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Posted May 8, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: There's no such thing as an 'individual sport'


By Roger Barbee

Last week's top news seemed to be the admission by Jason Collins that he was a homosexual.

Every newspaper or broadcast that I encountered had, it appeared to me, an article or interview concerning the first active professional athlete who admitted publicly his or her sexual orientation. The importance of that admission will be debated long and hard, and it will be used for whatever advantage any group deems worthy to support its stance of this issue. However, I want to examine another side.

One show last week that I listened to was on NPR, and it was the usual moderated discussion with some expert. Calls, emails, and tweets were requested of listeners to explain their experience with a team sport. The first caller shared how he would not object to an openly homosexual teammate. The moderator asked what sport or sports he had participated in and the caller answered, "I was on the high school swim team."

The moderator responded that he was interested in experiences from a team sport, and it was the next caller, a high school football player, who satisfied the moderator. As the football player related how he would be uncomfortable sharing a locker room and a shower with a homosexual, the moderator asked, "What is your suggestion?" and the caller said, "Give him his own locker room." The moderator responded, "But what does that do to the spirit of team?" I don't have much understanding of one of these topics, but the other I know intimately.

As an athlete, I participated in several sports during high school and college, and as an adult I have coached cross country, track and field, tennis and wrestling. All of those are thought of, by most people, as "individual sports." I suggest that there is no such activity as an "individual sport" and that anyone who thinks an event such as cross country, for example, is not a highly competitive team sport has no understanding of how a cross country meet is scored.

Each cross country team is made up of seven runners, and the first five runners to cross the finish line score points equaling his or her finish. Thus, if a runner is the third runner for his or her team and is the ninth runner in the race to cross the finish line, 9 points are scored for the team. The team with the lowest points is the winner, so a perfect score would be 15 points for places 1-5, which when totaled is 15.

The sixth and seventh runners for a team can score "passive points" by running so that he or she pushes a Top 5 runner from another team to place higher in the race, thus costing valuable points. And, just as in basketball, baseball, and football, cross country teams use strategies in competition. In a certain race a coach may have the team run as a pack with the better runners helping the slower ones to run faster. In that type of race, the faster runners forsake a fast time in order to help their teammates and the team.

Wrestling is another sport not fully understood by most people. There are 14 weight classes, and the wrestler who wins the challenge match for a particular weight is the one to represent the team. This past season our team had three middle weight classes in flux for the beginning of the season. However, as time moved on, the challenge matches settled who would wrestle at one of the weights.

The coaches realized that if a particular wrestler did not move to a lower weight, which he could, the team would be stronger. However, it was the wrestler's right to move down a weight and challenge for that place. He did, and he won. Both athletes were seniors, but one now had to sit out because he lost a close challenge match.

Following practice, I asked the winner if he was sure he wanted to go to the lower weight where he thought he would be more successful, and he assured me he did. That left our team with a long-time senior member sitting out because he was too small to go up to the vacant weight, and we would have to forfeit it. However, the spirit of team began to work.

That night, the winner of the challenge called me and as I answered he said, "Coach, I need some discernment." After a thoughtful discussion covering what would be best for his wrestling versus that for the team, he said, "I'll stay up and let him wrestle." His decision made our team stronger.

In my view, the NPR moderator was wrong. All sports are team sports. Next fall, drive out to your school's cross country course and watch seven runners race to score for their team, or next winter attend the county championships in wrestling to watch 14 athletes compete as a team.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net. Read his columns online at www.nvdaily.com/columns/barbee

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