Anyone familiar with Effingham County sports knows well the friendly but passionate rivalry between Effingham County High School and South Effingham High School in many sports. On grass fields, hardwood courts, clay diamonds, wrestling mats, dirt running trails, and asphalt courts the best of Effingham’s teenage athletes battle for the title of county champs.
While these competitions are often close and exciting, what makes them even more interesting to me is the manner in which those involved — including the fans — handle these highly-emotional and spirited contests.
Just look around at the students in attendance. You will see them having fun together, all wearing school colors, many with faces painted, roaring with every point scored.
At a time when “sport ethics” seems to be an oxymoron, and when the nation’s nightly news brings yet another installment of “athletes behaving badly,” it is comforting to see clearly that the athletes and fans at our schools have been taught how to work hard, win gracefully and lose honorably.
I think it is also no small coincidence that we see our respective coaches and principals modeling such amicable and ethical “good sport” behavior as they attend associated media events.
Now, to be sure, sometimes athletes and fans can get out of hand. But let’s face it, that occurrence is a rarity in Effingham. We ought to count our blessings and be thankful for these coaches, principals, athletes and fans as such an environment is not found in other places.
There are school systems in the country where heated rivalries often result in property damage, riots, and multiple injuries from altercations. Years ago, when I coached wrestling at a high school in Florida, I recall being told by my principal that he requested a police escort to a nearby high school because if we beat that particular rival, we may not get out of there without a fight, such was the tension between the schools. We won, and there is no question the police presence prevented altercations as my athletes were being taunted by older ne’er-do-wells from the stands. That kind of thing does happen in high school sports, but never here. Never.
In fact, I enjoy watching the athletes from both schools band together on one Effingham team when competing in leagues outside of school. Then they are the best of friends, all on the same team, allies who never see their neighbors as the enemy. Many of these athletes have played together for years, only to be separated in school sports.
And this school system has produced quite a few great athletes. Our schools’ coaches, administrators and athletes are doing something right in modeling the very thing that we know sport can produce — good moral character.
And for that, I thank God for their leadership and example. All are champs.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.