Saturday night was the Covenant Life School girl's varsity basketball championship game. The team has been amazing all year long, blowing out most of the opponents by something like 25 points average every game. Everyone (at least, all of us CovLifers) was expecting it to be an easy game. But the team, Grace Brethren (GB) fought back, and fought back hard. At the half, GB was leading by 8 points. CLS broke away in the second half, though, scoring close to 20 offensive points to GB's 5. Easy win, right? Wrong. GB also got to take an estimated 25 free throws, almost all of which they sunk, leading them to a 52-43 win. Then the CLS girls must have played really dirty, right? Wrong again. It all gets summed up by what I saw at halftime: one of the refs walked up to one of the GB girls, winked at her, spoke to her with a smile, and patted her on the arm as she walked away.
It was one of the most frustrating games I've ever watched. The refs were so obviously biased towards GB; they called probably close to 35 fouls during the course of the game on CLS, compared to 15 on GB. And any observer could have told you that the vast majority of the fouls were not really fouls. Especially in the fourth quarter, anytime a GB player would take a shot, there would be a foul called on CLS, leading to more and more free throw points. Four of the five CLS starters fouled out of the game, one of them on a technical foul that was not a real technical.
I walked out of that gym fuming mad and ready to vent to anyone who would listen. I couldn't believe that that much blatant bias could exist...in a game between two Christian schools, no less. Yet the defeated girls took it all so well. They weren't jumping up and down in happiness, of course, but there was no throwing objects, no trash-talking. They merely congratulated the other team, packed up their stuff, and left. And that said so much to me.
I am a very competitive person by nature, but I've always thought of myself as a good sport. When my middle school football team lost a very tight game, I blamed the refs for a bad call but acknowledged that it was ultimately one of our mistakes that lost us the game. When we lost the championship game to the same team, I acknowledged that the other team just played better than we did. Whenever the Redskins lose to the Cowboys, I accept it (luckily, I haven't had to deal with that too much lately). When the Bears lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl, I shrugged off the good-natured jabs from friends and moved on.
But this game has made me rethink the whole idea of sportsmanship. Why are we good sports? Do we not have to be good sports if we only lost because of a bad ref? Does that make it okay to have a bad attitude? Do we only have to be good sports in a fair game? No, and that becomes clear when we think about what the purpose of good sportsmanship is: glorifying God in our reaction to anything that we win or lose. This can be a chess game, a game of tag, or the championship basketball game. How we respond when we lose says a lot about how we view God.
I have graciously had my attitude corrected by several people (since I seem to be refusing to learn this lesson), most importantly my mom, but also several good friends. One of them, Liz, responded to my complaint with the simple phrase "but God is sovereign." Although that's not really what I wanted to hear in the midst of my complaining, that's what I needed to hear. When I (or my team) lose, God planned for that to happen. It's not a surprise to him. This doesn't mean that we don't try our hardest when we're playing, or that we can't be disappointed, or even that we can't report unfairness to the authorities (which I plan on doing), but it does mean that whatever the outcome, God is in control. We shouldn't have a bad attitude, fuming and reliving it all in our heads or just yelling at the other team. This is exactly what God planned to happen to us, and whatever God does is meant for our sanctification. He makes us lose to make us more like him.
Another aspect is that being a good sport is a good witness to a watching world. I know that the girls' measured response, respectful and accepting, impressed many in the audience as it did me. Yet, knowing most of those girls, I know that this peace came from their inner trust in God. I respect those girls highly for their God-glorifying response to the game, and also for the way they represented God to a watching world.
I'm still struggling to come to grips with this loss, but just writing this post has solidified in my mind how I was sinning in my response to the game. I was mad, steaming mad, and forgot that God had planned the game that way in ages past. So I can rest in God's providence, knowing that he is doing what is best for everyone, including me. But I can also still say, "Beat Grace Brethren on Thursday, Cougars!"
(photo credit: Lydia Jane)