EDITOR:On Wednesday, March 7, I attended a district tournament basketball game between the Carney Wolves and the North Central Jets.
This game was being played at the friendly confines of the Carney High School gymnasium. I attended this game to support a young man who is employed by our company in the summer months during vacation from school. This young man plays for the Jets and has a passion for basketball.
Please allow me to give you a somewhat, non-partial account of what happened next.
At game-time, the gym was sold-out, with standing room only. I was standing with some friends directly across from the bleachers, just a couple of feet from the gym floor.
I've only watched a handful of high school basketball games in the last 30 years or so. The pace was fast and furious. Both teams were well coached and playing with intensity and skill.
Then, all heck breaks loose - a flagrant foul by Carney - North Central has a one point lead, two free throws and the ball with three seconds left in the game. Was that a soda pop container that almost hit me? Where did that come from? Really? A technical foul on North Central?
Two free throws and possession of the ball for Carney?
I have an idea. What if some brilliant kid puts on the opponents colors, sits in their cheering section, drinks a lot of soda pop and starts flinging the empties on the court? Would his true team shoot free throws all night long?
Carney advanced in this district tournament, rightfully so.
North Central was eliminated, not so rightfully so. This game was not decided on the court by the players. That is unfortunate, but sometimes things like this happen.
All you can do is be happy for the Carney kids and so very sad for the North Central kids.
Now, let me get to the real point of this story. There was no true winner that night, but there was a true loser. I'm not talking about the North Central Jets-heck no. Those kids deserved to win every bit as much as the Carney kids. The true loser that night was "sportsmanship," plain and simple. And "sportsmanship" lost big time.
The three-man officiating crew was under attack from the beginning of the game to the ugly end.
Never mind that this crew of officials has nearly 100 years of combined experience. Never mind that this crew of officials has called hundreds of tournament games.
Every single call made by these gentlemen was contested in some way, shape, or form. The coaches were not out of control. Carney's Jake Polfus and North Central's Adam Mercier and both their teams went along with their business quite well, considering the circumstances. The true losers were the so-called grown-ups in the stands.
The three-man officiating crew had every call they made questioned. Also questioned was their eyesight and vision, knowledge of the rule book, integrity, and even their manhood.
So called grown-ups were screaming at the top of their lungs about the definition of traveling, palming, and the always controversial blocking/charging calls.
It may have been amusing or entertaining if it wasn't so ugly.
Men, women, children, grandmas, grandpas - I guess the best word to describe it is just sad. The only two things these poor officials did not get blamed for was the poor U.P. economy and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby many years ago.
No amount of payment that these men receive and no amount of self-gratification is worth what they went through. The game should have been stopped and dozens of people should have been removed from the gym.
I understand the rivalry between these two teams, and I understand the word intensity, but this was totally disgraceful.
As always, there is a silver lining to every storm if you look close enough.
Remember the young man at the beginning of this story?
His name is Bryce Bilski, number 14 for the North Central Jets. That night he scored 15 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, and had numerous assists and steals, with solid defensive play.
Bryce's biggest impact on the game, however, was not his play on the court; it was his conduct on the court.
This handsome, "ahh shucks" kind of kid has scored over 1,000 points in his high school career, but his conduct and sportsmanship is just as impressive. Bryce did not trash talk in a game that was just full of it, nor did he question a call or snicker openly at a referee's call.
I watched as Bryce restrained a rightfully irate Coach Mercier and escorted him back to the bench.
Bryce was the first person to embrace Carney's Coach Polfus after the very controversial ending of the game.
He was also the first to congratulate the Carney players. I would not be surprised if Bryce offered counseling to his teammates and then drove the team bus back to Powers.
His decency and sportsmanship were a blessing in a gymnasium that was lacking both so badly.
I want to congratulate Bryce for his honor, integrity, and sportsmanship. He is truly a role model for younger and older players, coaches, and, hopefully, the so-called grown-ups in the stands.
I do not know if basketball will influence or be a big part of Bryce's future, but I know the values he possesses will.
I also hope that we are part of his future, especially during summer vacation.