Last night was a brilliant night to be a Kansas State Wildcat (note the entire post is in royal purple today). The #9/#10 ranked men’s basketball team upset #1 Texas 71-62 before a sold out crowd at Bramlage Coliseum, many of whom began lining up for prime seats before dawn. A friend posted on Facebook that she could hear the crowd inside from over a mile away. In fact, my home page literally lit up with K-State friends exuberant over the victory… plus a few detractors who tried to brush it off. I guess that’s why it’s called an “upset” instead of a “happy.”
Two posts in particular kept me up later than mere adrenaline was already. One, from a friend who has no particular allegiance to K-State I’m aware of, said [head coach] “Frank Martin scares the heck out of me… he’s the angriest human I’ve ever seen!” I had to agree, and my comment was “Such a mouth!” Coaches with his heat-of-the-moment vocabulary are the reason we don’t put the TV mic on them like they do for coaches in the Little League World Series. Whether you’re an official, a player, the floor, or his ubiquitous plastic water bottle, when Frank gets going, you get out of the way.
Another one from a friend who is a fellow KSU grad said “Seriously fans? Show some more class than that. Some of those chants are stupid. Maybe you should have listened to Coach Knight.” I had to “like” that one the moment I read it. (Somehow Facebook has transformed “like” into more of an action verb than it was before.) He was referring to chants like “overrated!” and “we own Texas.” ESPN commentator Bob Knight, legendary former coach at Indiana and Texas Tech, was wishing that Wildcat fans would choose something more like “thank you” or “good effort” to their players, rather than berating a team who gave a great effort and will still be highly ranked, though they will certainly lose the #1 spot.
Coach Knight should know about showing class. In his, uh, prime, he pulled stunts both on and off the court that would make Frank Martin cower in awe. Throwing a chair across the court, headbutting, choking, and mock-whipping players, multiple allegations of assault… the list spans four decades. But his point is extremely well taken. I often stood in shocked silence in the student section when the chants turned mean-spirited and even vulgar. It almost made me wish for the days of mandated high school sportsmanship under Kansas’s often-mocked “Rule 52.”
While I as a youth leader (and a teacher, for that matter) don’t have millions of eyes watching me on national TV, I do have to live with the realization that wherever I go, someone is probably watching me. This should be so obvious as to be a non-issue for believers in general, but when young people take direct example from my life, I can’t let down my guard even for a moment. After a decade in Kansas City and the students I have worked with at church and schools numbering in the thousands, I simply can’t assume that any outing will be anonymous.
It is even more compelling when I am with kids in a youth group environment. How easy it is for youth leaders, some of whom can be extremely competitive, to forget that relationships and integrity trump winning every single time. It is never OK to cheat in a contest or game. It’s just a bag of candy. And while some 8th grade boys could take me down, I can’t forget that when adults get into the fray of a game (like some of the ones we play on Wednesday nights to let kids burn off pent-up wiggles from three days stuck in a desk), we must keep the physical and emotional safety of kids at the top of our minds.
Even when it’s just a game, lives are entrusted to us. Show some class.