Is It Bad Sportsmanship to Run Up the Score in Youth Sports?

Is It Bad Sportsmanship to Run Up the Score in Youth Sports?

Have you ever participated in a blowout? In baseball, 23-2. In football, 68-13. A game with a score so wildly lopsided that the outcome of the game was almost never in doubt — and the contest never seemed to mercifully end. Have you ever watched a game like this?

How should coaches and teams handle a blowout, especially in youth sports? Should a “mercy rule” automatically end games early? Should teams be forced to bench starters? Should players stop trying to score? Should coaches be suspended? Or should we accept wildly lopsided scores as part of the nature of athletic competition?

In “A School Won 92-4 in Basketball. Then the Coach Was Suspended,” Neil Vigdor writes about a high school coach in Connecticut who was suspended after his team won by 88 points:

The scoreboard, stuck on zero for the visiting team until the game’s final quarter, wasn’t broken.

The full-court pressure and man-to-man defense had been just that suffocating. Just as unrelenting were the barrage of three-point shots and fast-break chances.

But the lopsided result of the high school girls’ basketball game in Connecticut this week might have made even Bobby Knight blanch — the final score between Sacred Heart Academy and Lyman Hall High School was 92-4.

Now the coach of Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic high school for girls in Hamden, Conn., near New Haven, has been suspended for one game by the school’s administration, which apologized for the manner in which “the outcome of the game was achieved” on Monday night.

The suspension of Jason Kirck, the third-year coach of the Sharks, one of the top-ranked teams in the state, was confirmed on Thursday by Al Carbone, the commissioner of the Southern Connecticut Conference. Sacred Heart won the league’s Division 2 championship last year.

“It raises a red flag,” Mr. Carbone said on Thursday of the score. “It’s not just it was an 88-point margin. How does it impact our student-athletes?”

It wasn’t the first time that a scholastic sports program had drawn criticism for running up the score on an opponent and prompted a debate over the boundaries between athletic prowess and sportsmanship.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Should blowouts be allowed in youth sports? Are wildly lopsided scores unsportsmanlike? Or are blowouts inevitable, and even necessary, in any form of athletic competition? Where do you draw the line in the “debate over the boundaries between athletic prowess and sportsmanship”?

  • Have you ever participated in a blowout game — whether as the victor or the vanquished? If yes, tell us about your experience. How did you feel at the time? Does reading the article change how you view that experience?

  • What’s your reaction to the final score of the Sacred Heart Academy and Lyman Hall High School basketball game? Do you think the coach, Jason Kirck, should have been suspended? The coach at Lyman Hall, Tom Lipka, told news outlets that Sacred Heart kept trying to force turnovers and never relented with its fast-break offense. What do you think of this strategy, even with an insurmountable lead?

  • In a statement, Sister Sheila O’Neill, Sacred Heart’s president, said: “Sacred Heart Academy values the lessons taught and cultivated through athletic participation, including ethical and responsible behavior, leadership and strength of character and respect for one’s opponents. Last night’s Girls’ Basketball game vs Lyman Hall High School does not align with our values or philosophies.” Is it important to teach ethical and responsible behavior in all youth sports teams and programs along with athletic skills? Do you think more schools should take a principled stance for sportsmanship, as Sacred Heart did?

  • The Hartford Courant newspaper commended Sacred Heart for apologizing, writing, “the game needs to serve as an example for adults and students alike that winning isn’t everything.” Do you agree? Are blowouts always a bad thing? What life lessons — good or bad — do blowout games teach the young people who participate in them? What lessons are taught if you eliminate them?

  • If you were a commissioner of a youth league, what guidelines and policies would you put in place around this issue? What life lessons and kinds of sportsmanship would you want to instill and encourage?

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.