are painfully aware, was the only team to blemish our island girls’ hardwood campaign, handing the Spartans a regular season defeat. A second loss to Sealth in the Metro League tournament bumped the Bainbridge girls into a less-favorable seeding for district play, where they eventually fell out of competition. Did Sealth put a better team on the court than Bainbridge? Undeniably – through, we now know, at least some degree of subterfuge. BHS players, coaches and fans – and their counterparts at every school over whom Sealth has run roughshod over the past two seasons – are left to muse upon what might have been were the rules the same at both ends of the court.

But it’s not about the losses, it’s about the poor example set by adults who’ve apparently worked to cheat the system. The shame of it is what our kids see; we’re supposed to be grooming young idealists, not cynics before their time.

The Seattle School District’s investigation into the Sealth program is ongoing. Penalties – which could include forfeiture of every win notched with ineligible players on the court and sanctions against the coaches themselves – won’t be handed down until after the state tournament concludes. And that’s simply too late for a matter that demanded a timely inquiry. We already know of one ineligible player, and that any of this went on without the knowledge of school officials strains credibility. The school should have withdrawn its team from tournament play – or been barred from it by the WIAA – and issued an apology.

And maybe, depending on the inquiry’s outcome, change the name of the school to Cheat Sealth.

The competition on the floor is always sullied when adults forget what youth sports is supposed to be about. Hint: the answer is not “winning.”

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