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Winning team a loser when the final score is 107-2

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.

Saw a train wreck Wednesday just by reading an ESPN headline: “Girls’ basketball team wins 107-2.”

I stared at the numbers just to see if they were changing colors or shape. I mean, isn’t that what you do when you feel like you are hallucinating? When a basketball team wins 107-2, many things come to mind, such as how spectacularly idiotic, mean and insensitive the winning coach from Bloomington South (Indiana) High School must feel now after the Tuesday night game.

“I’m not sure what the lesson is here,” said Steve Bell, the girls’ coach at Montgomery, quite possibly making one of the most impressive understatements in sports history.

That maybe common sense is not all that common?

“I’d have to apologize to the other (losing) coach after the game,” said Eric Mehtlan, who coaches the girls at Willits.

And then promise the players from Arlington High School that he would pay for their therapy bills. As it is comedian-actor Mike Epps of “Hangover” fame has said he will visit the Arlington players very soon to cheer them. Geez Louise, when a comedian says he’s coming to your rescue, isn’t that a little bit like asking Big Bird to come over and cheer you up after you’ve been laid off?

I mean, this is basketball, the one sport that can humiliate an athlete unlike any other. Football players wear helmets; you can't even see if they have a pimple much less a tear. Baseball players drop fly balls in center field, 300 feet from you. No one ever knows what a hockey player looks like. Swimmers can go under water and have a good cry. But basketball is so intimate ...

“They are wearing shorts and tank tops and you can see their faces,” Mehtlan said. “Their emotions are right there for everyone to see.”

Clinical psychologists in Indianapolis just upped their hourly rate. Chris Kaufman, assistant commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, is at a loss. Understand, there is no shot clock in Indiana high school basketball. A team can go into the Four Corners, where the ball is passed interminably from one player to another. It usually happens when one team clearly realizes it is outmatched and tries to keep the score down in the hope of keeping it close. No one in Indiana, Kaufman said, has ever really promoted the idea of installing a shot clock.

“We tend to hold the ball a little longer than in other states,” Kaufman said between yawns (just kidding).

So why wouldn’t the Bloomington South coach, Larry Winters, go into the Four Corners when his team got up, say, 40-1, in the first half? (Arlington hit one free throw in the second period and one free throw in the third period.) When you’re beating someone 40-1, what could a coach fear? That the other team suddenly will run off 39 unanswered points and make a game of it? Why not stall and get the game over with as soon as possible?

“I’m in agreement with you on that one,” Kaufman said.

The Arlington coach, Ebony Jackson, could have taken her team off the court at halftime, refusing to play. That’s what the coach of the South Torrance High School girls basketball team did on Feb. 7, 1990. Lisa Leslie of Inglewood Morningside High had scored 101 points at halftime. Remember, it’s halftime! Her team was winning, 102-24. The South Torrance coach, Gil Ramirez, said nuts to this. To him this was a blatant act of ego and greed. He yanked his team from the gym before the second half.

And here’s truly the most incredible part. The Southern Section of the CIF was going to recommend disciplinary action against Ramirez for removing his team from the game. Leslie was trying to break the national record of the 105-point game of Cheryl Miller. It didn’t matter that her team had a 78-point lead at halftime. It wasn’t about sportsmanship. It wasn’t about running up the score. It was all about Leslie getting the record. If South Torrance happened to be feel like a bug on the windshield, oh well. Miller even told the Los Angeles Times it was a shame Leslie was deprived the opportunity to break her record. Oh, so sad.

What would Indiana high school officials have done if the Arlington coach had refused to play the second half Tuesday night?

“It is a violation of our rules,” Kaufman said, “if a coach refuses to let his team play. You can’t just walk off the court. On the other hand, common sense would enter into it.”

Indiana doesn’t have what it calls a “mercy rule” — a running clock if a certain point differential is reached. In California, if a team is leading by 40 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, a running clock begins ticking, only stopping for injury and a timeout.

“And if the two coaches agree,” said Gil Lemmon, commissioner of CIF’s North Coast Section, “the running clock can begin even earlier.”

On Nov. 29, the Willits girls were beating El Molino, 22-2, at the end of the second quarter. Mehtlan didn’t need a visit from Doctor Phil or an 80-point lead to know his girls had the game in hand.

“Melissa (Jones, El Molino’s coach) is a terrific person and a terrific coach,” Mehtlan said, “but she lost a lot of players to graduation. She has a lot of junior varsity players on her team.”

Beginning the second quarter Mehtlan called off his team’s full-court press. If Willits stole the ball, they stopped at halfcourt, waiting for El Molino to get back on defense. They passed the ball more than usual. They worked on situations. Willits still won, 60-27, but afterward Jones thanked Mehtlan for his thoughtfulness.

“I’ve played teams,” Bell said, “in which we called off the full-court press. We didn’t go out farther than 15 feet on defense. We allowed the other team to shoot. We worked on plays. We had kids work on their opposite hand dribble. We shut down the engine. We passed the ball a lot. We wanted to take the pressure off the other team. There are ways to slow it down even when we have a shot clock (30 seconds).

“Remember, this is high school basketball. Be competitive, but if the situation calls for it, also be compassionate.”

It shouldn’t be that complicated.

“In this situation,” Kaufman said, “both teams lost.”

Both teams are humiliated. I mean, if Bloomington South brags about this victory, all the coaches and players need to be locked in a room and listen to Justin Bieber sing for four hours. At some point you’re up, 80-2, and you still feel you have to keep scoring? What, you like to take a sledgehammer to swat a housefly?

And for poor Arlington, well, the players are going to need more than just one comedian to get them through this one. They just lost a basketball game by 105 points. Arrange a comedy benefit with Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Robin Williams. Make ’em laugh until their sides hurt. Do it long enough and that might replace the pain in their hearts.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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