As we’ve said before, high school sports are supposed to be an extension of the classroom.

They can unite people, creating a sense of community. They can entertain people, adding positively to lives of students and fans alike. But we should not forget that the players are there to learn and become better versions of themselves.

With that in mind, it seems like a slam dunk that one team running the score up on another should be out of bounds.

However, as we’ve seen with the case of the Oceanside High boys’ basketball team, which is rolling over opponents like few teams before it, it’s not quite so simple.

Oceanside, in Rockland, is undefeated – though that statement undersells the team’s achievement. The Mariners are averaging more than 90 points a game, and they are beating opponents by an average of 40 points a game.

On Jan. 17, the Oceanside boys posted an 126-38 win over Belfast, prompting a complaint to the Maine Principals’ Association, which reached out to Coach Larry Reed to ask him to “ease off the throttle,” as the coach put it.

Advertisement

Some coaches, though certainly not all, say Oceanside has gone too far, pushing the action on clearly overmatched opponents long after the game has been decided. They say it’s embarrassing for the losing players and detrimental to the aims of high school sports.

It’s hard to say whether or how often Oceanside has crossed a line without having watched all their games. But just because a game is a blowout, even an outsized one, doesn’t necessarily mean someone did something wrong. There are other considerations that players, coaches, parents and fans should take into account.

Take Oceanside as an example. The team plays a fast, pressure-filled, full-court style of basketball that racks up turnovers and points when done well. The Mariners have a strong roster full of players ready to play that style. It’s taken hard work from many people to get the team to this position, and they’re reaping the rewards, win after blowout win, as they try to avenge a loss in last year’s Class B state championship.

In general, when a team gets too far ahead, the coach should take some steps to make sure the other side isn’t unnecessarily humiliated. But what happens when a team opens a huge lead in the second quarter? Should the starters be forced back to the bench, robbing them of precious game-time action they’ve worked to earn?

And when backups are sent in, is it right to tell them to play at half speed, contrary to how they’ve been coached? How will they improve without that experience? How will they prepare to be next year’s starters?

Furthermore, is it really so bad to suffer a blowout loss to one of the best teams in the state? Isn’t it a victory to give your all alongside your teammates, even when things aren’t going your way?

Advertisement

Schools and the MPA, which sets schedules for high school sports, should do everything in their power to make sure that the teams facing off are as evenly matched as possible. As one columnist suggested recently, they should consider actions like relegation, which could move a team up or down in class depending on the state of their program.

But there will always be differences. All the tinkering in the world with the classes and leagues won’t keep some schools, through timing, luck and hard work, from having good years when others aren’t. In those cases, schools should focus on the lessons imparted by the game rather than the score.

Some matchups will be uneven. Some games will be uncompetitive. Not every day will be yours.

But if the players have given everything they have in practice, and left everything on the floor during the game, they have nothing to be ashamed of. They’ll have other chances for success, on the playing field and elsewhere. Conversely, if they haven’t treated their opponents with the respect another competitor is owed, they have a lot to work on – regardless of the size of their victory.

That’s the major lesson in the classroom of high school sports.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: