Acts of sportsmanship after and during a loss
Other than jumping on and whipping up on my son (which won’t last much longer), I have never been a wrestler.
Knew them in high school and thought they were nuts.
Now, I know that’s not the truth, but I just never understood it back then.
I do now.
On that point, I will never, for the life of me, understand why it is OK for wrestlers to not shake hands of the opposing coaches after a match.
I get the five or six minutes of intensity with a win or loss riding on the match.
I get all the emotion with six minutes standing between two wrestlers for a state championship.
It’s not quite a steel cage match, but sometimes it might as well be with a circle that encompasses 28 feet all the way around.
I understand how wrestlers come off the mat in unpleasant moods and go to the other coach and shake hands because they “have to.”
That didn’t happen in Minnesota.
When Blaine High School sophomore Malik Stewart was pinned in the 120-pound final by fellow sophomore Mitchell McKee of St. Michael Albertville High School 1:22 into the Class 3A match, Stewart shook the hands of the opposing coaches, his coaches and then went over and found McKee’s father.
And, he hugged him.
You see, the elder McKee has terminal cancer.
“He won,” Stewart said to Lindsey Seavert of KARE-TV. “He was pretty proud, and his dad was pretty proud. So I went over there and I shook his hand, embraced him a little bit, and told him to stay strong and everybody loves him.”
“I got a little teary because I lost the match, and I knew the hard times he was going through. The crowd went wild and I heard a couple people say after I did it – that was pretty classy – but I just did it straight from the heart.
“I went through the same thing when I was younger but my dad didn’t pass by cancer. It was by a heart attack (when Stewart was 7), so I know what he is going through.”
“It was a big match for him and to be able to hug my dad like that and not be mad and storm off like a lot of kids do,” said McKee to Seavert. “Really respectful.”
In fact, the act of sportsmanship moved T.J. Anderson, assistant wrestling coach at Dassel-Cokato Middle School to write e letter to the Anoka Hennepin School District.
“The whole crowd gave a standing ovation, not just for the STMA wrestler and his father, but for Stewart, who understands what true sportsmanship is. Thank you for making your athletes into what they are today, Mr. Stewart is a model wrestler who we can all use in our examples of what a true athlete is,” it said.
Blaine head coach Josh Prokosch elaborated to Seavert.
“You see kids, they lose and throw their headgear, they sit and pout, first thoughts through his mind, are to congratulate Mitchell, congratulate the coach and shake the dad’s hand so that was fantastic,” he said. “For a sophomore in high school he can see a lot of the big picture which is pretty rare nowadays.”
This has to be the rule and not the exception.
“When you go out there, you want to win, but if you don’t win, you have got to be a good sport and you be polite. That’s the biggest part,” said Stewart.
“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.” – Paul Brown
Across the country, on a different night, Trinity Classical had a healthy lead on Desert Chapel in the CIF-Southern Section Division VI title game.
Trinity held a 75-52 lead with 59 seconds left in the game when Beau Howell, a 5-foot-6 freshman with autism checked into the game. It was his 10th game of the season and had yet to score.
Howell took two shots on the first possession, making neither. Desert Chapel secured the rebound and, with 40 seconds remaining, called timeout.
As the teams came back onto the court, a player from Desert Chapel talked to a Trinity player and walked him toward midcourt. The Trinity player then waived his teammates to their side of the court.
“We saw him come on the court and everyone giving him a standing ovation, and he probably hadn’t scored in his life,” Desert Chapel senior Taner Alvarez told The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. “Why not let him score in the biggest game of his life?”
Alvarez handed the ball to Howell and walked him to about 10 feet from the basket.
Hand the ball back to Howell.
Alvarez motioned to Howell to get closer.
From 5 feet – good with 19 seconds left in the game and Howell immediately hugged one of his teammates and Alvarez patted him on the back.
True class and sportsmanship.
“To see how this team, who doesn’t know our school, certainly doesn’t know Beau, to see the way they responded was such an incredible blessing,” Howell’s mother, Megan, told The Valley Signal. “They had the opportunity to be disappointed and focus on themselves. It was a hard game for them, but they immediately responded in a beautiful way.”
Alvarez admitted in the newspaper story that he nor his teammates knew that Howell had autism.
“That will always be in my heart,” Alvarez tells The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. “That kid scoring and for me to give him that shot felt pretty cool.”
Lift someone up.
(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MathisonMike)