Disclaimer: These are the ramblings of an aging has-been. Yes, there are more important things to worry about. Yes, this sounds like someone screaming about people getting off his lawn. I know, I know.
On Tuesday night I braved the elements, walked two blocks and wandered into my old high school at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and watched the boys basketball team. The locals lost a two-point game. I wish the Bulldogs had won but the result also provided the one present all former players want: Evidence that my era’s team would have mopped the floor with these youngsters. What else could aging, graying, paunch-carrying middle-aged men want?
The Bulldogs annoyed me with their reluctance to take open 3-pointers and their inability to make them with any consistency when they did shoot them. I pictured what my team would have done against the opposition’s less-than-stellar zone defense and lamented the easy baskets JWP surrendered. The small crowd did not conjure up memories of the bigger crowds we played in front of 20 years earlier. Again, I realize this is not an attractive look — no one likes to listen to anyone talk about how things were better back in the day, especially because we probably had to listen to the same things when we were in school. That said…we would have drilled ’em.
But the in-game action didn’t bother me as much as the pregame. During introductions, each player strolls over to the opposing coach and shakes his hand. Over the weekend, I saw a variation on that theme as one team’s players went over to shake hands with the ref, which feels like a borderline attempt at bribery. This has been going on for a long time, more than a decade. The gesture promotes sportsmanship, an admirable goal. It’s not new but each time I see it I still sigh, shake my head, dig into my popcorn, swig a soda and remember what high school introductions were once capable of.
Certain laws apply to pregame intros in high school, and they should never be violated, even though the rules say you actually have to these days:
1. No shaking the opposing coach’s hand.
2. They alternate.
During our home games we followed rule 1 — no one yet had thought to encourage sportsmanship by forcing us to shake hands with the enemy — but not the second. There are coaches who dislike each other, for personal or professional reasons. Those attitudes can seep down to the players; as long as everything stays fairly cordial, there’s no harm in it. Sometimes it’s fun to bicker with an opposing coach, provided everything stays respectful. But a “sit down, coach” never hurt anyone. Those feelings can add to a rivalry game. Now you have to go make nice, though I suppose a player — or the coach — could always squeeze a little harder on that handshake. (And please note, it does no good to alternate if you have the players approach the coach before the opposing player. Both intro laws must be followed).
At JWP introduced the five starters from the visitors, then the home team. This was acceptable, just not ideal. I always loved District, Region, Sub-Section, or Section games that alternated the introductions. Fans for both teams stood. The PA guy introduced a player for one team, then a player for the other — always starting with the guards and ending with the big men. The first player went to the midcourt circle to wait for his adversary and the second guy came out, ran over to the circle and shook his hand or just slapped it with a bit of disdain and nonchalance or grasped it while making eye contact. This was the guy you were likely to guard and it was the first time to square off and judge him. Did he look nervous, scared, angry, already sweating? If the player introduced first wanted to set a bit of a tone, he could wander over to the other team’s side a bit, testing the waters, asserting some authority as he waited for the second player to emerge from his huddle. The intros can set the tone for a team. I can still remember my junior year when we upset Maple River at Gustavus Adolphus and one of our two stars, Lance Nelson, flew out for intros and to the midcourt circle. We already felt energized and we wanted Maple River, the area’s power, the overwhelming favorite. We carried that energy throughout the game. We won that year but lost the next year against that same Maple River team. This time it happened in Waseca, but again the intros alternated, setting the stage for the showdown. I loved standing there, waiting for my counterpart to emerge. The intros went well that night, even if the final result didn’t.
The big games at Mankato State always alternated. The PA guy, an older fellow, mild-mannered but a perfect voice for these games, introduced the bench players first. Then, as the crowd started clapping, he’d say it was time to introduce the starters. He’d pause for a second and then say, “And we’ll alternate.” Damn right.
And those introductions didn’t make time for detours to shake the coach’s hand. It takes away the drama, robs a big game of some of its mystique. The PA guy introduces the star, the crowd roars, he slaps hands with his teammates and bursts free from the huddle…only to somewhat sheepishly meander over to the other team’s huddle where he shakes hands with the leader of the bad guys. Sportsmanship is a good thing, yes, and during the game players can be good sportsmen even in the most heated of circumstances. But leave it there, for when the clock is running. Before that? Leave the coaches out of it. And always, always, always alternate. Your memories will thank you.