RECENTLY, early in the baseball season, there was an incident in Los Angeles that showed the ugly side of sports rivalries.
Two Dodgers fans attacked a fan of the visiting San Francisco Giants and beat him so severely, the victim is still in critical condition. Reportedly, the Giants fan was clad in clothing reflecting support of the team. Despite a $150,000 reward, there has been no arrest in the case.
Most sports and/or school rivalries are friendly even if a bit heated. Over the years, I have seen several examples of both sides of such competition. While the major league sports battles get the biggest headlines, small-town rivalries can be equally as mean-spirited.
At one time, Little League baseball seemed to generate a great deal of such animosity. American spirit calls for full-fledged competition and a will to win at almost any cost. However, we do need to get more of a handle on the extremes. It is important to maintain a proper competitive spirit, channeled in a constructive way, so that we are teaching our children it’s all right to want to win but that we must do so with good sportsmanship.
YEARS AGO, I foolishly agreed to be an umpire for Little League baseball. Upon arrival at the field, the chief official handed me an ump cap and a rule book.
It was a doubleheader and during the opening game, I was on first base and everything went smoothly. For the second game, I shifted behind home plate as game chief and to call balls and strikes. There was no controversy and I got lulled into a false sense of security.
In the second inning, one LL Mom decided to cling to the wire fence/backstop behind home plate. This otherwise sterling example of motherhood and all things good about the female gender did a complete personality transposition when her “baby” came to bat and called me some names I’d never heard before.
After an inning of that, I decided a cautionary discussion with Madame Venom Tongue was in order and did so discreetly between innings. She said little, but nodded, I thought, agreeably.
IT BEGAN again and intensified in the next inning. Between innings I consulted with the league’s chief ump and was told I could have her removed and even forfeit the game if things got worse.
Sure enough, things got worse. I stopped the game and told her I would forfeit the game if she opened her mouth. It worked. However, at game’s end I handed the cap and rule book to the league’s head arbitrator and told him umpiring was not in my crystal ball.
I did see a youth league forfeit once. A coach kept using profanity and getting on the game officials. Once, he was joined on the field by a rather huge man who was the father of one of the players. The father threatened to whip a certain part of the anatomy of ALL the officials. They proceeded to halt the game and declare a forfeit.
A college rivalry I managed to be involved in had some serious occurrences, but one outcome was humorous, although a bit costly.
IN THE 1950s, Sam Houston State University in Huntsville had a weeklong celebration known as Pioneer Roundup. Social clubs staged Old West saloon-type shows in structures built of sawmill slabs, resembling 1800s forts, with seating and a stage.
The Texas Aggies, less than an hour away from Huntsville, decided some of their fish (freshmen) needed to prove their mettle by tearing down Pioneer Roundup buildings. In their initial foray, the Ags succeeded, provoking student Roundup officials to guard the facility.
A subsequent Aggie raid was thwarted and one fish captured. Actually, he was well cared for and even had a little coed attention in his makeshift public cell. After a couple of days on display, the Aggie was unceremoniously loaded on a rail car and shipped to College Station.
Other than a little humiliation, no one was hurt. Everyone had a good laugh and both sides prepared for next year’s Pioneer Roundup.
Spirited rivalries can and should be fun.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.