Saturday, November 22, 2003

Raise your hand if you’ve never heard of Nate Haasis. Ok, I see some hands, so here’s the deal. Last month, the young Illinois quarterback was playing his last high school football game for the Southeast Spartans, and losing to boot. The thing was that Haasis was close to achieving a passing record; he only needed about 30 yards to reach the CS8 conference record of 5,000 yards passed in a career. At the very end of the game, Haasis’s coach made an agreement with the coach of the opposing team, Cahokia High, to help the senior achieve his record. The Spartans would allow Cahokia to score again, and in turn, Cahokia would not interfere with Haasis’s passing attempts. This agreement, which was not shared with Haasis, allowed him to make a 37 yard pass, insuring him the conference record. Within a few days Nate Haasis realized what had happened, and in a move that earned him World News Tonight’s Person of the Week, wrote to the SC8 director to request that his pass be stricken from the conference record.

Does this imply that the Central State Eight Conference is rotten with corruption? Probably not. Did Nate Haasis make a courageous decision? Damn right, he’s an example of what’s right and good in this world. But his act is not the whole story. Were the coaches wrong? Oh yes. When this first made the news, I was feeling proud of Haasis, and angry with the coaches. But I’ve considered this for a bit, and realized that you have to understand their motivation. What the coaches did was still wrong, no way around it. But it bears attention.

I’ve often felt that, I “just don’t like sports”. And if that were true, then yay for me. I’m entitled to not like sports, just as I’m entitled to not like Elvis. The thing is, though, I do like sports. And I’ve probably known this for a while now, on some level. No, this isn’t’ one of those epiphany moments. Damn if I haven’t actually liked sports for a while now. Yup, even before my own training, before Pats 20 - Rams 17, before Tiger, before Kathy Freeman.

Did it start with Wilma Rudolph? Good Hollywood headlines. Athlete overcomes polio (Polio for God’s sake!) to star in basketball. Black athlete scores against racism. Woman athlete makes good at Olympic track. Yeah, good stuff. It’s emotional you see.

No matter how it started, it was there, my non-dislike of sports. It grew during Spirit Week in High school. Go Red Devils! In College, even more spirit (and spirits too, I must admit). Go Chiefs! Sports were really getting to be fun.

The next few years, it was May. I suppose it should have been March Madness, but for me it was May. May was when you got to watch Bird, McHale and Parrish work their magic against… well… Magic. And what a show. Playoffs were great. The Pistons, the 76er’s the Lakers, and we were winning. More emotion, but this was the crazed, “in your face”, bragging kind of emotion.

I don’t know when things changed, when I began to view sports differently. Was it when I watched an NFL team win a championship game, tears of joy mixing with sweat in the winning end zone? Then watched the tears of frustration of the other team, and then - saw half of those guys make their way over to give heartfelt hugs to the winners? True champions recognize achievement in their opponents and in themselves. Was that what I was witnessing?

As a fan, as a person, I enjoy a good win. But seems as if a more mature attitude towards sports and athleticism has settled in and that old phrase, “Winning isn‘t everything”, makes more sense than ever. Maybe being a parent on the soccer sidelines helps. You cheer for the kid who always gets the goals, and then you cheer yourself hoarse for the one who can barely control the ball, who somehow makes an outstanding pass to the kid who always gets the goals. And then you see the opposing coach high-fiving the poor ball handler who made the outstanding pass to the kid who always gets the goals. And you feel something funny in your chest, and your eyes are blurring. That feeling, that’s what those two Illinois high school coaches were trying to foster. The desire to recognize achievement. That - is what is right and good in this world.

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