Graphic This And That

It's that time of year when fans of high school athletes spend far more time in the gymnasium rooting for their favorite teams than cooking in the kitchen.

But it's important for sports fans to remember that on any given day, anyone or any team can be beat. Yes, that's right — there can only be one winner.

And … believe it or not, sportsmanship does matter. How you carry yourself as a person during the game reflects on your family, your school and your community.

Having watched and written about high school sports for the past four decades, I have watched scenes similar to this one play over and over in high school gymnasiums.

A basketball player gets whistled for a foul. Immediately, instead of walking away, the player throws the ball at the referee's back. Think that wasn't a shock to the referee, crowd and the coach.

The player, the team’s leading scorer, was ejected from the game. After the game, the player's parents were standing outside the referees' locker room to "have a word" with the referee.

Apparently after the game, the coach was notified his player would be suspended from play the next two weeks. But the parents insisted their child wouldn’t have acted this way. The ref was “picking on their son.” Needless-to-say, the parents didn’t get their way.

Covering high school hockey in northern Minnesota, I witnessed a player blindside the referee after having to go to the penalty box.

Shocked by what happened, the player wanted to have a head-to-head battle with the official. Only what the hockey player didn't realize was the official was an ex-Marine Drill Sgt. who kept in great shape. The player took one swing at him, and he grabbed the kid’s arm and threw him into the penalty box. Fans were on their feet cheering for the official.

In real life, the hockey official by night was the county auditor, by day. When I asked him about the incident the next day, he reiterated that kids think they can get away with the same stuff as professional athletes. It's a shame, he said, when sportsmanship is relegated to the sidelines and no one calls it in check.

The harassment of sports officials is unnecessary. We've seen parents poke officials with umbrellas, come out of the stands to have confrontations and call officials names, as well as physically assault them. It's no wonder many New Mexico schools have a hard time finding athletic officials. No one wants the job or headache.

Tournament time can bring out the best and the worst in people. But we need to remember why our children participate in sports.

While striving to win, they learn about teamwork, leadership and sportsmanship, all of which can contribute to their development as solid citizens.

In organized team sports, children work together to accomplish a task and learn from their mistakes. These lessons directly translate into the classroom and beyond.

As parent, your child models your behavior towards officials. If you're yelling at the referee from the sideline (yes, when he missed calling that penalty call), you are sending a message to your child that your behavior is acceptable.

The same holds true when criticizing your child's coach. Even if you disagree with coaching strategy, resist undermining the coach in front of your child.

Finally, reinforce good behavior. We need to praise our athletes when showing good sportsmanship, such as gracefully handling a tough loss, helping an opponent stand up post tumble, or respectfully accepting a questionable call against his or her team.

Sports are great for kids; they build confidence, provide exercise and help teach social skills.

It's important, however, for children — as well as parents and fans — that winning isn't everything … sportsmanship is.