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Opinion :: A lesson in sportsmanship and patriotism, from a long-time rival
· 11:07am February 17th, 2014
Athletes and spectators competitive sports learn many things: Skills. Teamwork. Discipline. Sportsmanship – how to play, win and lose graciously.
We learn these things from coaches, teammates, professionals we admire, and – at times – from the other team.
At a recent basketball game in Vinton, I saw an inspiring performance from on of our rivals that merits mention and a sincere compliment.
The Vikings were playing Benton Community; as they usually do, a group of Benton students filled several rows under the main scoreboard, behind the Bobcat bench.
A group of about 20 filled three rows of one section, while more students came later and sat across the aisle.
They were loud from the beginning, chatting to the Viking players as they warmed up at the basket in front of the Benton student section. They even began counting the number of missed practice shots the Viking took during warm-ups, shouting the numbers in succession.
They were consistently loud and probably got under the skin, on the nerves and into the heads of the Viking players or fans at times – which, of course, is in part the point. But they were good sports about it; their language was clean; the worst I heard from that corner was from one male who sat apart from the main group and seemed to have a vocabulary of two words, “you” and “suck.”
But they supported their team and razzed ours in appropriate language, throughout the whole game. They celebrated in synch with the Bobcat bench over every successful free throw. They even sang a few numbers, including “The Alphabet Song,” while Viking players attempted free throws.
I admired their energy and consistency. Although I am sure they had fun, it is hard work keeping up that kind of energy and volume.
Their most impressive moment, however, began in silence.
As the audience hushed for the singing of the National Anthem, the group of 20 Bobcat fans stood and faced the flag together. Each put his or her right hand over his heart and his left hand on the shoulder of his classmate.
Then, when the song ended, those students led the audience in a chant of “USA! USA! USA!”
Benton Community and Vinton-Shellsburg athletes and fans have been competing against each other, razzing each other – and if the stories I hear are true, there was a time a generation ago when pranks against the other school’s symbols was an occasional occurrence.
And of course, throughout the history of this rivalry, there have been memorable victories and defeats for both schools. The Vikings routed Benton on opening day of football season, in the first game on the Bobcats’ new turf. The Bobcats gave the Vikings two of their toughest games in last year’s undefeated basketball season, and defeated them twice this year. A few years ago, as a basketball game came to an end with the Vikings on top, the Benton student body chanted, "Let's play football!!!" as a reminder who had won on the gridiron a few months earlier.
The same energy and rivalry has continued in every sport: Baseball, wrestling, track and the rest. And last fall, a former Bobcat football player earned his first win as a high school coach over his old team as he led the Viking freshman to victory.
This intense and intensely loud rivalry will continue, I am sure, in perpetuity, as it should. Rivalries can help make us try harder to do better. And yes, at times, people on both sides have failed to remember their sportsmanship.
But for a few inspiring moments that recent Friday, the students dressed in blue and gold and those in black and gold were all on the same side.
And those of us on the other side saw something admirable in our opponents, and their fans.
It's not new to see Benton or Vinton-Shellsburg students displaying patriotism. I have been to incredible services where the student bodies of each school honors local veterans. But it was especially inspiring to see and hear that impromptu display of American pride.
Competition. Sportsmanship. Patriotism.
That’s what all sports, especially high school sports should represent, every night, every game.
And on that Friday in Vinton, that's exactly what we saw.
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