BY AARON PATTERSON
As competitive as sports can be, the idea of practicing good sportsmanship is sometimes put on the backburner in favor of a winning-at-all-cost mentality. After all, the environment, at times, can hang a coach’s longevity on his or her record.
As for the student-athletes, even the thought of losing isn’t acceptable. It’s a balancing act between a willingness to display a certain level of respect for the game, while also fulfilling a burning desire to remain competitive.
The efforts of the Oakwood Comets to maintain a high level of class, however, didn’t go unnoticed during the 2012 fall seasons.
The Comets swept both football and volleyball team honors for the John Dickson Memorial Sportsmanship award, while Bismarck-Henning senior linebacker Luke Horton, and Armstrong-Potomac junior setter Morgan Zindars won the individual awards for football and volleyball respectively.
“I think it says, tremendously, a whole lot about our kids and our coaching staffs and our communities,” Oakwood Athletics Director Tim Lee said of sweeping the team awards. “It’s not just that, it’s how our fans are reacting. I think it says a lot about our community and that we’re trying to do things the right way. We slip and fall at times, but we’re at least trying, and someone is at least noticing. It’s nice.”
While the Comets’ volleyball team won the support of many from the area, the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac football team earned unanimous approval from the John Dickson Memorial Sportsmanship Committee, largely for a selfless act toward Vermilion Valley Conference rival Westville.
The cancellation of the football seasons by the Hoopeston Area and Schlarman Academy programs left voids on the schedules for many of the VVC teams.
While Bismarck-Henning (Attica, Ind.), OAP (Decatur Lutheran), and Salt Fork (East Central) were able to schedule opponents in place of Hoopeston Area, Schlarman Academy’s early-season cancellation left six opponents with open weeks. During a long, tiresome, and sometimes injury-filled football season, a week of recovery might not be the worst thing to happen to a team. That is, however, unless that week falls on Senior Night or Homecoming.
Westville’s Week 6 contest just happened to represent both. Unfortunately, it was the same week the Tigers were scheduled to host the Schlarman Academy Hilltoppers. No game that week meant no traditional celebration for Westville.
With a total of five home games on the schedule, Lee and the Comets decided to do something about it. Despite the team still hopeful for a playoff spot, OAP sacrificed its home game against the Tigers so that the Westville athletes, students, and community could enjoy at least one final home game.
“It was actually just an idea that was kind of thrown up in the air at a football game.” Lee said. “We heard that Westville was losing two home games, and we had actually picked up a home game this year. We had already had our homecoming and we were going to get a senior night. We just thought in the interest of our school, we could trade it.”
Lee contacted the Westville administration and football coaches, and an agreement was set in place to trade this year’s game between the two programs for next season’s contest, which will now be a home game for OAP.
While the Comets might view the gesture as simply trading this year’s home game for next year’s, the offer was greeted with much gratitude by those in Westville.
“I thought it was a class act on Oakwood’s part,” Westville football coach Guy Goodlove said. “It was certainly something they didn’t have to do, but they extended the offer. It wasn’t something that we thought of and called them. They thought of it and called us, which I thought was just a class act on their part.
“Our kids and our community certainly appreciated it. We had no home games left. It was just a wonderful opportunity for us to have what little homecoming we had left, to have our floats to parade around the track at halftime, and then to also have our seniors introduced along with their parents. If Oakwood hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity. I just thought it was a very nice and considerate gesture on their part.”
Westville won the game 29-7 marking the Tigers’ first and only win of the season on the field. They had accepted a forfeit from Schlarman Academy the previous week, and immediately after secured a forfeit win from Hoopeston Area.
The Comets, on the other hand, lost their final two games of the season preventing them from a chance to play in the postseason.
Though it might never be known if playing at home would have made a difference in the final outcome for the Comets, what is certainly clear and won’t be forgotten is the willingness to put sportsmanship and the interest of a conference rival above the program’s personal glory.
“That’s what made the offer so incredible,” Goodlove said. “They still had an opportunity to maybe, perhaps, get a home victory but still thought enough of our situation to be able to make the offer that they did.
“That’s not going to be forgotten. That’s just a class act on their part. It’s something they certainly didn’t have to do, but was greatly appreciated by a lot of people.”