Grace Under Fire

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When my sons were eleven their youth baseball team had reached the championship game. There were two outs in the bottom of the sixth.  Our team was down by a run, but the bases were loaded.  Taylor, the first born of my triplet sons, was at the plate. It was a pressure-packed situation, but Taylor was the team’s leader in runs batted in and had come through in the clutch all season long. A walk would tie the game. A hit might bring in two runs and win the game.

Ball one.  Ball two. Ball three!  One ball away from a bases-on-balls which would knot the game. Taylor swung and missed at the next two pitches.  Full count.

The pitch was delivered. Seeing that it was low and clearly out of the strike zone, Taylor stood motionless in the batter’s box, confident that it was ball four.  The ball bounced a foot in front of home plate and skidded into the catcher’s glove. Ball four! Tie game! 

Or so we thought.

But wait, the umpire’s right arm came up. “Streeeike three!” he called.  Game over! The Mets were the champs.  They ran onto the field for the traditional pig pile celebration.

Some of the parents from our team began yelling at the umpire. “Who paid you off, ump?” one screamed. “You lousy piece of `##!»,” shouted another.

But Taylor wasn’t angry or cursing the ump as he walked away from home plate. Instead of tears or anger, he was smiling from ear to ear.  I will never forget what he said: “At least we made it to the finals! Nobody thought we would! We came in second in the league!”

It was one of my proudest moments as a sport parent.  Taylor knew that the umpire had made a bad call; a terrible, unexplainable mistake.  Yet he rose above it and found the good in the most important game of the year.  The shouting from the angry parents came to a sudden stop. It took a child playing a kids game to show parents that winning is not at the top of a kids’ sports priority list.

Nearly seven in ten 9- to 15-year olds in one recent survey reported having seen a fan angrily yell at an official.  Three quarters of parents and coaches have witnessed such unacceptable and verbally abusive behavior as well. 

Such behavior can negatively effect all the players. We have all seen umpires make bad calls.  We have all felt anger on the sidelines. Character is taught to our children at home and reinforced on the playing fields. How we handle that anger and defeat is what defines our character too.

With my three sons now having graduated college and their careers in organized team sports over, looking back is bittersweet.  The best of times were always when my children were having fun with their friends and teammates, playing sports for the pure joy of it. I have some wonderful memories of home runs hit, games won, goals scored, and sharing these experiences with my friends.

Unfortunately, some of my memories have not been so sweet: the politics, the favoritism, the hidden expenses, the injuries, out of control parents, abusive coaches, bad officiating and finding family time.

What I will remember for the rest of my life won’t be how many games they won or lost, but the fun they had, the times they displayed great sportsmanship and character.  My proudest moments as a sports mother came when my children handled tough calls with grace and dignity, not with cheap insults directed at referees or “trash talk” aimed at opposing players.

When Taylor did the right thing by walking to the bench with his head held high instead of arguing with the umpire, I told him how proud I was for the way he displayed “grace under fire.”

What was your proudest moment as a sports parent? E-mail me at delench@momsteam.com