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Taking our anger out … in the gym

Jim Hontz

As a retired teacher and basketball coach, and as a casual observer of sports and its attendant behavior, I have read with amusement, amazement, and some sadness regarding the Great Mayoral Ejection of 2007 (“Basalt mayor tossed from hoops game,” Feb. 6).I am amused because when all the lurid details of the event are laid out on the CSI evidence table for analysis, we will learn that the incriminating DNA belongs not to Mr. Duroux or Mr. Rickstrew, but rather to all of us who ever have competed, or wished we had competed, or rooted for someone who has competed.Fans are a peculiar bunch, and parents are the most peculiar fans. A transformation occurs when they see their child in a uniform going through warm-ups before a game. For most, that sight instills a loving pride that their child is part of something bigger than himself or herself, that teamwork and a healthy work ethic and a love for teammates is making that son or daughter a better person. For a few others, the light of the full moon penetrates the frontal lobe and the same sight makes them irrational, raving lunatics, ready to lash out at anyone who threatens their skewed sense of justice. The object of their fanged spasms is usually an official, but even other fans, coaches, administrators, players and their own children are not safe from the more feral parents who are angry at … something. Then when the game ends and the sun peeks over the horizon, the claws recede, and they remember nothing of the previous night. Once again they are the model citizens and best friends who live next door.In an earlier letter, Randy Udall was right when he compared these contests to aboriginal battles. The best example is every community’s trip down race-memory lane, that annual festival called homecoming. Here the fever is highest, with week-long ceremonies and the ritual blaze the night before the battle. Young villagers paint themselves and dance wildly to the rhythm provided by the beat of the drum and the wildly gesticulating and chanting leaders of the cheer. Throw in a burning effigy of the enemy and the stage is set for the warring tribes to claim their rightful turf the next day. Mr. Jung would be proud.Some of our ancestors would set free an innocent goat, upon which villagers heaped all of their sins, only to hunt and kill it to cleanse them of their misdeeds. Today we are hard-wired to eat, procreate, drive large trucks and protect our own, even if it requires sacrificing some “zebras,” the closest thing we have to real scapegoats in the sports arena. Why do so many of us still crave the adrenaline rush of a elk in our cross hairs when all we would need to do to nourish ourselves is pull a flank steak out of the bargain bin at Safeway? Perhaps we are all a stone’s throw away from our primitive shadows. Fortunately we manage to suppress our more atavistic urges, in this instance by couching them in “sport.”I am amazed, as others are, that this event has been treated as though bad behavior or referee-baiting at sports events is something new. One needs only to ask old-timers or even recent-timers about behavior at athletic events. Coaches, referees, parents, administrators, and even players, have been the recipients of profanity since the first “Not in our house!” and “That’s my kid!” were howled. Through the years I have witnessed some acts in gyms around the Roaring Fork Valley that make the Duroux-Rickstrew encounter look like an invitation for tea and scones after the game.Truthfully, these more serious examples were rare, as I hope they are nowadays. I read that Basalt’s boosters were on their best behavior last Friday in Basalt. That’s comforting, but why should it take a public incident and its aftermath to remind them and all boosters that to berate rather than support degrades a healthy, competitive atmosphere? And I’ve always wondered why a fan would insult and distract a referee who apparently is having enough difficulty as it is focusing on the game and trying to keep mistakes to a minimum.Ultimately, I am saddened by this affair on a personal level. I have read enough to assume that Mr. Duroux is an upstanding public servant and friend to many in his community. As for Jay Rickstrew, he was in my English classes and on my basketball team. In my 20-plus years of coaching, I never had a more positive, upbeat team player. He never complained and was always ready to do what it took to play our best. As Rudyard Kipling suggested, Jay treated those imposters, winning and losing, the same. He was a true sportsman and a gentleman on the court and in the classroom. These qualities have translated into a successful career in banking and a desire to stay close to the game he loves.As for those who see the coverage of this event as trivial and overdone in the media, I think not. It is healthy for us to hold these events before us as a mirror, to show us our own behavior even away from the whistles and the squeak of sneakers on hardwood, particularly when our children are watching. The gym is merely a microcosm. Our young will model our behavior, and we will want them either to remain in our communities as productive and decent citizens and parents or to take those values to a new hometown for their kids. Call it a teachable moment worthy of healthy conversation over the dinner table.So it all comes down to this unfortunate intersection of two good people at a scorer’s table at the wrong time. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem about two soldiers, one of whom killed the other in battle. He expressed regret that under different circumstances the two men might have sat down “to wet right many a nipperkin” in a tavern.Or in this case, to have tea and scones.Jim Hontz is a retired teacher and coach, and lives near Redstone.


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