Bad match-ups don’t have to turn into blowouts

Published 1:51 pm Monday, January 26, 2009

An assistant coach and fans cheered wildly as The Covenant School approached their 100th point during a game last week. The enthusiasm would be understandable if the opposing team, Dallas Academy, wasn’t still trying for its first point.

The 100-0 final score has drawn the attention of national media, and the backlash has led Covenant officials to make “a formal request to forfeit the game recognizing that a victory without honor is a great loss.” Nice try, but that won’t undo the embarrassment.

What happened during that game should have been avoided. Several methods of keeping the score from getting out of hand are common knowledge among high school basketball coaches, but Convenant coach Micah Grimes either missed the memo or just wanted to try for triple digits.

First, if the outcome of a contest becomes obvious and all that’s left to decide is the margin of victory, coaches can call off the pressure defense they used early in the game in favor of a zone defense that would allow the opponent to at least dribble the ball and shoot a jumper.

Dallas Academy coach Jeremy Civello told The Dallas Morning News that the game turned into a “layup drill,” with Covenant stealing the ball away before Dallas Academy could get a shot off and scoring easily on the other end.

The second step a coach on the winning side of a blowout can take is to substitute into the game reserves that don’t play much. It’s not clear how early or often Grimes used his backups, but his starting point guard finished with 48 points.

But the use of backups brings up the problem with trying to control a final score: players want to, and are coached to, play hard—especially those that don’t get many opportunities to play.

“The hardest thing to do is to tell your kids, ‘I want you to play hard every time you step on the court, but right now I don’t want you to play hard,” Chilton County High coach Donnie Hand said. “I’ve always told my kids that we’re going to play hard no matter what the score is.”

Thorsby coach Corey Clements said basketball might be the most difficult sport to prevent hurt feelings because there’s no mercy rule like in baseball and no equivalent of football’s running up the middle. Ultimately, though, embarrassments final scores don’t have to happen.

“I think kids are going to do whatever they’re coached to do,” Clements said.