Running up the score is a dirty subject no one in sports wants to talk much about, particularly not when it involves high school sports and accusations of poor sportsmanship on the part of coaches and/or players.
The subject reared its ugly head on Patch message boards following Lincoln-Way East’s 45-9 girls basketball victory over district rival Lincoln-Way Central on Tuesday. “Shame on you,” is how one commenter chose to berate East’s coach.
I say cheap shot.
I’m sure there are occasions when coaches and/or players attempt to run up the score on opponents. It’s human nature to hold a grudge, cite payback as the motive for poor behavior. So, does it happen? You bet. Do I think Lincoln-Way East was guilty of running it up on Lincoln-Way Central? Absolutely not.
Lincoln-Way East coach Jim Martin has worked long and hard to build a successful program. He has a Division I point guard this season (Taylor Johnson, Loyola) and an almost equally gifted NAIA recruit (Caitlin McMahon, St. Xavier). The two have sparked the Griffins’ surge through their play on the court and their leadership off it, too.
Lincoln-Way Central does not have players with comparable talent—not right now, anyway.
What I’ve noticed in girls basketball—and all girls sports, really—is a phenomena I call the depth-of-field issue. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is greater now than ever, in part because of the specialization that has taken hold in all sports, not just in the girls ranks.
But, on the girls side, high school volleyball is extremely popular, particularly in the South Suburbs. Marist, Marian Catholic and Chicago Christian made trips to the IHSA state tournament in November and all brought home hardware. These are powerhouse teams with rosters stocked full of talented athletes.
The problem in girls sports is when the “athletes” pick volleyball, there isn’t enough depth in many cases to achieve the same standard of excellence in basketball or softball. Keep in mind there are only so many athletes to go around. Don’t you think Martin would like to have a couple of the Griffin volleyball 6-footers playing basketball at East?
He doesn’t complain about losing players to other sports. He works to develop the players in his program. And, if you’ve ever watched his team play, you know the Griffins run all sorts of offensive sets and take great pride in playing extremely hard on defense.
In fact, Johnson is considered one of the best defenders in the state.
Oh, she can score. She has worked to make the 3-point shot a greater part of her arsenal. She probably could have scored 45 points all by herself against Lincoln-Way Central if she had been given the green light. It’s worth noting she wasn’t given that kind of freedom to reign.
And since when does scoring 45 points qualify as running it up? That’s roughly five baskets and one free throw each quarter. Fifth- and sixth-grade teams score that many points on a regular basis. Have you checked out the point totals put up lately by some of the other high school powers in girls basketball?
Bolingbrook hit 90 in a victory over Homewood-Flossmoor. Hillcrest scored 91 in a win over Eisenhower. Running it up?
What constitutes going too far? Most coaches go to their benches early and often when their teams have built a big lead. Beyond that, what can be done to hold the sportsmanship line in place? Coaches can call for shot restrictions and set up timed passing drills, all of which begs for the asking of more questions.
Does that make a mockery of the game? Is that more of an embarrassment than letting backups bask for moment in the sun? Do you favor the implementation of a running clock when one team holds, say, a 20-point lead over another?
Know this: Mother McAuley jumped to a 17-4 lead over Marist on the RedHawks’ home floor the other day. The Mighty Macs were on fire from 3-point distance until Marist pushed its defense out on McAuley’s shooters and rallied to notch a 58-53 victory.
Strange things happen, particularly in high school sports. In girls basketball, strange often can be considered the norm. Running up the score is not, thank goodness.