One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

“What do you think dignity’s all about?’
-Kazuo Ishiguro

“Without dignity, identity is erased.” 
-Laura Hillenbrand

“Nothing is so essential as dignity…Time will reveal who has it and who has it not.” 

-Elizabeth Gilbert

Yesterday marked the end of my journey as a travel hockey parent. For the better part of the last 15 years, I have been traveling to rinks in the Northeast making sure that both of my children made it to practices, games and tournaments. First when they played roller hockey, and then for the last 10 years, it has been solely been for hockey. We started in New York and then spent considerable time in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire I have traveled the many highways and byways of these states at all hours of the day and night to clean rinks, filthy rinks and all rinks in between. All so my kids could play hockey.

And I have loved every minute of it. But, as with everything, you have your good and bad moments. Have there been teams I wish that either my son or daughter hadn’t played on? Of course. Have some coaches been either to overbearing or lenient? Of course. Overall, however, they have benefited from the teamwork and camaraderie that comes with playing a team sport like hockey and they have made what I would hope to be life long friends in the process.

Of course as you read this you are probably wondering to yourself, “It can’t all be good, can it?” And with that I answer with a resounding, “NO!”

Over the years my kids have encountered teams, parents and coaches who, quite frankly, are a disgrace to the sport. You know who they are, the ones who are abusive in one way or another and who truly shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a hockey rink, let alone children. But there they are. Parents who laugh as a player lays injured on the ice. The same parents saying that opposing players are “faking” injuries, even as they lay crying because they were cross checked into the boards. Coaches who encourage their players to “take out” opposing players.

This weekend, probably the last one of my daughters hockey career, should have been one that she would remember for the rest of their lives. It will be, but for the wrong reasons.

My daughters team played a game on Saturday night in our end of the year competition against a very competitive team. On its face, the game would have been a good one no matter who won. On paper, they were equally matched and the girls felt they could do well. As the game progressed (and we were winning). the opposing team felt it necessary to start with the elbows to the head, tripping, slashing and boarding. For some reason the referees missed a majority of the infractions. The end result? We won the game.

As luck would have it, we ended up playing the same team the very next day in the championship game of the tournament. From the start the opposing team engaged in the same behavior as the day before. Several times our players were injured by members of the other team. On two occasions, as they lay on the ice, parents in the stands and the team itself were laughing as our player cried in pain after being cross checked into the boards and after being up ended in the middle of the ice. The most disgusting part of this display was the fact that the coach, the leader of the team, did nothing to stop the laughing.

In the end, we lost the game. And that’s ok. Although it would have been nice to win, I would have been embarrassed if our girls had lowered themselves and played at the level that this team decided to play at because they wanted to win.

I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again. The fact that the team plays in a way that can lead to serious injury says everything about the coaches and the parents. It sickens me that anyone would condone this type of behavior. If you aren’t telling them to stop, then you are part of the problem. And for what? A trophy?

Here’s the point to my story. As the medals were being handed out, one of our players who had been targeted by the other team the entire game both verbally and physically did something that showed the class of our team. She could have just taken her medal and gotten back on line with our girls. But no, she skated by the opposing team and offered her congratulations. No mean words, no punches, slashes or boarding. Just “congratulations.”

To me this erased the bad feelings I had about the loss. Our girls came away with something much more important than a championship and a trophy.

They came away with their dignity.

 

 

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