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Sportsmanship: What's good, what's bad?

I want to talk to you today about sportsmanship. Specifically, what does and does not constitute good sportsmanship.

As is the case in life and sport, the demarcation between good and bad is often blurred. This was the case in an incident at Monday's Class 4A, District 6 boys golf championships.

A golfer from Crystal River and one from Mount Dora Bible were battling for position somewhere in the middle of Monday's 14-team field. Neither was in contention for an individual championship, nor were their teams involved in a title hunt.

According to those involved, the Crystal River golfer was rather disappointed with his round to that point and admittedly had vented a little frustration. Foul language was used, yet according to others in the group, it was not particularly loud or distracting.

The student from Mount Dora Bible, though, took great offense. And as the group was leaving the ninth green at the Rolling Oaks course at World Woods, he filed an official protest with his coach and the tournament staff.

Lecanto coach Chuck Holestein, who was running the tournament, had little choice in the matter. Since foul language had been used (in violation of Florida High School Activities Association rules), and since others in the group had reluctantly testified to such, the Crystal River golfer was disqualified.

Now, I pose the question: Was the Mount Dora Bible golfer adhering to a code of good sportsmanship? Or was he merely a tattletale?

Which brings us back to the original question. What is good sportsmanship? Is it a strict adherence to the rules? Is it about proper conduct? Or is sportsmanship really about competition in its purest form?

Is the good sportsman reluctant to use rules to his advantage? Is this because he relishes the competition itself and wants to win based on his own merits and not the shortcomings of his opponent?

In the purest sense, I think so.

What really struck me about the incident is that the Mount Dora Bible golfer didn't even make his concerns known to the affected party until it was too late _ in other words, until the bombshell of disqualification had fallen. Didn't his opponent, who was obviously wrapped up in his own shortcomings, deserve a chance to correct his behavior?

I understand that the student's strong religious convictions made the behavior even more difficult to tolerate. But as a competitor, wouldn't the proper thing to do have been to walk up, look him in the face, and express his concerns? If the behavior continued beyond that point, by all means, turn him in.

However, to blind-side a competitor in this manner seems rather cheap.

I posed these questions to several coaches and colleagues, and most agreed it was a difficult question. As one coach said, "Rules are rules," and the Crystal River golfer did break the rules. However, these rules apply to every sport sanctioned by the FHSAA. Safe to say, they are not applied equally to every sport.

One of my colleagues mentioned a similar scenario relayed to him by the coach of a team that finished second in its conference tournament. This coach admitted his team could have won a conference crown had he applied the same rules (specifically, on language and club abuse), but he really didn't have the stomach for it.

And he was not alone. On Monday, I saw another coach presented with a potential rules violation from an overly eager parent. However, preferring to let the kids settle the issue on the course, the coach chose not to act despite the validity of the claim.

Obviously, there is much room for debate on this subject, which is why I invite your opinions on the matter. I can be reached at (352) 860-7331 (leave message), or send e-mail to Your comments and opinions will be shared in a future column.