A few sporting events the last few weeks captured my attention.
First, we saw Selma’s football Bears stage a valiant, gutsy second-half comeback to pull ahead of Kingsburg in the annual rivalry game. Then the Vikings kicker sealed a two-point victory for Kingsburg, 17-15 in the final seconds.
A day later I watched as Fresno Pacific University, coached by Selma High grad George Rodriguez, lost a 4-3 heart-breaker against Academy of Art from San Francisco in NCAA women’s tennis.
Both of those outcomes disappointed me because my heart was with the Bears and the Sunbirds for personal reasons. I have coached at Selma High, my daughter graduated from there and in general I have followed Bears sports for many years.
I have seen Selma High in the past decade become a dominant force in mid-level CIF football, with two Central Section Championships under coach Matt Logue.
And I coached George Rodriguez when I was tennis assistant at Selma High in the 1990s. I am extremely proud of him as a coach and human being. His story — from a farmworker family to college athlete and college coach — should inspire all athletes at Selma High.
Then, last week, I took advantage of a nice April afternoon two join a few friends watching Reedley College and Fresno City College in a baseball doubleheader. There were former Selma High players players on both teams.
Those three events caused me to ponder the fragile state of sports in American high schools and colleges. Even before the pandemic, we noticed troubling times. A decline in high school football participation because of head-injury concerns. Colleges eliminating programs because of budget and Title IX issues. Transfer rules coming under scrutiny. College programs busted for NCAA violations.
I believe the next dozen years will be crucial to high school and college sports. I have plenty of questions:
How close can we get to assuring safety from head injuries in football?
Is the current college athletics model — money-earning sports paying for non-earning sports — sustainable? Or will more of the traditional Olympic sports be phased out?
Which is the best approach for our children — multi-sport athletes or specialists?
Can universities continue to subsidize athletics from student fees? Is there a tipping point to the huge amounts of money being paid to coaches in some high-visibility sports?
Will we continue to see changes in the transfer/recruiting rules in high school and college sports? And who should be making those decisions?
What is the best approach to the nagging question of financial incentives for college athletes?
You may have other questions. I know many folks are concerned about reports of physical and emotional abuse by coaches, trainers and doctors. How safe is your child’s athletics experience? Is he/she learning life lessons or simply sports skills?
As a former high school coach, and now a grandpa coaching an active grandson, I am concerned that we teach the proper lessons.
Many groups do. I am a volunteer coach in the First Tee program, and each week’s session includes a “life skill” in addition to golf skills. Our “Nine Core Values” are: Honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
If we are not teaching those lessons to our children — through sports, the arts, academics, church and family — we are doomed.
So here’s to the Bears, who displayed responsibility, perseverance and confidence in this shortened football season. Here’s to FPU coach Rodriguez, whose Sunbirds showed integrity, respect and judgment in fighting for points on the tennis court. And to the baseball Rams, examples of how old teammates can be friendly rivals.
Here’s to all of us who enjoy watching our children and other hometown/homegrown athletic heroes demonstrate their skills in dramatic, courageous feats on the fields of play.
May those sporting events make us proud and thrill us. And may they produce better human beings.