I’m sitting in the second or third row of the high school gymnasium. The game is just starting, but the bleachers are sparsely filled. It’s the Trojan Classic, and both teams are from out of town. The room is warmly lit, and there’s excitement buzzing in the air.
It’s the perfect setting for some friendly competition.
A mom is sitting up a few rows behind me. She’s competitive, but at this point she’s feeling anything but friendly.
“What are you doing?” she bellows in the tone of voice usually reserved for a dog that has momentarily forgotten the difference between carpet and grass. “You gotta call ’em for both sides!”
Other parents are chiming in with equal conviction: “Didn’t you see that? Open your eyes!”
Yelling at the referees is a common pastime for many parents, ranked right up there with yelling at players, yelling at coaches, yelling at opposing players, yelling at opposing parents who are yelling at opposing coaches.
When I was in high school, I never thought much about this. But the more time I have to step away from that scene, the more I realize how ridiculous some of us act.
“Move the ball!” the mom shouts. “Push that ball!”
A dad not too far away agrees: “Push it!” And then by way of clarification explains: “Push it! Push it! Puuuuuuush iiiiiiiit!”
I imagine the mom’s face at this point is the same color as the cherry slushies at the concession stand, but I don’t dare turn around to look.
You see, I suffer from a medical condition that prohibits my mouth from filtering what my brain is thinking. I’ve already been imitating Basketball Mommy under my breath in a voice you might find on the Muppets.
If I actually turned around I’d probably say something that would evoke a new parental pastime: yelling at smart-aleck columnists.
Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that excessive spectator shouting is futile and immature. Then again, so is imitating over-agitated parents in the voice of Miss Piggy.
In the grand scheme of things, high school athletics aren’t all that imperative, unless, of course, the athlete is bound for a multimillion-dollar career in the sport. This is generally unlikely. At any rate, parental yelling and frothing at the mouth is a little silly.
Now, I’m not saying a little sideline encouragement is inappropriate. But it can become melodramatic. I was once at a track meet in which the mom of a distance runner spent the entire race shrieking in increasing hysterics, “Go Charles! Go Charles! Go Charles!”
It was as if Charles had some ulterior motive. Maybe he thought he was actually supposed to slow down, or quit the race altogether.
If parents were to act this way at any other high school competition, say a forensics meet, we’d think they were a lunatic.
Of course, parents of high school athletes aren’t nearly the zealots as coaches of high school athletes. I’ve been to college-level basketball games in which the coach was mellower than the guy coaching the team for which the mom sitting behind me is screeching.
“You’re killing me!” he is saying into the face of a player he just pulled from the court. “What are you doing? You’re getting sloppy! I need you to move your feet. You almost. Cost. Us. The. Play.”
At this point I’m waiting for the lights to dim, and maybe some ominous music to start playing. I can’t imagine the consequences for a high school coach if his team lost a play.
By this time (two minutes and thirty-three seconds into the first quarter) almost everyone is on the verge of hysterics. Except the refs.
That’s right: The guys who are supposed to be most concerned about game logistics are divvying out fouls with the same animosity as a grandmotherly librarian issuing a 25-cent fine.
It seems to me that the fun, innocence and general root of sportsmanship are often lost to us at the high school level. Why do we compete? Isn’t it about teaching teamwork, pursuing goals and ultimately enjoying the game?
I think we could learn a lot from a professor I have.
The other day he walked into class absolutely beaming because he got to watch his middle-school-age daughter play basketball the night before. He acknowledges she might not be the best player on the floor. After all, he admits, she’s never played before.
But then with the glowing love and unabashed pride that only a father could possess he said, “She’s going to be a superstar.” I can’t confirm it, but I think I heard a lump of emotion in his throat. If only we all could find that sort of innocent passion for the game.
And a cherry slushie.