The name of the game is Whom Do You Blame?
1. It’s the final day of the state wrestling tournament. Undefeated for the season and a favorite to win a state championship, Johnny Grappler and his coach head to the arena for morning weigh-ins. When they get there, however, the place is empty. No scales, no officials, no wrestlers. Turns out, Johnny thought weigh-ins were 8:30 instead of 8. He is disqualified. His season is over.
Do you blame:
a. the coach?
b. the kid?
2. It’s a district playoff baseball game in Pennsylvania. Stevie Slugger is at the plate and he asks for time, but the umpire doesn’t grant it. Stevie goes down on strikes. He flings the bat and gets in the umpire’s face. To the surprise of no one, Stevie is ejected. Just then, the third base coach barrels down the line and soon enough, he too is in the umpire’s face. “When he asks for time, you have to give it to him!” the coach screams.
Do you blame:
a. the coach for not knowing the rules and fighting with the ump rather than disciplining his player?
b. the kid, for embarrassing himself, his school and his family?
If you answered “c” for Nos. 1 and 2, you will be all in favor of the latest judgments passed down by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
On Wednesday, the NFHS announced it altered the rules regarding illegal softball bats. If a hitter is found to be using a bat that has been tampered with, the player and coach will be ejected.
Under the previous rule, the batter was ruled out.
And Thursday, the NFHS stated that baseball coaches, not umpires, will perform the equipment checks prior to each game next season, though coaches can still ask the umps to verify everything is correct.
“The committee is placing a great importance on increased coach responsibility,” Elliot Hopkins, the NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Baseball Rules Committee, said in a statement. “It is one of our top priorities.”
The common thread in both rules is they put the onus on coach and player. Even the baseball alteration, which deals mostly with the adults, will force the student-athletes to police themselves to a certain degree.
That’s the way it should be. The coaches have a responsibility to themselves and the players, while the players have a responsibility to themselves and the coaches.
If one breaks a rule, they both a break a rule. Just because a player doesn’t have to perform a pregame check or make out a lineup card and go over a double switch with an umpire, that doesn’t shield him from the rules. Players should still know not to tamper with their bats or not to wear the wrong cleats.
And the coaches should be accountable, too, for what their players are doing. During the thick of a sports season, they spend as much time with these kids as their parents do. They get to know them very well. And they should know who is doing things the right way and who isn’t.
I applaud anyone who takes the time out to coach, just as I applaud any student-athlete who manages to hold down a part-time job, maintain good grades and play a varsity sport. Neither is easy to do.
But both are bonded by responsibility. The coaches are there to teach, the kids are there not only to learn the game, but how to handle themselves.
The rules are the rules.
And the Whom Do You Blame? game just got a little easier to play.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2097.