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The following article, from ESPN.com some weeks ago, is a wonderful story which expresses a number of sentiments, including the adage, "actions speak louder than words".
The story speaks for itself, and stands as a seemingly rare but tremendously important example of genuine sportsmanship.
NOTE: The author of the piece, Graham Hays, offers the following sidebar in his piece to clarify the rule central to this incident: "As one of the umpires involved in the game between Central Washington and Western Oregon confirmed in an e-mail to ESPN.com, the rule in question was misinterpreted on the field after Tucholsky's injury and later clarified by the NCAA. According to page 105, rule 126.96.36.199 of the NCAA softball rule book, "If an injury to a batter-runner or runner prevents her from proceeding to an awarded base, the ball is dead and the substitution can be made. The substitute must legally touch all awarded or missed bases not previously touched."
Central Washington offers the ultimate act of sportsmanship
by Graham Hays
Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky had never hit a home run in her career. Central Washington senior Mallory Holtman was already her school's career leader in them. But when a twist of fate and a torn knee ligament brought them face to face with each other and face to face with the end of their playing days, they combined on a home run trot that celebrated the collective human spirit far more than individual athletic achievement.
Both schools compete as Division II softball programs in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Neither has ever reached the NCAA tournament at the Division II level. But when they arrived for Saturday's conference doubleheader at Central Washington's 300-seat stadium in Ellensburg, a small town 100 miles and a mountain range removed from Seattle, the hosts resided one game behind the visitors at the top of the conference standings. As was the case at dozens of other diamonds across the map, two largely anonymous groups prepared to play the most meaningful games of their seasons.
It was a typical Saturday of softball in April, right down to a few overzealous fans heckling an easy target, the diminutive Tucholsky, when she came to the plate in the top of the second inning of the second game with two runners on base and the game still scoreless after Western Oregon's 8-1 win in the first game of the afternoon.
"I just remember trying to block them out," Tucholsky said of the hecklers. "The first pitch I took, it was a strike. And then I really don't remember where the home run pitch was at all; [I] just remember hitting it, and I knew it was out."
A part-time starter in the outfield throughout her four years, Tucholsky had been caught in a numbers game this season on a deep roster that entered the weekend hitting better than .280 and having won nine games in a row. Prior to the pitch she sent over the center-field fence, she had just three hits in 34 at-bats this season. And in that respect, her hitting heroics would have made for a pleasing, if familiar, story line on their own: an unsung player steps up in one of her final games and lifts her team's postseason chances.
But it was what happened after an overly excited Tucholsky missed first base on her home run trot and reversed direction to tag the bag that proved unforgettable.
"Sara is small -- she's like 5-2, really tiny," Western Oregon coach Pam Knox said. "So you would never think that she would hit a home run. The score was 0-0, and Sara hit a shot over center field. And I'm coaching third and I'm high-fiving the other two runners that came by -- then all of a sudden, I look up, and I'm like, 'Where's Sara?' And I look over, and she's in a heap beyond first base."
While she was doubling back to tag first base, Tucholsky's right knee gave out. The two runners who had been on base already had crossed home plate, leaving her the only offensive player on the field of play, even as she lay crumpled in the dirt a few feet from first base and a long way from home plate. First-base coach Shannon Prochaska -- Tucholsky's teammate for three seasons and the only voice she later remembered hearing in the ensuing conversation -- checked to see whether she could crawl back to the base under her own power.
As Knox explained, "It went through my mind, I thought, 'If I touch her, she's going to kill me.' It's her only home run in four years. I didn't want to take that from her, but at the same time, I was worried about her."
Umpires confirmed that the only option available under the rules was to replace Tucholsky at first base with a pinch runner and have the hit recorded as a two-run single instead of a three-run home run. Any assistance from coaches or trainers while she was an active runner would result in an out. So without any choice, Knox prepared to make the substitution, taking both the run and the memory from Tucholsky.
"And right then," Knox said, "I heard, 'Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?'"
The voice belonged to Holtman, a four-year starter who owns just about every major offensive record there is to claim in Central Washington's record book. She also is staring down a pair of knee surgeries as soon as the season ends. Her knees ache after every game, but having already used a redshirt season earlier in her career, and ready to move on to graduate school and coaching at Central, she put the operations on hold so as to avoid missing any of her final season. Now, with her own opportunity for a first postseason appearance very much hinging on the outcome of the game -- her final game at home -- she stepped up to help a player she knew only as an opponent for four years.
"Honestly, it's one of those things that I hope anyone would do it for me," Holtman said. "She hit the ball over her fence. She's a senior; it's her last year. … I don't know, it's just one of those things I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first. But I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it's the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony."
Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight between them as they began a slow trip around the bases, stopping at each one so Tucholsky's left foot could secure her passage onward. Even with Tucholsky feeling the pain of what trainers subsequently came to believe was a torn ACL (she was scheduled for tests to confirm the injury on Monday), the surreal quality of perhaps the longest and most crowded home run trot in the game's history hit all three players.
"We all started to laugh at one point, I think when we touched the first base," Holtman said. "I don't know what it looked like to observers, but it was kind of funny because Liz and I were carrying her on both sides and we'd get to a base and gently, barely tap her left foot, and we'd all of a sudden start to get the giggles a little bit."
Accompanied by a standing ovation from the fans, they finally reached home plate and passed the home run hitter into the arms of her own teammates.
Then Holtman and Wallace returned to their positions and tried to win the game.
Hollywood would have a difficult time deciding how such a script should end, whether to leave Tucholsky's home run as the decisive blow or reward the selfless actions of her opponents. Reality has less room for such philosophical quandaries. Central Washington did rally for two runs in the bottom of the second -- runs that might have tied the game had Knox been forced to replace Tucholsky -- but Western Oregon held on for a 4-2 win.
But unlike a movie, the credits didn't roll after the final out, and the story that continues has little to do with those final scores.
"It kept everything in perspective and the fact that we're never bigger than the game," Knox said of the experience. "It was such a lesson that we learned -- that it's not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we're always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It's changed me, and I'm sure it's changed my players."
For her part, Holtman seems not altogether sure what all the fuss is about. She seems to genuinely believe that any player in her position on any field on any day would have done the same thing. Which helps explains why it did happen on that day and on that field.
And she appreciates the knowledge that while the results of Saturday's game and her senior season soon will fade into the dust and depth of old media guides and Internet archives, the story of what happened in her final game at home will live on far longer.
"I think that happening on Senior Day, it showed the character of our team," Holtman said. "Because granted I thought of it, but everyone else would have done it. It's something people will talk about for Senior Day. They won't talk about who got hits and what happened and who won; they'll talk about that. And it's kind of a nice way to go out, because it shows what our program is about and the kind of people we have here."
To view the article on ESPN.com, follow this link:
The National Hockey League General Managers’ have been meeting this week with a number of items on their annual agenda—but no issue is more important than “head shots”.
The league will be announcing, we assume, some form of crackdown on what many feel has become an epidemic. Most fans want to keep hockey’s physical element, but the speed of the game, combined with bigger athletes and bigger equipment is causing huge problems.
People can debate whether players have lost respect for one another, but regardless of whether that is an issue or not, leaders in youth hockey across Canada and the United States will no doubt be watching any NHL pronouncements on this contentious subject very closely.
I’m among those who believe strongly that steps need to be taken to eliminate a) hitting from behind and b) head shots.
Going back to the days of Howie Meeker, the former Maple Leaf player, coach and longtime TV analyst, hockey people have preached “finishing the check”. Players know they face repercussions from their coaches if they don’t, and we now have frightening injury “statistics”—real people getting hurt—and we have to stem the tide.
People will say hitting has always been a part of the game, and it has been and will be. But we know more now than we did we thirty, forty and fifty years ago about injuries and particularly concussions.
Let’s use that knowledge.
The game can remain physical, but we can also work to eliminate some of what has been allowed for too long.
Back in the ‘70s, hockey bench-clearing brawls were commonplace. The league finally took the problem seriously, and now you virtually never see that kind of thing.
We can achieve the same kind of thing now. We can keep the game fast and tough, but safe.
Ultimately, what the NHL does will hopefully help youth hockey.
Credit should go to Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press for his recent thoughtful piece on serious hockey injuries as an issue leaders in the sport simply have to look at.
The column came on the heels of an incident in which a young 16 year-old Ontario Hockey League player was seriously injured when checked, arguably from behind, by a 20 year-old player.
The league has now suspended the aggressor for the rest of the season.
As Pyette points out, hockey is a fast, skilled and physically tough sport. Injuries will happen, many without any intent on the part of the person who caused the injury.
Toughness and hard-hits have always been a part of the game, and applauded by almost everyone. No one wants to see a hockey game without physical contact. It’s part of why millions love NFL football, and professional hockey.
But we have reached a point where the physical nature of the sport –fueled by how those in the sport still think about toughness - may well have pushed the envelope too far for the good of the players and the game itself.
Pyette raises the issue of whether parents will now –more than ever- consider college hockey as a better and safer alternative for their sons.
Here’s the reality: As I mentioned above, the history of Canadian hockey is that we like our skill, we like a fast game, but we seem to love that hard-hitting, tough style.
It leads to a macho mentality. You have to finish your checks, and hit hard. Very hard. I’ve had hockey parents come up to me and talk about their son playing youth hockey, “You should have seen my son drill that guy”. It’s a source of pride to be tough.
“Toughness” can be a great quality in life. Mental toughness is important. Many sports do demand a kind of physical toughness.
But like most “good” things, taken too far, it’s a problem.
Players can say they don’t hit to injure, but they certainly hit to hurt, and given the reality of the human body, that’s really no distinction at all.
Players are bigger and skate faster than ever before. The huge equipment players wear is a big problem. It makes players feel they aren’t vulnerable, yet they are, in part because of the equipment they wear.
Football and hockey were both probably safer (still “hard-hitting” but safer) when players dressed more like rugby players than gladiators.
Think about: fans -and the media - have spent countless hours in recent years discussing the apparent epidemic of serious injuries—head shots (many still “legal” in hockey terms); hitting from behind situations; concussions; knee injuries and more.
It really does have to stop.
When you have 16 year-old playing against men, the risks are already there. Unless hockey authorities begin to absolutely, once and for all, outlaw hitting from behind or even the side, this problem will continue.
NHL GM’s met this week, and reports suggest movement was made about creating new rules to reduce dangerous hits. Too often in the past the league talked around the real issues. They can’t seem to decide what types of hits should be “legal”.
To me, the question is not what is legal in hockey terms, but what is dangerous.
The game has changed. Rules, and what is—and isn’t—allowed, should evolve as a result.
It has taken generations to get people to recognize the problems associated with smoking, for example, and to change behaviour. And still, probably 20% or more of people smoke in Canada and the United States.
Changing the mentality around hockey won’t be easy. You don’t want to lose the great parts of the action, but surely protecting the basic safety of vulnerable athletes—especially at the younger ages—must be a priority.
It’s not as though we have never seen this type of headline before.
But the particular details—a youth soccer game in July of this year involving kids under the age of 8, with a 14-year old referee—reflect a kind of “over-invested” attitude that many of us, as parents, need to address.
In this particular instance, a mother and father of a young player were charged with assault against the young referee.
By all accounts the local soccer Association dealt with the matter promptly and effectively. But after all the public discourse on the subject of parents fighting with coaches, referees, and other parents, we wonder: why does this kind of thing still happen?
While these “events” are not exactly common, they aren’t quite rare, either. Those of us who have stood on the sidelines at a soccer or baseball game, or in a rink at a youth hockey game, can readily attest that the emotional heat gets turned up pretty quickly, and way too often.
Any number of things can flip the switch—a young player who is perceived to be playing “dirty”; a coach who does not play a particular child as much as another player; a referee’s decision; a comment by a parent on the “opposing” team, and many other things.
All these are triggers, and because this generation of parents is so invested in our kids, it sometimes takes very little to get certain individuals going.
Those of us involved in the sports world, including the youth sports field, have made numerous suggestions over the years as to how this type of behaviour can be at least somewhat mitigated. For example, I wrote very widely published articles within the last two years on the subjects of “Soccer Sideline Etiquette” and “Hockey Rink Etiquette” for parents. The articles were overwhelmingly well received by sports organizations across Canada and the United States, but any of us who have written on this or similar subjects recognize that it’s not an easy problem to “solve”.
Many years ago minor hockey officials in Canada developed ad campaigns encouraging parents to take their kids to the rink to watch them play. The message was simple: spend time with your kids. A few years and many incidents later, officials encouraged parents to drop their kids off at the local rink—a clear indication that things had changed and that hockey officials now believed that parents served best as taxi drivers than as a loud, argumentative presence setting horrible examples from the stands.
It must be human nature: we all (or at least most of us) seem to think our kids are “better” than the other kids; deserve more playing time; always receive the bad end of referees’ decisions; are the ones that spend more time listening to other parents complaining than we complain ourselves.
Most of us would really benefit from actually looking in the proverbial mirror, and assessing if we contribute to the problems that often surface in youth sports. We may not be the person who harasses a 14-year old referee, but if we help create a toxic atmosphere on our son or daughter’s youth team, we are contributing to the problems that create the unhappiness that leads to these totally unacceptable outbursts.
Michael Langlois, founder of Prospect Communications Inc., is the author of the book, “How Well Do You Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Minor (Youth) Soccer Coaches”. Prospect’s web site is located at http://www.prospectcommunications.com/. This article is copyrighted to the author and may not be reproduced without obtaining written permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the enclosed content email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just days ago, in Southern Ontario, a "brawl" of sorts broke out during a hockey game.
