What would you have them learn?

I attended a high school basketball game recently and it brought back fond memories of when I used to attend as a basketball official for 30-plus years. Much like the players and coaches we, as Idaho State Basketball officials, get some butterflies before a game.

They are enhanced, for me at least, by what happens prior to tip off. Before each game, we all participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or (and my personal favorite) the national anthem.

On any given night everyone in the gym joins as one to put our hands over our hearts and recite the pledge or to sing or simply listen to the national anthem. As an official, even after hundreds of games, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time the flag dropped from its watchful place in the rafters. As we would sing of the stars and stripes, I felt a warm chill as I contemplated what that flag represents. At that moment we are all one in that gym united with one cause and one purpose.

We were not divided by school names or mascots. We are all Americans united under one flag. At the conclusion of that ceremony, however, it is all business for everybody.

When the ball goes in the air, all bets are off. Many times the adopted motto seems to be “destroy everything in sight and take no prisoners.”

Now we can’t blame our young high school athletes for this mentality. We as adults, parents and mentors must share the blame for that Neanderthal attitude. Every official has been verbally assaulted more than once by coaches, parents and fans for a perceived or maybe an actual mistake. My personal favorite is, “Hey there are two teams out there.”

Now it may surprise you that the officials know that. In fact, on many occasions, they are the only ones who know that.

We, as parents and sports fans, often justify our sports rage by blaming unwanted results on the “evil” officials. With that said, even the best officials make a few mistakes during a game (far less than they are accused of, however). We teach our young people that when things don’t go the way you want them to, it’s OK to blame someone else.

Now at this point you may think that this is a sports column. It’s not.

My intention with this article is to remind us that we have a responsibility to the next generation to ground them in correct values and help them develop healthy attitudes.

I have witnessed bias and intolerant attitudes for uniform color, skin color, race, sexual orientation, religious preference, political leanings and a host of other things that make us different. It doesn’t have to be like that.

On Sept. 12, 2001, after the twin towers fell we were ALL Americans. We were ALL appalled and horrified at what had happened to OUR country and OUR citizens. WE were ready to destroy everything in sight and take no prisoners.

Things are much different today. Now our perceived enemy is the person cheering for the other team or sitting across the political aisle. Not that many years later things have changed. Today we read articles and hear people accusing others of racism, intolerance and other cruel behavior, often in an attempt to convince others to believe as they do. We look at those who don’t believe as we do as the enemy rather than simply fellow citizens who have a different point of view. When they wear the opposing team colors they must be the enemy and must be destroyed. That attitude is only correct in war, not in communities, gymnasiums or in the political arena.

I feel very sorry for those who look at those with different views as “the enemy.” I feel bad when they resort to name-calling and mudslinging.

It takes away from the lesson we want our young people to learn. The political war that will be waged between now and November will be degrading and demoralizing for us, as well as for the coming generation that is watching us and expecting us to show them how it should be done. We must be true to the values and principles that we believe in and are trying to instill in the next generation. We can’t merely ask them to “do as I say, not as I do.”

They are watching us, and make no mistake about it, they will learn from us.

What would you have them learn?

Idaho State Journal 2/25/2012

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