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The IHSA Unduly Influences Boys High School Basketball Championship

Posted by sportsmaven on March 31, 2009

There is an unwritten rule in sports in the most simplest of terms, states that the outcomes of any competition should be decided on the field or court of play. In this stunningly bizzare twist of fate, the Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSA) and the athletic administration of North Lawndale Charter High School were unintentional co-conspirators in determining the outcome of this season’s Illinois Class 3A Boy’s Basketball State Championship.


For those in the unknown, the Chicago Tribune high school sports reporter, Bob Sakamoto wrote a nice piece summarizing the facts:

In Friday’s 3A semifinal, North Lawndale began the game trailing 1-0 before the opening tipoff. Illinois High School Association Assistant Executive Director Kurt Gibson ruled that Lawndale’s illegal uniform mandated a technical foul.

Champaign Centennial’s Jeff Johnson made one of two technical free throws. As it turned out, North Lawndale lost by that one point, 66-65.

In tournament basketball, games with teams that are evenly matched, the outcome of the game is often decided by one single possession. You would like to think that the extra possession that resulted in a win for one team and a loss for another team would be earned in the heat of the battle, within the confines of the game itself. It appears in this case that game deciding possession was determined by gamesmanship of the rules prior to the tip off of the semi-final game of the high profile state basketball tournament.

While I’m not questioning the rule itself, what is in question is the inconsistency and randomness of how this particular rule was enforced. Both sides have pointed proverbial finger at each other in casting blame for the situation after the fact. According to the IHSA, the North Lawndale team knew they were in violation of the uniform rule, but were only warned about the infraction until the semi-final game, where the penalty was enforced. The North Lawndale team had to be aware that after several warnings, the IHSA could actually choose to enforce the penalty. It was a showdown that had no winner and no happy ending. Both parties are equally responsible for determining the end result of the crucial state championship semi-final game.

The only other issue that stands out is the extremely poor judgement the IHSA used in the timing of the enforcement of the uniform rule. Last week, in the face of severe public criticism and outrage, the IHSA issued statements defending their decision. While the decision itself may be defensible, the lack of sound judgement used in choosing that particular moment to arbitrarily enforce this rule is indefensible. If the IHSA knew the uniforms were out of compliance with their rule for the entire 2008-09 basketball season, why didn’t they choose to enforce their rule consistently and accurately from tip off of every game until North Lawndale conformed to the rule? If they had taken that approach, there would be no second-guessing of the rule enforcement in the semi-final game.

The IHSA should have acknowledged that they exercised poor judgement in enforcement of the uniform rule, thus inadvertently impacting the outcome of a tournament championship. This action would have disarmed any remaining critics. Instead, the IHSA justification introduces even more opportunity for criticism. Poor decisions are a fact of life, people are human, mistakes are made. Defending a poor decision not only reinforces that decision, but leads me to conclude that the IHSA has yet to learn the lessons from it’s mistakes and now establishes a trend of making poor decisions.

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Living The American Dream

Posted by sportsmaven on June 30, 2008

Magnus Midtvedt was a foreign exchange student from just outside Oslo, Norway. Magnus was also a student that lived in our home since the last week of August in 2007. Today, Magnus went home to Norway, 10 months after arriving in the United States and the Chicago suburbs as a young, quiet, shy boy from Scandinavia.

I have been waiting to write about Magnus all year, mostly because I wanted to fully experience the wholeness of hosting an exchange student before putting it to words, but watching Magnus pack for his journey home brought back the memories that he has lived since the day he arrived in the International Terminal at O’Hare Airport last August.

Magnus arrived to the shores of Lake Michigan alone and unassuming. He was very much a young boy, traveling half way around the world to embark on a journey we all knew would be special, but yet he was to begin this journey alone, and amongst strangers. He was brave and courageous to do this on his own, but Magnus had a dream to play basketball in the US and Northbrook, Illinois is where it was to happen for him.

Basketball in Norway is a fledgling sport, still very much at the grass roots level, meaning not very advanced. As a young boy, Magnus fell in love with basketball and with Michael Jordan while watching the movie, Space Jam. Little did he realize that in a few short months, he would be living his American Dream.

Every young boy has dreams of being a schoolboy sports hero, whether on the gridiron or the court. In Magnus’ case, it would be the hardwood of the basketball court. Magnus worked countless hours in our backyard basketball court with the hopes of just making the Glenbrook North High School basketball team. Not only did Magnus make the team, but he developed into one of the best shooters on the team, parlaying that into valuable playing time off the bench and a remarkable run into the state playoffs in a magnificent season of American high school basketball.

Magnus’ shining moment was in the Proviso West Holiday Basketball Tournament this past December. Glenbrook North was scheduled to play Whitney Young, a local powerhouse and a top contender for the Class AA state basketball championship. One of Whitney Young’s top players was G Marcus Jordan, the son of Magnus’ basketball idol. The game was broadcast on Comcast Sports Net, the local sports cable television outlet. Sitting in the stands behind the Glenbrook North bench was perhaps the best player ever to play the game of basketball, Michael Jordan. Magnus entered in the 4th quarter of a one sided game, where he proceeded to hit a 3 pointer in front of his hero and idol. Michael acknowledged the moment with a little fist pump and Magnus was in heaven. There could be no better moment to witness someone living the dream of their lifetime. I was proud to be present to witness such an accomplishment, but also humbled and thankful to experience the rare and wonderful moment of a dream fulfilled.

That moment happened over 7 months ago, and it was one of many, many moments that Magnus has experienced in his brief stay as a member of our household. In my eyes and heart, that was the one moment that will forever define our experience with Magnus. As the parade of newly made friends came to say their goodbyes this afternoon, I watched the completion of the development and maturation of a young man, a boy no longer.

As I walked Magnus to the security line at the airport and said my goodbye, I felt a large part of my existence for the last year was leaving with him. I have to admit that it was a difficult moment for both of us, but more difficult that I would have thought for me. As I watched Magnus go though the security line, I noticed how American he had become – wearing the basketball shirt, the baggy jeans shorts that kept falling down as he took off his belt to go through the metal detector, to hearing one of his favorite new American sayings “my bad”.

As Magnus gathered his belongings from security, he took one look back, waved bye to me, and walked around the corner to his new life, a life of unlimited potential and dreams fulfilled, with many new dreams to follow.

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