By Chris Maza
I am a sports purist.
I believe that inherent in any organized physical activity is the notion that lessons are being learned, not the least of which is that hard work pays off.
Evidently local and regional governing bodies of high school athletics, including the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) wishes to push a different lesson: Learn to deal with disappointment. Well documented are the struggles of Massachusetts swimmers and their ultimate ability to "prevail" over the MIAA's decision to cancel the sectional meets, denying many a final opportunity to qualify for the state competition.
For Western Massachusetts' athletes, this was an especially significant blow because unlike others – like those out in the eastern part of the state – Western Massachusetts doesn't have league championships. The MIAA wouldn't allow a Western Massachusetts contingent that thought ahead to the prospect that it might actually snow in February in Massachusetts and had a back-up plan to exercise that plan because, in part, it wouldn't be fair to other contingents that didn't think ahead and already had one post-regular season shot at the state championships.
Then the MIAA compounded their own problem when they felt pressure and made the decision to cheapen the accomplishment of achieving state championship qualifying times by allowing anyone who qualified for a sectional championship to compete at states.
Let me be clear: I understand that the MIAA was trying to "do the right thing" by allowing sectional qualifiers to take part in states, but this is not a win or a coup for Western Massachusetts.
The fact remains that the MIAA was faced with the right and wrong way to handle this situation on multiple occasions. They did it the wrong way each time.
In indoor track and field, those who did legitimately achieve performances at the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference (PVIAC) meet on Feb. 11 worthy of competing at their state championship are being denied the opportunity because of the MIAA's refusal to be flexible.
Originally scheduled for Feb. 9, the PVIAC meet had to be rescheduled because of the winter storm to Feb. 11, which was also the deadline set by the MIAA. The MIAA declined to move the deadline and local athletes will not be allowed to compete.
In wrestling, tournament organizers for the all-state tournament were faced with a difficult decision.
Because of the winter storm, all sectional meets in Massachusetts were moved back to Feb. 15 and 16, which in turn, forces the all-state meet to be pushed back. Unfortunately, while the MIAA seemed to get this one right, the New England Tournament organizers have refused to reschedule their event so that all of New England could participate.
Am I missing something here?
I'll admit, as a former athlete who had the privilege to take part in a state meet and as a former coach in Western Massachusetts, I have felt the pride of watching my athletes achieve something.
I thought the point of athletics in school was to serve to the students fairly. Isn't that what it's really supposed to be about? In these three scenarios, it appears that obvious opportunities to do so have fallen by the wayside and I don't understand why.
Minnechaug Regional High School swimming coach Erik Mandell, one of the most successful winter coaches in recent memory, told me on the record that he has contemplated leaving because he was so embarrassed to be part of the MIAA.
I can't say that I blame him.
I've heard and read reasoning for the decisions that were made that were presented by the powers that be and frankly, I couldn't find a pair of boots high enough to wade through it all.
These organizations seem to have lost their way, forgetting that it's young people, not their bottom lines or regimented schedules that need to be served.