Jaywalking: Eagles honored for sportsmanship

Monday, June 25, 2018

When you hear about a team winning a sportsmanship award, what is the first thing that usually comes to mind?

“Boy, I wonder how bad that team must have been to have won that?” might be a thought.

It’s true. The age-old adage when it comes to awarding a sportsmanship trophy is that if there is no clear-cut “great sportsmanship” team, then you give it to whichever team is the worst. I don’t really know how the tradition of recognizing a team for sportsmanship was somehow tied to the team with a terrible record, but it’s a tradition as old as time. In many cases, the award could be called the “Your team may be terrible, but at least your players are not little jerks” award. No one is petitioning for that change, but you see where I’m coming from.

And don’t mistake my pointing out this observation for my criticizing the practice. When there is no clear-cut team to award a sportsmanship award to, it makes sense to give the honor to a bad team. Anyone who has been through a season in which they played for a team with only a couple wins knows that the players who show up for practice and games every day probably do deserve some recognition. It can be tough for someone to give 100-percent effort in practice during the final week of a 2-18 season.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the policy of giving the award to a bad team is that the coach will forever have a trophy serving as a reminder of the dismal campaign. Because you are not fooling a coach. There may be times when a bad team deserves the sportsmanship award for some other reason than simply being bad, but most know why they won it. That goes for the players as well.

That said, when a team with a winning record wins the sportsmanship award, you take notice. Such was the case when I heard that the Franklin County Technical School baseball team had earned the MIAA Sportsmanship Award for Division IV.

“It’s an honor for our school, and the fact that we won this award in a year that we had some success on the field, there is something to be said about that,” Franklin Tech coach Brian Winslow said. “We had a good season. We won our league and qualified for postseason. This is another feather in our kids’ caps.”

Franklin Tech went 12-8 during the regular season and was Tri-County League South Division champions, giving the team its first league title in 13 years and qualifying for the postseason for the first time in six years.

“It’s a really good thing for our kids,” Winslow said. “I told them at our banquet that I was really impressed how they came together this season. They handled themselves the right way. They embraced hard work. They played the game the right way and respected each other, their opponents and officials. It’s what you want as a coach.”

One coming-together point this season was how the team handled the loss of former teammate Connor Powers, a senior who passed away in November from injuries sustained in a car crash. The team honored Powers throughout the season by wearing his No. 3 on their hats.

“They’ve been through an awful lot and handled themselves very well,” Winslow said. “What they experienced in losing a teammate, to be able to come together has been something I’m proud of them for.”

It should be no surprise that Franklin Tech won the sportsmanship award, given who coaches the Eagles nine. I’ve known Winslow much of my life and he has always been a gentleman. As a coach, he cares about his players as much as he does winning, and even when we speak he is quick to say something is off the record if it could be misconstrued as something negative toward another. When Jim Smith was coaching football at Mohawk, I was always impressed with the way he taught his players respect, and I imagine that if Winslow continues coaching into his 80s, he too will impress on his players many of the same values.

“Brian is a guy who has solid morals and he tries to get the kids to do things the right way on and off the field,” Franklin Tech athletic director Joe Gamache said. “He’s headed up a few community service projects during his coaching tenure, and he is always a character-first kind of coach.”

Unlike the Sportsmanship Award given out by the Umpires Association and chosen by umpires, the MIAA award is chosen by a list of nominees. Coaches can nominate their own team, but Winslow and Gamache did not nominate their squad in this case. The MIAA Baseball Committee then meets and discusses the nominees and chooses a winner.

“I don’t know who took the time to nominate us, but it shows that someone recognized us,” Winslow said.

Winslow said he believes that one reason his team displayed such good sportsmanship was that they did not allow outside forces to distract them this season. The players wanted to play, they loved the game, and they were worried about themselves rather than other teams.

“The way our kids approached the game this year was really cool,” Winslow said. “The kids paid attention to what they were doing versus getting sucked into what other teams were doing. I was impressed with how our kids worked on their own games this year. While you’re always competing against the other team, our kids were always working on their own stuff. In baseball, you have to be your best individual self and our kids really took that to heart.”

This past Saturday, Winslow and Gamache made the trip to the College of the Holy Cross, where three MIAA state championship baseball games were being played. Prior to the Austin Prep-Taconic Division III final, the two men were recognized on the field and presented with the trophy.

It’s a trophy in recognition of a team that plays with dignity and integrity while serving as a reminder of the terrific season it enjoyed.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.