In troubling times, here’s hoping everyone has someone to turn to. For me, that means leaning on the wisdom of John Wooden.
Wooden, of course, led UCLA men’s basketball team to an astounding 10 national titles, the final one coming in San Diego in 1975. While that was a long time ago, Wooden’s pearls of insight continue to resonate.
They are immensely more important than the impressive championship banners above UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion floor which bears Wooden’s, and his wife, Nell’s, names.
“Young people need models, not critics,” Wooden once said.
Once again, models were in short supply at the high school level when Escondido’s Orange Glen boys squad recently faced Coronado in a CIF regional championship basketball game.
Competition usually brings out the best and the worst in people. After a hard-fought overtime contest in which Orange Glen was on the losing end, 60-57, life lessons appeared in an abundance.
It’s doubtful either team will ever play a more meaningful game, and it was because of what happened after the scoreboard clock reached zero. Videos reveal that adults and players flung tortillas at the visiting Orange Glen contingent, a blatant display of racism toward a school with a clear majority of Latino students.
According to Orange Glen coaches, their Coronado counterparts disparaged the Patriots players during the post-game handshake line. It’s so disappointing that the venom directed at teenagers, and their coaches, was generated by those put in leadership positions and not answering Wooden’s call to show the proper way.
“The head coach and the assistant coach came over to our bench and kind of said some words that were inappropriate and told us that we should take out kids and ‘get the (expletive) out’ because we were a bunch of losers,” Orange Glen assistant Lizardo Reynoso told San Diego’s NBC affiliate.
What adults couldn’t see, or comprehend, was all too clear to the Patriots’ traveling party. The spirit of fair play and sportsmanship at the end of an event was as absent as decency.
“You don’t want to go down with an ‘L’ but also the extra stuff like the tortillas and all the smack talking with the coaches,” Orange Glen’s Christian Martinez said. “That was really disrespectful.”
Martinez is a senior, but he showed more critical thinking than those superior in age and rank.
The incident is a teaching moment, but maybe more so for the teachers and coaches. Why would anyone think such behavior was appropriate if not getting their clues from those in charge?
To be fair, Orange Glen was chirping on its side, too, during this chippy encounter. And again, teenagers do goofy things and that comes from someone who raised two of them.
But this incident crossed the line and it’s not surprising the powers that be in Coronado are in damage-control mode.
What’s lost is that Coronado’s big win through its gutsy effort was eclipsed by the callousness of some of their fans and their coaches.
Unfortunately, this type of nonsense surfaced in North County in April.
Carmel Valley’s Cathedral Catholic, in its run-up to a football game with San Diego’s Lincoln, was drawn into a controversy. Members of the Dons’ team posted items on social media, citing that the showdown would be “Catholics versus Convicts.” Other pictures displayed from those affiliated with the school displayed gang signs to mock Lincoln.
Teenagers being teenagers?
Adults looking the other way or fostering an environment where such behavior isn’t cringe-worthy?
“The early comments we’ve seen focus on the inappropriate actions of students, but there also has to be some examination at the institutional level,” San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera said at the time. “What kind of culture makes some students feel like this is an OK thing to do?”
Sadly, it’s a question that needs to be asked again. Hopefully, it’s never been far from the thought-process of those in leadership positions.
“Failure is not fatal,” Wooden said. “But failure to change might be.”
Here’s to everyone helping redirect a world where these antics are purged. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there.
+ Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports.