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Richard Banas II Choosing between sports or social events a tough call for senior athletes

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Richard Banas II

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 6:23 am

When spring prep sports begin, the goal of most coaches and players is winning the championship of their respective leagues and making the section playoffs or meets.

But what happens when a team or individual qualifies for the playoffs and then the seniors on the team choose not to play in a championship game or compete in a section or state meet because it conflicts with graduation ceremonies, the prom or their senior class trip?

Just last weekend in the section softball playoffs, Linden High School was forced to start six freshmen in place of senior starters who elected to go on a senior class trip rather than participate in the playoffs.

The same thing happened on Saturday when Elliot Christian played Millennium in the Division VII softball final and five senior starters for Millennium attended their high school graduation.

A few years ago, the Elliot Christian baseball team was favored to win its first section title but lost when — you guessed it — several key senior players decided to go to Hawaii on a senior class trip rather than play in the championship game against Brookside Christian.

Is this really fair to the team on a day where having your best athletes matters the most?

Others argue that senior trips, proms and graduations only happen once a lifetime and matter more than just a simple game, whether it is for a championship or not.

I couldn’t imagine Lodi High School athletic director Erin Aitken, a phenomenal former Lady Flames basketball player, saying she wanted to go to the prom instead of playing in a section championship game.

Ditto her brother, former NFL lineman Greg Bishop, or Lodi football coach Todd Dillon, a former pro quarterback.

When I put the question to Connie Marion, the longtime Lodi High volleyball and softball coach who was recently named Model Coach of the Year by the section, Marion didn’t hesitate.

“There is absolutely no way I would go on a senior trip and miss a playoff game,” Marion said.

Even the section office is sympathetic, often rescheduling games to accommodate teams when the conflict occurs.

“We absolutely make changes for graduation. For other events such as senior trips, AP testing ... we try to make accommodations if we can,” said section director of communications Will DeBoard.

“It doesn’t always happen, but if we can make a move because it would potentially impact half of a team, we’re going to do it.”

But for individual sports, DeBoard says it’s far more tricky because any potential changes would affect all the other athletes competing.

Ultimately, says DeBoard, it is the coaches that probably expect their athletes to make a choice as to what they want to do most.

Recently, a Merced High School softball head coach gave his players an ultimatum when two playoff games and the prom fell on the same day.

He said that if they were going to just play one game and then leave for the prom before the second game began, then not to bother coming out at all and that they would be missed.

Faced with that option, every Merced High softball player chose the playoffs over the prom.

But it took an ultimatum to keep his players on the field, especially since several had dates and had already spent a considerable amount of money on the event.

Was that fair?

Obviously, the answer would be for all high schools to schedule their graduations and social events after the end of the spring sports season.

But not every high school makes the playoffs nor does every individual qualify for the section or state championships. Those that do not should be allowed to go on with their social events and graduation.

But in these changing times, maybe there is a different dynamic at work.

In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, Wii, XBox, cell phones, text messages and social networking, perhaps the commitment to high school athletics by the athletes is not quite as big of a priority as it was 20 years ago.

Ultimately, it’s the players and their parents that have to make that difficult choice. Everybody will remember their proms, senior class trips and graduations many years from now.  But just how many will be able to say, in the words of the old band Queen and Freddie Mercury song, “We Are The Champions”?

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