The Xavier Hawks of Appleton and the Brookfield Central Lancers are uncommon opponents in girls’ basketball. The two teams play in different conferences and different divisions, so their only opportunity to meet on the court is in a non-conference matchup like the game Jan. 23 in Brookfield. The score of the game, a 56-41 victory for Central, is not what many people will remember from that day. The compassion displayed by Xavier stands out.
Two Brookfield Central students died recently. Prior to the day of the game, Xavier girls’ basketball coach A.C. Clouthier offered support to Central coach Mallory Liebl through an email and phone call. When the Hawks arrived at the school, they brought a large plant and a card signed by the entire team.
Following the game, Liebl posted a social media message about Xavier’s thoughtfulness.
“I thought that was such an incredible gesture and a huge life lesson for our girls,” she wrote. “Being good people is far more important than being good basketball players. So impressed with Xavier’s kindness.”
Alan Herzberg, Jr., a photographer for Brookfield Central athletics, was among those who were also struck by this gesture.
“This past month or so has seen a lot of talk about sportsmanship at Wisconsin high schools,” he wrote in an email. “I don’t know if there is a ‘lifemanship’ award, but if there is, my vote is to award one to the extraordinarily considerate people from Appleton Xavier.”
Let this serve as an example of why it was unnecessary for the WIAA to send out a letter to high school administrators on Dec. 22 that was labeled as a reminder of sportsmanship guidelines. The letter drew opposition from many, including ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who turned to social media to criticize the WIAA for deeming chants of “air ball,” “sieve,” “we can’t hear you,” “fundamentals” and a few others as unsportsmanlike. Current NBA player and former Wisconsin basketball standout Sam Dekker posted a tweet that read “Banning these chants is a bad look. My favorite part of high school was hearing the opposing students.”
By sending out the letter, the WIAA suggested that there is a sportsmanship problem in Wisconsin high school athletics. I disagree. Today, I see many more acts of sportsmanship than unsportsmanlike behavior during games. A large number of athletes who are opponents during the high school season are teammates during summer camps, AAU, American Legion or club team play, so they get to know each other on a personal level, which builds respect. Check out a high school athlete’s Twitter page and, most likely, the list of followers will include members of opposing teams.
Student bodies unite at games to raise money for charitable causes. Last week, the girls’ basketball game between Notre Dame Academy and Bay Port promoted “Coaches versus Cancer” and served as a “Be the Match” event. Prayer promotes sportsmanship at diocesan high school events. A De Pere High School basketball parent told me how impressed he was by the prayer offered before the boys’ basketball game when the Redbirds played at Notre Dame. I have witnessed athletes from Catholic high schools in the diocese gathering in prayer when an opponent is injured.
Sportsmanship in high school athletics is just fine in this state. Thank you to the Xavier girls’ basketball team and many other high school athletes, coaches and fans for their example.