hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

January 30, 2014

Sport debacles leave me empty

Poor Tom's Almanac
Tom Vartabedian

---- — At first, I thought it was a misprint.

Wouldn’t you think so if you saw a college basketball score that read 116-12? Seems the host team Jaguars set an NCAA record by scoring the game’s first 44 points in their blowout over the Tigers.

End result: Southern 116, Champion Baptist 12.

According to my mathematics, the winning team prevailed by a humiliating 104 points over a Baptist team that had the word “Champion” affixed to its name.

As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough, it was blatantly reported for all to see in major newspapers throughout the country along with such top 20 teams as Gonzaga, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor.

Welcome to the world of debacles and doom — a world where the victor is spoiled by the victory. As for the loser, where would you go to save some face?

Certain questions come into play. Why was there such a mismatch in the first place? Couldn’t the score have been more regulated? Was any compassion shown by the Southern coach or his players? Did he intentionally look to run up the score? How long were the regulars on the court?

Turns out this was a Division 1 matchup between an established program and an independent member of the Association of Christian College Athletics which obviously doesn’t make athletics a priority.

It wasn’t until a player sank two free throws 5 minutes before the half ended to get the Tigers on the scoreboard. The points eventually passed the 100 mark with 2:52 left in the second half.

As it turned out, Champion Baptist sank only 3 of 44 shots taken, committed 27 turnovers and was outrebounded 71-21. Not a single Tigers player scored more than four points.

Two previous losses were by 26 points to top-ranked Arizona and 25 points to No. 12 Baylor.

After covering sports for half my journalism life, I have come across games that were too painful to watch. Just peruse the sports section of your favorite paper and you’ll see the lopsided scores being reported.

I once covered a prep school football game where it was 45-0 at the half. Much as the losing team tried, it was no match for a more superior squad. The winning coach benched his regulars and instructed his reserves to show some leniency.

He didn’t tell them not to score, but demonstrate humility and honor in the best interests of the sport.

After losing by eight touchdowns, a coach I know refused to shake his opponent’s hand at mid-field following the defeat, except to say some parting words.

“Someday the shoe will be on the other foot,” he grumbled.

Several years later, the coach retaliated with a cast of veterans and intentionally ran up the score much as his adversary did. There was no love lost between the two.

I’ve always held Dan Marino in high esteem as an NFL quarterback and had to feel just a little remorseful when his Dolphins were crushed by the Jaguars, 62-7, in the play-offs to end his career. I would not have liked to see my career end on such a dour note.

I fail to see any redeeming factor in a score that’s literally off the charts such as those of the UConn women in basketball. How do you get your team motivated against a powerhouse that could probably hold its own in the professional ranks?

“Sometimes it’s better to have played and lost than to not have played at all,” I heard a coach once remark in an after-dinner speech. The team he was addressing hadn’t won a football game in three years, having lost 33 games in a row.

He may as well have been preaching inside a vacuum because the players in that room felt demoralized and empty. Nobody likes to lose, unless you’re a born pessimist. The worst thing about being so defeated is the public sympathy that goes with it.

Winning is much more compatible, unless you look at it another way and see a positive side. There usually is, if you take the trouble to find it.

How many of you have ever sat or stood in the stands and it was just too painful to watch? You may have been there to watch your child perform — or a grandchild. The people are screaming. The coach is lambasting his players. The entire hockey game was turned into a mockery.

The ice rink resembled an igloo. The only heat came from the mouths of tormenters. The score came out in favor of the opposition, 9-0. We had but four shots on net.

When it was over, my son turned to me and said, “Dad. Forget the outcome. They were really bad sports. After all, it was just a game.”

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.