Sportsmanship is the Real Winner of 100-0 Game

All over the country this weekend, teams of athletically gifted kids will step onto a court or field against teams they could crush by pretty much any score they want -- maybe even 100-0.

Odds are, it won't happen.

Not again. Probably not for a long time.

And that, observers say, is the long-term benefit of the recent high school girls' basketball game with that same memorable score, the double-whammy of a 100-point victory and a shutout.

"I don't want to overstate the importance of this game in history, but it is important in the present landscape of middle-school and high-school athletics because it gives us the framework for conversations about fair play and sportsmanship to take place," said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University.

"This example is one that was so extreme. The morality of healthy competition and sort of an ethical standard were all violated."

Former University of Texas women's coach Jody Conradt offers another reason it won't happen again: "That was a worst-case scenario, like Hurricane Katrina."

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Because Covenant School's victory over Dallas Academy was so severe, the reaction has been, too.

The losers have become the winners -- getting interviewed on several national television shows and drawing donations to their school, which has about 180 students and specializes in children with learning differences, such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. They won't lose again this season, either, as they've dropped the rest of their games.

The winners, meanwhile, have become the losers -- literally, as the Christian school of nearly 400 students has offered to forfeit the victory, but also in the court of public opinion.

The coach lost his job, too.

School officials supported coach Micah Grimes until the day he wrote on a Web site that he disagreed with the school's apology. He noted his roster was as limited as Dallas Academy's and pointed out times they've finished a game with only four girls on the court. He also recalled an 82-6 loss four years ago "that forever changed us and the way we approached the game of basketball."

Beyond the ramifications and explanations, what lingers is all those zeros, the wild imbalance of one team having 100 points and the other still stuck on 0. That perfectly imperfect score is what stirred up so much buzz.

"When I first saw the score, I thought, `There's a way you can play to let them get on the scoreboard,"' Conradt said. "But zero is zero. That is the ultimate humiliation. Had they scored 12 or 14, there probably would not have been this kind of reaction."

Certainly not. Eight years ago, there was a 178-28 boys' high school game in the Houston area. That 150-point win barely made a ripple compared to this game.

"How much does gender play into this?" Conradt said. "I think that is part of this whole issue. We bring up boys with the idea `You've got to do the best you can and you want to be successful.' With women, we tend to be a little kinder and gentler, which isn't necessarily a bad thing."

The biggest debate stirred up by this game centers on fair play. The big question: What's worse, piling on the points or easing up out of pity?

"That's a really tough decision actually," said Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw. "For me, having to let me score would bother me more. That's just the kind of person I am."

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer has won the third-most games in women's college basketball and taken three schools to the Final Four, so she knows all about the dilemma of managing a powerful team against weak competition. She even faced it in a game against her own college coach.

"For me to let you score, it's like welfare. It's embarrassing," Stringer said. "So you have to be careful with that. But there's a way to give a person their dignity without making it obvious."

Added Conradt: "It's always difficult for the coach of the superior team because you know the sacrifices your team has put in, and to ask them to not play hard violates the code of sports as well. But there's lots of ways to manage a contest that's out of control. For example, you don't fast break, you don't press. You tell your team to work on something specific, like telling them to pass the ball five or six times before they shoot."

All points lead back to the reason this game inflamed so many people -- the premise of using athletics as a way to teach kids about teamwork and life lessons like how to handle victory and defeat.

"It is not in the spirit of sports to humiliate your opponents," said Mitch Lyons, a sportsmanship advocate and executive director of Massachusetts-based getpsychedsports.org. "In high school and lower, and in life, the object should never be to humiliate another person."

Lebowitz said the national dialogue about this game picks up where we left off this time last year when the New England Patriots were going into the Super Bowl seeking an unprecedented 19-0 season but also facing questions their reputation was forever damaged by the videotaping scandal known as "Spygate."

Once the Patriots lost, there were other things to talk about.

"Because of the way society is, because the world moves so fast and society evolves so fast, we do get numbed quickly," Lebowitz said. "This wakes us up from our numbness. We need a reminder that we should be outraged, that we should be upset at things that are unfair."

And this has done it.

The plight of Dallas Academy shows that in our society winning isn't everything -- winning the right way is.

"At the end of the day, where we stand as humans, what our heart allows us to feel, right or wrong, we are still a nation that believes in a core value of decency, of goodness," Lebowitz said. "That's why this story resonates.

"This story has lasted about a week and is still going strong. That in itself shows the depth of it, how many people it has touched."

AP Sports Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., and Associated Press writer Jeff Carlton in Dallas contributed to this report.

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