I am one of the last people to blame officials for a team’s loss. Even really badly officiated games rarely dictate outcomes. There are simply too many variables involved, too many things that players and coaches could have done differently to change the final score.
I felt that John A. Coleman Catholic’s 57-50 overtime loss to Utica-area New York Mills for the Class D state title represented one of those rare occasions when officials perhaps cost a team the game. New York Mills got almost every call, and wound up getting whistled for 10 fouls (yes, 10, the entire game!) to 21 for Coleman Catholic. This, despite Coleman Catholic outrebounding New York Mills 46-39, a statistic that typically suggests the more aggressive team. If New York Mills could have more than occasionally made a free throw, finishing 10-of-19 to Coleman Catholic’s 8-of-12 foul shooting, Mills would have won in regulation.
But it wasn’t just the discrepancy in fouls. Two key Coleman starters, point guard Nick Sirbaugh and rebounding-machine Doug Terrone, a forward, fouled out in the fourth quarter. Terrone was whistled for his fifth with 3:41 left in regulation, Sirbaugh 39 seconds later. So Coleman went the final 7:02 seconds, counting overtime, without two critical pieces.
For my column off the game, I was all set to focus on Coleman Catholic getting robbed. But that quickly changed when not a single Coleman Catholic player blamed the officials. They instead talked about New York Mills being a worthy opponent and deserving the win.
“We gave it our all,’’ senior guard Kevin Davis said. “That’s what matters most. The refs, I think, did an OK job. There is always going to be controversial calls. You gotta get past that.’’
So I chose to focus on Coleman’s classy reaction to the loss. (http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140316/SPORTS31/403160327/-1/SPORTS0303). It turns out I wasn’t the only one impressed by Coleman Catholic.
A man named Matt Moyse was watching. He’s an assistant coach for Charlotte Valley Central School in Delaware County, which lost to New York Mills earlier in the tournament. When Moyse read about Coleman Catholic’s mature exit, he felt compelled to share his views in an email to Coleman Catholic administrators. He gave me permission to share his touching note:
For starters, let me say that I am a member of the Board of Education and Assistant Varsity Boys’ Basketball Coach for Charlotte Valley Central School in Delaware County, NY. Our young men lost in the regional round of tournament play to NY Mills just over a week ago. Despite not being there with our team, my wife and I traveled to Glens Falls this past weekend as fans of the game, but left as fans of Coleman Catholic, and specifically, the young men who represented your school.
As a coach, I always tell our kids that referees do not change the outcome of the game and that we must accept the decisions that they make. As a fan on Saturday, I was appalled for your young men. But more importantly, I was so impressed with the demeanor and pose of your young men as they held on for dear life whistle and whistle blown against them. #5 (Terrone) sat on the edge of his seat, encouraged his teammates at every moment and supported them every second of the game after he had been unjustly disqualified. Most young men in that position would have pulled their jersey over their head and chose to not watch any more, upset that their moment was ruined. What I saw from your players was that there wasn’t a single moment of “me,” but rather an enormous team effort from every member of that squad. Moreover, what I saw from those young men after the last horn had blown was the most impressive thing. They received their medals, shed some tears and shared embraces with each other and their coach. And then, it was time for NY Mills to receive their medals and celebrate. Your student-athletes stood up, moved away from the bench area so they could see each player be called to center court and they applauded. A standing ovation for a worthy opponent. It was a moment of sportsmanship that is never shown between competitors in the “me” generation.
And then this morning, I looked up the local paper and saw the story of Mr. Davis’ tragedy (losing his sister at age 31 to a heroin overdose on Nov. 1) and how you have all come together to be a family. It literally brought a tear to my eye. I know it doesn’t take the sting of a loss away; but as a random stranger, I am so proud of your young men and program. I cannot say enough to everyone I have talked to about Saturday and the events that transpired. You are all forever Champions in my book.
Keep those heads held high – sometimes winning doesn’t always come with a trophy.