Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scattering Cats: The Nature of Team Sports

Last night’s basketball blowout, the worst tournament loss in the history of U of A men’s basketball (103-64 vs. top ranked Louisville) is front page news this morning in Tucson. We all know what happened. Did we really need to see it as a 72 pt. headline?

The truth is, about halfway through the second half, I could no longer watch. When you’re attached to a team, particularly a team that has faced a lot of obstacles and has continued to work hard, it’s simply too hard to watch them go down in a humiliating defeat. No one but their fans can appreciate the entire story.

Most teams have a core—a group of players who’ve been together for a year or so—who comprise the talent and make-up the heart of the team. Revolving door rosters, however, are the name of the game. Each passing year offers new opportunities to players who both stay in the game or opt out for other adventures. Coaches, on the other hand, are the true soul of the team. They tend to stick around and give players and fans someone with whom to identify.

The Wildcats lost their long-term coach, Lute Olson, to sudden retirement and then faced the season with an interim coach, Russ Pennell. Turmoil in the recruitment department ensued, and the team was given up for dead. Then they unexpectedly made it into the NCAA tournament. Even more unexpected was their rise to the Sweet 16. Praise was heaped upon the players and Pennel, and letters to the editor suggested hiring him permanently.

After this loss, who knows what will happen, but I can feel the jockeying for position for next year all the way on the far northeast side. And I’m hardly paying attention.

I feel the turmoil because a similar thing has happened to my daughter’s beleaguered soccer team, which ended its season last Sunday. Their last game wasn’t a blowout, but it was certainly a humiliating defeat that guaranteed this team would disintegrate. And all week, we’ve watched the players run off in different directions. Some are quitting soccer all together, some are testing the waters of other clubs, and some are going to a different age group. They are scattering like flies in a harsh desert wind.

No one really seems to care, except for their fans. We’d love to see the core—the group of players who’ve been together for four or more years—stay together but that’s not going to happen. Such is the nature of team sports.

It’s about time I learned this once and for all.

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