Tuesday, January 27, 2009

100 - 0

You have heard the story by now. The girls basketball team from Dallas Covenant beat the team from Dallas Academy 100 to 0. Refusing to let up, and with spectators and an assistant coach reportedly "cheering wildly," Covenant continued to use a full court press and to shoot three-point goals relentlessly until the score hit triple digits. Only then did the coach call off the dogs.

The losing team, Dallas Academy, has 8 players. There are only 20 girls in the entire school, which specializes in teaching students with learning disabilities like dyslexia. DA has not won a game in four years.

The winning team is from The Covenant School, which describes itself as a "classical, Christ-centered, college preparatory" school. After the game, Covenant forfeited its victory over DA, calling the team's actions "shameful" and "an embarrassment." The team's coach posted on the internet his disagreement with the school's statement and forfeiture, and he was subsequently fired. The press release I saw indicated that the head of school did not give a reason for the firing. We can all speculate what role the "shameful" game plan played in the firing and what role his insubordination, displayed for the world to read on the web, played.

Since I live in the DFW area, I am hearing a disproportionate amount of sports talk about this situation, and I have read about it in our local papers. If you go to the Dallas Morning News' website and read through the comments, you will find a heated debate about the propriety of firing the coach.

I understand why there is such debate. There are plenty of folks outraged that a high school team would run up the score on a ridiculously non-competitive opponent. On the other hand, I understand the argument that the object is to win the game - I am as competitive as anybody else. I understand that the coach feels that it could have been worse and that "it just happened." I understand that DA's coach may have some responsiblity in not getting his team to be any better than it is.

But there is another whole level to this debate, one that sports radio and the newspaper webpage comments have largely ignored. It is this - Covenant is unapologetically a Christian school. The parents of the team's players met after the game and stated that their top two priorities for the team, above winning and above representing the school, were "to represent Christ with the highest respect" and not "to humiliate anyone ever."

This raises a timely question for those of us trying to live out our Christianity in the world. How, and when, should we be different? Taking all of the "object of the game is to win" and the "how can you run up the score" thoughts into account, should a Christian school approach this quandary differently than anybody else?

I don't think those of us who are Christians should play less hard than others. I think we should try hard to win. But I think there is a line that was crossed here. It may be hard to define, but 100-0 with a full court press and three-point shots is well over that line. We know it when we see it. My question is this - is the line at a different place for the Christian competitor than for other competitors?

I don't pretend that I would not have been upset if I had coached a team to an overwhelming victory, only to have my school forfeit and call my actions "shameful."

But did Covenant have a different line to beware of crossing than, say, the Hockaday School would have had?

A high school basketball game is, of course, a relatively insignificant example to pick to discuss a very important question. Jesus tells us that we are not "of the world," though we are without question placed in the world. Paul tells us to "come out from among them." Whether or not that means not beating another team 100 - 0, it must mean something.

My grandparents did not allow their children to do many things on Sunday because of a sincere attempt to honor the commandment about respecting the Sabbath. Many of their generation forbade drinking alcohol, dancing, playing cards, going to certain (if not all) movies, and using certain language. Today, we tend to laugh off such norms as hopelessly old-fashioned, and perhaps they are. But the motive behind them - to display a noticeable difference from "the world" - is scriptural.

Again, I am not saying there is an easy "Christian" answer to tell Covenant when it should have stopped shooting threes. I am only suggesting - gently, I hope - that perhaps the approach to that question is different for those of us who advertise that we are "Christ-centered."

Should we be different from "the world?" Are we?

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