Compass: Cutthroat basketball game kills the joy

By CHANTELLE PENCEDecember 28, 2013 

Is this what we came here for? The question stood out in my mind as I watched a basketball game between two rival teams in the city. Maybe I'm just a simple country girl. Or naïve. But, to me, it was ugly.

The coaches were frustrated, yelling at their players. One coach was downright mean and demeaning. He even yelled at the spectators, "Don't talk to my players!" The energy in the room was tense, unfriendly. "Are you talking to me?" a referee challenged one of the players when the kid muttered something. Instead of just making a call, he acted like he wanted to brawl. Many parents did the same. They yelled. They called names. It was insane.

I'm hoping it was an isolated event. I expressed my concerns to a friend who has lived in the city longer than me. "Oh, this is nothing!" she said cheerfully. "I've seen parents get into fist fights ..." Really?

I thought wistfully of the basketball tournament that was held at our small community school the year before it closed. The elders were served tea. There was standing room only. People hugged each other and shook hands. Even people who didn't like each other minded their manners. Everyone cheered for everybody. There was lots of laughter and a really good feeling.

We moved to Anchorage because we had to choose between a 100-mile-a-day commute for school, or a complete relocation. We chose the city because we thought if we were going to uproot our family, it might as well be to a place that has "more opportunity." But, as I experienced my first cutthroat basketball game, I wondered if we made the right decision.

There is an aggressiveness that is pervasive in city living. If I'm not careful, I find myself doing the same. I force my way into traffic wherever I can find an open lane. There's very little waiting, or allowing others to go first. It's all about looking out for No. 1. After all, I don't know "them." I'll probably never see them again. It's a way to get ahead, supposedly, but I don't know if it's good for humanity.

I appreciate programs like the YMCA, where they sent home a note to the parents whose children were in the recreational league. They advised the parents to not yell angrily from the stands. To understand that the experience was supposed to be enjoyable. It wasn't always about winning. I like that mentality. Success is not that far removed from joy, despite popular belief.

I fear that I've put my children in a situation where they will try to get ahead of the crowd, instead of knowing their place in a community. What if they learn to rush through doors, instead of opening them for another? What if they push by an elder, instead of holding her arm? Competition is a natural part of life but I wonder what we are doing to our kids when it becomes extreme. What does that do to our communities?

I wonder if I gave up on my rural community too soon. I wonder about the future of my family. I think about my children and how they used to run around with their pack of cousins and friends. They weren't sophisticated but they were happy. They say you can never go home again. That might be true. It might be too late for my children to go back to the innocent days of small school basketball games. But it doesn't mean that it's not a valuable way. Rural schools and communities are so important to our state. They help to cultivate real human ways in a world that, sometimes, seems insane.

Chantelle Pence is a consultant (Copper River Consulting) who moved with her family to Anchorage this year.

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