Student Well-Being

In Competition, ‘Mercy’ Wanting

By Sean Cavanagh — February 02, 2009 1 min read

When a competitive sports event becomes anything but, at what point should it be called off?

That question is being asked around the country, after a Texas girls’ basketball team, from Covenant School, defeated Dallas Academy, 100-0.

That outcome Jan. 13 brought an angry reaction in some quarters. Some commentators said a “mercy” rule, aimed at ending games before they become too lopsided, should have been in place. Others said common sense should have led Covenant, ahead 59-0 at halftime, to have eased up.

The result also disappointed school leaders at Covenant, a private Christian school, who issued a Jan. 22 statement calling the result “shameful and an embarrassment.” The contest “clearly does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition,” they said.

Covenant’s coach, Micah Grimes, disagreed. In an e-mail to The Dallas Morning News, he said his “values and beliefs” would not allow him to let his team purposely run the score up on its opponent, according to The Associated Press. His team “should not feel embarrassed or ashamed,” the e-mail reportedly said. “We played the game as it was meant to be played.”

But the game has stirred wide discussion about whether Covenant should have eased up against Dallas Academy, a private school that serves students with special needs.

In some cases, K-12 athletic associations mandate that athletic contests end prematurely when the point margin grows too wide.

Covenant and Dallas Academy are members of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, which has no mercy rules, said Edd Burleson, the group’s director. At times, coaches will informally agree to such rules as a sort of “gentleman’s agreement,” he said in an interview. Regardless, he said, blowouts are common.

Mr. Burleson said he wished Covenant’s coach had adjusted his tactics—perhaps played a softer defense or stalled on offense—to have made the contest less one-sided. Mercy rules, he said, aren’t necessary if coaches use their judgment.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 04, 2009 edition of Education Week

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