That in and of itself is not stirring news. But when we discover that the participants were not professionals or even junior age players, but rather 8 year-olds, it does beg some questions, including:
Where are the "coaches" in these situations? At the NHL level, in this day and age, coaches are suspended in situations where they are seen to not be "in control" of their players—players who themselves are grown men. Are these youth "coaches" not "in control" of their players?
What messages are these young, impressionable children (they are children, not "athletes", at this age) receiving from their coaches?
If we can’t "blame" the children for this kind of event, then where do we look? What influence are parents having, for example? The media?
We’ve all heard time and again that the "problem" is that parents all think their kinds will make it to the pro level, and thus are over-invested in their kids. And this leads, based on that theory, to misplaced priorities, etc.
But surely we’re not having brawls at the age of 8 because ALL the parents of these kids think they are raising future NHL’ers.
Are we taking youth sports way too seriously? Are our priorities in fact messed up? Do we keep score too soon? Is the pervasive ‘winning at all costs’ attitude seeping all the way down to the youngest levels of the game?
It’s too easy to generalize, but this is serious stuff. Not the "sky is falling" kind of serious, perhaps, but it’s serious when little kids start hockey brawls.
Hockey Canada and various provincial Associations have spent tons of money in recent years on education—ad campaigns directed at parents, seminars for coaches, clinics on not hitting from behind, players wearing STOP patches, studies on concussions and much more.
But as long as Canada wins gold every year at the World Juniors, everyone is happy.
What’s a brawl or two on the way to what’s really important?
Within the last couple of years, maybe a year or so ago, I'm not exactly certain, I came across a story out of the United States, which indicated that a “football dad” in the Boston area actually slugged his son’s coach.
As the story goes, the coach of the 12 year-old youth team apparently had disciplined the boy, who had arrived a few minutes ‘late’ for practice.
Given what occurred afterwards, it’s hard to imagine this was anything other than a situation that had been brewing for some time. Surely no father, no matter how over-invested they might be, would react to an isolated situation where their son may have had to do laps, or whatever the ‘punishment’ might have been for being late to practice. There seemingly had to be something more to this situation.
While youth coaches often try to instill a kind of overall team discipline, the focus in this instance may have been misdirected.
Clearly, like most youth involved in sports, a 12 year-old relies on busy parents to get to practices at all, much less, “on time”.
Perhaps there were fully discussed “rules” in place that all families had agreed upon. Maybe not. I don’t know the details.
Setting aside this particular circumstance, and speaking in general terms, there are steps a youth coach can take to at least try to prevent disappointment, misunderstanding, bitterness—or worse, on the part of families involved in his or her Club program
For example, the youth coach should host meetings with parents as a group at the beginning of a season, and then individually with parents and their son/daughter.
The objective is to establish the coach’s priorities, as well as those of that particular ‘team’ and the Club in general, so all parties understand and are on the same page. From there, he/she works toward, if it is possible, agreement on mutual expectations when it comes to discipline, attitude, punctuality and all the other things that make up being part of a youth team, whether house-league or “all-star”.
If the family can’t abide by the coach’s program, then it is likely the wrong program for that child and family. There is then time to look for options elsewhere.
But again, it’s important to establish priorities and expectations early on, so everyone is understands specific expectations and individual family limitations and hostile feelings don’t build and build.
There is no way to defend punching a youth coach, even if the coach was off-base in handling a particular situation – whether it was about playing time, foul language, unfair disciplinary methods, whatever.
It’s difficult enough to find good role models to work with other people’s children.
Now, it’s easy for us to make judgments from hundreds of miles away, but some questions come to mind:
1. If a coach has made it clear a player must arrive on time, is that actually reasonable, given the age of the children?
2. Is punctuality more important than the attitude and work ethic of a young player when they are at practice?
3. What were the actions on both “sides” in this situation that preceded the punch-up?
4. How will that 12 year-old look at his dad in future? What has he “learned” about handling disagreements?
5. How will the rest of the team look at the coach? What have they “learned” about handling disputes?
Youth sports organizations exist to give young people outlets and opportunities for healthy activity. They aim to “hire” volunteers with the best approach and skill set to act as positive role models.
They don’t always bring in the right people, and mistakes will inevitably be made.
The more the sports association, local clubs, individual coaches, players themselves and parents communicate their mutual objectives together, very early on, the better off everyone is.
All the parties may not agree, and if they don’t, thankfully parents have the freedom to protest, ask for change, and ultimately leave a ‘club' if it’s obviously not the right club or team for them.
Punishing a young player for being late- and punching out a coach- is never healthy, much less a solution.