Published 12:00 am Monday, January 25, 1999

By Harold Keller / L’Observateur / January 25, 1999

One thing that disturbs me about athletics, as much as anything else, is to hear a coach, without good character, talk about how much character counts.

A few years ago, after playing in an adult basketball game, my son said, “Daddy, if you want to really get to know someone, the best place is in athletic competition. It will bring out the worst in a person.” It doesn’thave to be that way.

Over the last few years, seeing what’s going on in athletics really scares me. Winning is everything. Character takes a back seat.I was so encouraged a couple of weeks ago when I heard about a Richmond, Calif., basketball team, coached by a man named Ken Carter, that had aperfect 13-0 record and ranked second in the state with a chance to win a state championship. It wasn’t the record that impressed me. It was thefact that one day, when the players went to the gym to practice, the doors were padlocked with the message: “Report to the library.”The coach not only called off practice for a week, but cancelled two basketball games. The two-hour practice time was to be spent studying.The reason he did that is because he learned that 15 out of the 45 junior varsity members weren’t performing up to earlier assignments. Theoffenders were committing such infractions as turning in homework late or being late to class.

Before the season, all players had to sign a contract which read that each player must maintain a 2.3 GPA. (The district rule required only a 2.0GPA.) The coach wanted his players to be above the average.Other requirements were that they had to study at home at least 10 hours a week and attend all classes. They also had to sit on the first or secondrow in each class. (Most athletes like to lounge on the back row.) Ifneeded, they were to have two hours of tutoring each week. (Students whodid well tutored other students.)The coaches’ action attracted some minimal opposition. “Why punish thewhole team?” some asked. “Simply because we are a team. We play andwin as a team and we are in life as a team.” “This is not a punishment,” hecontinued. “I’m teaching these young men a lesson. They have to realizethat basketball is just a small part of life. I’m not running an NBA trainingground. I’m preparing them for life.” (Keep in mind that only one basketballplayer out of 500,000 will make the NBA, but all of them have their lifetime ahead of them.)Getting back to the argument that he punished the good with the bad. Hisson is a star point guard on the team with a 3.7 GPA.With all the bad news in the world and the negative behavior of many athletes, what a refreshing story! Coaches, are you listening? Character not only counts. In the game of life, it’s the only thing that really matters.

Harold Keller is a regular columnist for L’Observateur

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