Let the kids play
A recent unfortunate situation made me wonder if we are forgetting something important about youth sports: the kids actually want to play the game.
My daughter, Laura Delehanty, plays on the Tigers' tennis team, often playing doubles with a friend. The day before this week's section tournament, when the doubles partner was ill, the coach told her that the rules prohibited Laura from playing, even with a different partner or even by herself, one against two. Laura feared she would have to forfeit the last match of her high school career, simply due to the illness of her partner.
As it turns out, these particular rules are set in the state, section-by-section. Our section requires coaches to turn in player seedings and playing schedules a week before the tournament. A better option, one equally acceptable to state officials, is to seed the players the day of the tournament, to account for illness and absence. Another reasonable solution would be to allow a lower-seeded girl to move up and play in the tournament as an alternate who fills in as necessary. This simple solution is used in competitive sports across the world.
When talking to the Minnesota State High School League about the issue and the reasonableness of letting an alternate fill in, I said, "Laura just wants to play and have fun." The official responded "it's not about having fun."
Isn't there something wrong here?
Sports are about more than merely having fun, but they should, indeed, be enjoyable. More than anything else, they should be structured so that the kids actually get to compete whenever possible. I hope Morris school officials advocate for some helpful changes before next tennis season.
Thankfully, Laura's partner made a speedy recovery and showed up for the match the next morning. However, in an ironic and sad twist of fate, one of the players on the opposing doubles team was ill and that team had to forfeit the doubles match because that team was not allowed to substitute an alternate player. Laura still didn't get to play, and a young lady from the other team lost the last match of her senior year without getting a chance to pick up a racket and compete. As Laura said, "I would rather have played and lost than not played and won." Can't we find a way to let the kids play?