From time to time, I’ve remarked on how the normal monotony of high school sports can transcend to another plane, one in which a sport or game becomes something much bigger, and usually, better.
But after the “pink jersey” incident in Monday’s girls basketball game between Class A, No. 6 Columbus High and Omaha Burke, it is time for everyone involved to take a step back, breathe for a minute and realize it is just a high school regular season game. Rabid fans — who have lit up message boards, been typing away furiously in e-mails and have picked up the phone — need to understand, whether they like it or not, all parties involved share the blame.
For those who don’t know the issue in question, here is a brief summary.
During Monday’s game, the Burke Bulldogs took the floor around the 10-minute mark of pregame warmups wearing light pink uniforms, as opposed to their normal white home jerseys. The reason was due to a charity fundraising event Omaha Burke was holding, in which proceeds went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The first half was played without any major problems, and Burke led 22-21 entering halftime.
Before the start of the second half, Columbus was awarded two free throws thanks to a technical foul called on Omaha Burke, for wearing what were deemed to be illegal jerseys. This happened after CHS Activities Director John Krogstrand — who arrived to the game after the opening tip — brought the jerseys to the attention of the CHS coaching staff, and after head coach Dave Licari asked the officials if the jerseys were legal or not.
The officials decided the jerseys were illegal by Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) guidelines, which state the home team’s uniforms have to be predominantly white. Burke’s transgression turned into two free throws for CHS, which took a 23-22 lead to start the third quarter, and later went on to win the game by a 15-point margin at 62-47.
This incident, which was first reported in Wednesday’s edition of The Omaha World Herald, has quickly caught fire across the state — and in a sense — the nation. There is more copy on the online article’s discussion board than in the story itself, and the article was even picked up by a Jimmy Traina on SI.com — although he didn’t even get the details correct, so take that for what you will.
Columbus High has dealt with e-mails and calls, as has The Columbus Telegram, and overall, people have taken a small discrepancy in a simple basketball game and turned it into an all-out battle between Columbus and Omaha, with the winner apparently taking all.
But a look at the simple logistics of this game prove, without a doubt, how insignificant these two points actually were, and how blown out of proportion the whole scenario has become.
For starters, the Discoverers went on to win by 15 points, a rather large amount for a game that many perceive to have been so close. Further more, after taking its 23-22 lead, Columbus fell behind when the Bulldogs went on a 6-0 run in the third quarter. In fact, it wasn’t until around the 4-minute mark of the frame that Columbus took the lead after a 30-all tie and never relinquished its control.
The numbers don’t lie, and easily show how those two free throws in no way cemented the outcome of this game. Halftime adjustments, a hot hand here or there and good defense were the real culprits, so if you must blame CHS for something in this game, pin the shame on its ability to succeed and pull away in the second half.
However, most of the angst and anger about this situation isn’t about the overall outcome. Most of the disappointed commenters on The Telegram and World Herald websites stem from the belief that the Discoverers sat in waiting, ready to unleash this wonderful technicality on an unassuming and harmless Bulldogs squad which was simply trying to raise some money for a good cause.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Obviously, we are very supportive of what they were trying to do. It is a noble and honorable thing that (Burke) was doing. It was a good thing to teach kids, to give back to charities and groups that support such worthy causes,” CHS Superintendent Dr. Troy Loeffelholz said. “We were in no way trying to discredit what they were trying to do. It was just part of the game.”
Those people who believe malicious intent was in play — and there are plenty out there — need to put down whatever form of Kool-Aid they are drinking, because it isn’t doing much good.
This was a case of several things — all of which were completely preventable — going wrong. The result was what we see now, a sports editor using his weekly column to calm heads, while The World Herald has already posted a follow-up on its website, hoping to achieve the same goal.
Omaha Burke, Columbus High and the officiating crew all share the weight of this debacle. That’s something many don’t want to hear, but it is the truth.
From the start, this whole situation could have been avoided with a phone call or e-mail from the Bulldogs to the Discoverers, explaining their intentions.
“The fundraiser was very much part of the basketball contest in general. I think everyone came that night with good intentions,” Burke Activities Director Kyle Rohrig said. “I wish I would have made a different decision in hindsight. I was at fault as well.”
As Burke’s head coach Luke Lueders stated in Wednesday’s article, he also wishes he would have informed CHS earlier in the day. Had the Bulldogs informed Columbus High in any way, shape or form about the fundraiser, two things most likely would have happened. Without question, the incident would not have occurred, and secondly, the Discoverers would have probably gotten involved.
But Burke’s lack of communication resulted in the incident occurring and then spinning out of control in public discourse.
Secondly, CHS is at fault for its timing in the matter. By no means did Licari care about the uniforms. He simply asked the officials if they were legal or not. Waiting until halftime to ask, in hindsight, is what paints the Discoverer program in such a bad light.
It is easy to fault CHS for not knowing the rules, which is why the issue wasn’t raised until the break. But neither did Burke, and after all, that’s what officials are for. They are the last line of defense in such cases, the walking, talking human bodies of knowledge, ready to clarify and enforce.
That, however, didn’t happen.
The officials didn’t seem to know of the violation until it was brought to their attention, and chose to retroactively enforce the technical foul. In hindsight, especially considering Columbus’ lack of caring about the jerseys, a simple warning to Burke would have sufficed. But rules are rules, and the officials acted in the way they best saw fit.
All three parties could have done things differently, and all three parties would love to get a second chance.
And lost in all of this mess is the simple fact that Omaha Burke’s fundraiser was a success. The Bulldogs raised over $2,600, which is something that needs to be celebrated. That is the theme that should flood comment boards, not the petty back-and-forth rhetoric we see today.
It is sad to see an event turned sour because of public discourse. It is sad to see human beings band against one another over a high school basketball game. It is sad to see something so small get blown so far out of proportion by people who don’t know what they are talking about.
Omaha Burke, Columbus High and the officiating crew are responsible for the “pink jersey” incident, but it is the public that’s responsible for making it an incident in the first place.
Nate Carey is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments and story ideas. Or follow the Telegram Sports Staff on Twitter at CTelegramSports.