Yes It Is, It’s True: May Wildcat girls continue to defeat selfishness, media hype

Members of “The Troubling true stories_1Greatest Generation” have told me “This ain’t the same country I remember when I was growing up.” Indeed. Things and people change, and sometimes not for the better.

One of the most disappointing changes in my lifetime has been an increase in the value of the individual and a decline in the value of the team. And nowhere does that development over the last 50 years show up more than in athletics. And nowhere is it promoted more than in the media.

Most still talk a good game about everybody working together on behalf of the greater good — the team — but we’ve become more fascinated over the years in the superstar individual. The media, particularly the broadcast variety, has orchestrated and encouraged it.

To be sure, the very best individuals have been celebrated for a long time, but those who tell the story now seem even more determined to put the individual first and the team second. Broadcast media likes to trumpet a coming event by highlighting the superstars.  Good examples are “Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.” It’s not good enough just to mention the teams. In other sports, it’s “Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers will meet Mike Trout and the California Angels.”

This attitude seemed to reach its heyday in the 1990s with Michael Jordan, a basketball superstar who rose to even more prominence than the Chicago Bulls. And the media loved it, hyping Michael Jordan at every turn.

In the meantime, prep athletic coaches are finding it a lot more difficult to guide a team, particularly football or basketball, to success in the post-“Century of the Self.” Coaches nowadays have to deal with kids not mature enough to understand the virtues of making sacrifices for the good of the team and who want to be that special performer they’ve worshipped because of media.

These young star wannabees are well supported by doting parents who seem to be living out their own personal fantasies through the exploits of their children. They’ve come to be known as “helicopter parents” because they constantly hover over their children. I’ve seen and heard of pretty rotten examples. I remember a prominent local attorney who waited by the locker room door for the kids to come out for the second half and he’d stop to give his son instructions on what to do for the remainder of the basketball game. I’ve heard of parents of a star swimmer who tried to get the coach to cheat on the boy’s resume by falsely stating he was team captain. Worst of all, I’ve heard of parents who pull their kid out of a school system to go elsewhere because they don’t like the coach or they don’t believe their “special child” will get enough media hype at the school he or she currently attends.

I started covering high school sports in the fall of 1971 and since have enjoyed athletics at the prep and small college levels so much more than in the big time because the participants were more genuine and seemed to be entering the arena on behalf of their schools with deep love of the game. But over the past several decades I’ve seen even high school athletics sink into the abyss of “big business” sports. Too many kids now seem to play only with an eye toward a college scholarship, with the hopes of realizing a personal dream rather than playing a role on a championship team.

The more we’ve become fanatics about prep sports, the more we’ve ruined them. They’re not just games played by boys and girls any more, they’re high-stakes contests, as if they clash inside the Roman Coliseum, and the winner takes all.

For example, Wayland and Grand Rapids Catholic Central were locked in a titanic girls’ basketball struggle Friday night in one of the best games I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. Yet it seemed that my brethren in the media gave an inordinate amount of coverage just to the winner and virtually ignored the loser by one point in double overtime.

Too often the print media hungrily seeks out quotes from the teen-age stars, enhancing the Michael Jordan effect on young people who have just reached adolescence. The media vultures will descend on a Lacey James or a Presley Hudson in a moment of vulnerability, immediately after a huge event in their brief lives.

It is impossible to ignore the individual performances of a player like Presley Hudson. She obviously is an all-state player and a contender for the coveted Miss Basketball award. Even better, she places a very high value on team goals and I noticed she had good things to say about her worthy opponents.

But Hudson, perhaps 17 years old, is having to endure a heckuva lot of pressure. As good as she is, which in my book is the best ever to don a Wildcat uniform, I deliberately try to play down her individual performances without ignoring the obvious. As a sports writer, I try to approach every game story from a team point of view, which puts me in a minority.

Hudson and her teammates every game are faced with the challenge of proving they can hang tough on the boards with taller girls and proving they’re more than just one superstar.

I have been impressed with this year’s Wildcat girls’ outfit. They are exceeding expectations and unless I’m really missing something here, they have not fallen prey to petty individual jealousies that may have ruined good teams in the past. These petty jealousies too often are an outgrowth of a media that celebrates the individual at the expense of the team.

The old saying is that there is no “I” in “team.” And Bo Schembechler used to preach about “The team, the team, the team.” I implore Hudson and her teammates to stay strong with the unselfish attitude, despite the media’s best efforts to hype their remarkable season otherwise.



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