Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A lesson in teamwork

We talk a good game, sometimes. Play together. Support your teammates. There's no "I" in "team."  All that.

Talking the talk is easy. Walking the walk ... not so much, sometimes.

And so raise a glass, or a chalice, or a championship trophy, to a group of fifth graders at a Catholic school in New Jersey, who decided recently all that talk actually meant something. Because of an oversight a few years back by their archdiocese, the boys basketball team at the school had included two girls, on account of the school didn't have a girls team. It never seemed to matter, until a few days ago.

That's when the team arrived for a game and was told, per the rules, that the girls would have to go or the team would forfeit the game -- and also the rest of the season, because the rules (those pesky, heretofore ignored rules) expressly forbid boys and girls from playing on the same team.

So, the team took a vote. All 11 team members voted to say, "Nah, that's OK. You can keep your season."

It was, sort of, the doppelganger of that scene in "Hoosiers" where the referee tells Gene Hackman he's short a player, and he points to the four players not occupying his bench and says, "My team's on the floor." That was echoed by one of the boys on the team in New Jersey, who, when told that refusal to ditch the girls would be the end of the season, gave the perfect answer.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

Exactly. Because, in the end, the games are just games. Shots, rebounds, numbers on a scoreboard. Meaningless outside the larger context, which is that the games are simply a whiteboard upon which to draw the larger lesson that pulling together is how you achieve anything of value in this world -- and that without the loyalty to one another that makes that possible, any victory is hollow.

With it, however, even a forfeit feels like victory.

It's something this bunch of fifth graders got instinctively, while too many of the adults around them did not. With an inflexibility entirely beside the point, they maintained that, it's too bad, but rules are rules.

Which is always the fallback position when you're wrong and you know it. Always.

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