I have coached volleyball for over 20 years. Joe once said to me, “Dad, if you’re such a good coach, why don’t you win more?” Out of the mouth of babes huh? As it is, beyond teaching the sport, I love having the opportunity to teach about life. I have had that opportunity once again, in a big way, this year.
Our boys soccer team played at Connellsville earlier this year and reported having racial slurs hurled at them from the opposing team and fans. It was highly publicized and brought before our district governing body, the WPIAL. They ordered Connellville to undergo racial sensitivity training from an outside source.
We had our home game against them postponed until it was resolved. We played them this past Tuesday. I spoke with the team about how we should approach the game (off of the court). I suggested we welcome their players, perhaps with signs and some candy/treats. Some were quite apprehensive as they were very angry about what had happened to their friends on the soccer team.
I explained that we don’t know if these girls specifically are racist or against them. If they are not, why wouldn’t we be nice to them? Why wouldn’t we be kind and assuage their fears? If, however, these girls were filled with an outrageous and ignorant disdain for us, how great it would be to blow their minds with our hospitality? I explained that it is easy to be nice to those who are nice to you but to be nice to your enemies will infuriate them and cause them great discomfort and confusion. Beyond that, no one will be able to say that we are anything other than classy.
So, we made them a sign and bought them candy. The Connellsville girls and coaches were surprised and excited. They thanked our AD who told them that it came from the team. Sadly, no one approached the coaches or our players with gratitude. Then, we noticed three men in attendance. Two in Connellsville blue shirts and an armed guard. The two men in shirts were with Connellsville security and the armed guard was there to protect their players and fans. Protect them from…our 40 fans, our staff, the candy?
Our parents were quite offended at their decision to send an armed guard to “protect” their girls. This has gotten, and is getting, quite a bit of publicity in the media, both news and social.
I took a few moments yesterday and addressed the team. I pointed out that the hidden beauty in all of this was that there will be no mention in any article of bad things we did. There will be nothing Connellville can say about how we acted. What will those girls tell their parents? “They gave us candy! They made us a sign!”? Nope, they can’t say one bad thing about us.
I can only hope that all of those involved will also rise above. It would be great if the leadership at Connellsville would come out and say, “Yeah, we didn’t handle this well. We can see how this looks. We can see the message this sends. We were wrong. We are sorry.” I can only hope that those on the side of Penn Hills would say, “Yeah, this is sad. This isn’t new but doesn’t have to last forever. Their ignorance does not mandate hostility and retribution. I will commit to living a life of respect and honor thus rendering their opinions devoid of any truth.”
Lastly, I hope (and pray) that my girls, when facing future times of darkness, will remember these times and try to rise above. I pray that they will be better for the experience.