There sure have been some lopsided basketball scores in western Massachusetts this season.
It’s old news by now (welcome to the wonderful world of newspapers), but for anyone who missed it, St. Joseph’s Central High School of Pittsfield set the bar for blowouts on Jan. 12 by defeating Westfield Vocational-Technical High School, 138-33, in a boys’ basketball game. No, that’s not a rogue “1” in front of the St. Joseph’s score. The defending WMass Division III champs and state runners-up defeated a Westfield Voke-Tech team that is among the state’s worst by, gulp, 105 points. The absurd final score brings to light the hot-button situation of teams running up the score. I occasionally hear complaints about one team hammering another, but it’s a tricky subject. Because of the way that leagues are set up, there will be nights when a WMass contender plays a doormat. But there is a right and a wrong way for coaches to handle these situations. I sat down on Monday morning and discussed the subject with numerous local coaches, trying to gather some thoughts. My conversation included coaches who have been on both sides of lopsided scores, though, to encourage honesty, I talked with all of them on the condition of anonymity.
Every coach that I spoke with agreed that the easiest way to prevent games from getting out of hand is to substitute in bench players.
“The biggest thing we try to teach is to not embarrass another team,” one coach explained. “When I’m playing a team I know we should beat easily, I try to bring up a few extra players from the junior varsity team to get them some extra playing time.”
Another coach concurred, although he did admit that it’s not always the answer.
“The easiest way to slow down the scoring is to use your bench,” he began. “The problem is that some teams only have eight players on their varsity roster. I have legitimately seen that. But if you have a deep bench, why not bring them in.”
The other resounding response was that coaches tell players to stop running the floor. Even if a player does have a chance at a breakaway, he/she is supposed to pull up and run the half-court offense.
“We tell our kids not to shoot 3-pointers and to run the half-court offense no matter what,” one coach explained.
“You put in some rules,” another said. “No fast breaks, you don’t shoot until the shot clock is under 10, no pressing, stuff like that.”
Reviewing the St. Joseph’s blowout game story on the Berkshire Eagle website, coach Paul Brindle said that he was not intentionally running up the score. I’ll let you be the judge. St. Joseph’s led 53-19 at halftime and the starters came back for the third quarter. One player, Tavereck Roberson, who is a 1,000-point scorer and ranks 17th all-time in Berkshire County scoring, had already scored 25 first-half points, then added 22 more in the first four minutes of the third quarter. St. Joseph’s went on to register 53 (although I’ve also seen 54) points in the third quarter before adding another 31 in the fourth. Brindle said that he took out his starters midway through the third and that his team switched to a man-to-man defense instead of pressing. The eyebrow-raiser is that St. Joseph’s put up 53 points. That’s roughly 25 field goals. It would seem that you would have to be trying to score to put up that many points. I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. And many of the coaches — although not every one — agreed that you have to be trying to score to put up that many points.
“That would be a good night for our team,” one coach joked about the 53 points.
Another coach didn’t find it quite so funny.
“That score is absurd,” he began. “There’s no way it should have gotten to that point. Clearly, they were still running, they were not taking time off the shot clock, showing no patience on offense. That was a joke.”
Many coaches pointed out that the game should never have been scheduled. Apparently it was part of the New Leadership Christmas Tournament. Who knows why Westfield Voke Tech was part of that tournament? But neither team was going to gain anything from that game.
“You try to use every game as a teaching tool,” one coach explained. “Games like that are great teaching moments to teach kids humility and sportsmanship.”
“You try to teach your players to have respect for opponents,” echoed another. “Although, it can be tough because you’re trying to improve your players and never want to tell anyone to just quit trying.”
That was another interesting sentiment repeated by a number of coaches. Although it is never fun to be on the wrong end of a lopsided score, it’s not exactly a picnic to be involved on the winning end either. Teams with dedicated and skilled players who have put in time to practice and hone their skills should not be vilified. Those players have worked hard and deserve to be rewarded for that hard work. Instead, they find themselves on the bench for half a game or more because they are blowing out a lousy team.
“I’ve got kids who put in the time,” one coach said. “They’re just as upset because they know that their playing time is going to be minimal some nights. These kids only get one chance to play high school sports and they want to maximize and value it. It does them no justice.”
One coach admitted that when his team goes into a game he assumes will be a blowout, one way to use the game not only as a teaching tool but also to keep his players motivated is to set goals. This keeps players from developing bad habits and keeps them focused.
One coach brought up another good point about bench players.
“It can be a fine line when you put your bench in,” he began. “You have guys who normally play just a little bit or not at all and it’s not their fault that the team is up big. You don’t want to hold them back either, because it’s not fair to them. You want to give them the chance to be successful.”
Another point that was brought up was that it also begs the question about what’s more insulting, blowing a team out, or to quit trying and simply pass the ball around or purposefully throw it away? Anyone who has ever played competitive sports knows what it’s like to be on the wrong end of a blowout. It can be demeaning to play against a team that’s trying intentionally to hold back.
Blowouts are going to happen. It’s a reality and it’s not very fun for either team. Every coach appears to have rules in place to try and prevent ridiculous blowouts, but there are a lot of variables that go into it. It’s not as black and white as simply pulling starters and telling players to stop trying. You want your players to keep playing hard while being respectful of the overwhelmed foe.
I’m just not sure that a 105-point win shows any respect.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.