Behind the lines: Everyone gets a ribbon….

The late Don Meyer, former head men’s basketball coach at Northern State University in Montana, was noted for his astute observations in the changing world of athletics. Perhaps his most prescient quote is this sadly accurate comment, “Parents would rather have their son get all-state than his team win the state championship.”

The statement would have been ludicrous just a generation ago, but it has become the rule in our modern world of “everyone gets a ribbon” entitlement.

Just two weeks ago Little Snake River, Pine Bluffs, Big Horn, Star Valley, and Sheridan celebrated state football championships over a two-day weekend at Jonah Field in Laramie.

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Four of the five championship games came down to the final minutes of play, with Lovell and Shoshoni experiencing the heartache of losing state titles with just seconds remaining on the clock.

Aside from Burlington who was blown out in the 6-man game by unbeaten Little Snake River, the other four squads, including our Wranglers, and our Big Horn County neighbors the Bulldogs, along with Cheyenne East and Cody, left the field with the hard-to-accept, “shoulda, woulda, coulda…” that comes in losing a close game. Athletes second guess themselves intensely in a close loss, coaches are even worse on themselves, sometimes never really getting over a decision that blew up on them at a vital point of the game.

This is all part of the essence of athletics, the heart of competition you might call it, not everyone wins. Life is not Hollywood.

On the other extreme, far removed from the blinding glare of the arena, is the placation that takes place at the end of each season these days.

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You might as well call it what it is, appeasement. The boys know differently, they know who the best player on their team is, the best one in the league, and the best in the state, but many parents have to be placated into thinking their son is above the average. If not, some of them will quickly turn on the coach. It has become far easier to just nominate everyone on your roster for post-season honors and let the chips fall.

This won’t sit well with many readers, I realize that, but the truth rarely does.

If placation isn’t going on, then why are there six all-conference punters in Class 4-A alone? That’s right, two first-team, two second team, and a pair of honorable-mention selections in a 10-team league.

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I lost count when trying to get an accurate number of how many boys were named to the Class 4-A East, or was it South, maybe West, okay, possibly North squads?

The reason I make light of these “conferences” is that they don’t exist, except to name all-conference players.

Class 4-A plays an extra week longer than all the other conferences, so every team plays every other team in the league. Nine regular season games pit all 10 teams against each other during the regular season. There is no conference, just a 10-team league. They created the two conferences, East and West (their actual names) so at least 239 boys could receive all-conference “honors.”

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Take a look at the list and you’ll find nine all-conference quarterbacks named, out of a 10-team league. If you look, Kelly Walsh is the only 4-A school without an all-conference signal caller.

The East has 131 all-conference players in a five-team league, and the West a paltry 108.

In the world of environmental controls, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” The same is true of all-conference honors. They don’t mean much when they’re this diluted.

Jump back a generation and the “unanimous all-conference” selections of today, would comprise the all-conference teams of that previous era.

Class 4-A is by far the worst when it comes to appeasement, but over 80 Class 3-A players were also named all-conference with the actual East and West conference equally represented.

The state’s smallest division, Class 1-A, 6-man had 44 boys named, with 16 of them playing in the state championship game. Runner-up Burlington had a lopsided nine North Conference picks as the only team in their conference with a winning record. Unbeaten state champion Little Snake River had seven.

Class 2-A had 95 all-conference selections, and 1-A 9-man 77.

For comparisons, Class 1-A 11-man held to just 20 players on their all-conference and all-state rosters the longest before yielding to parental pressure in 2011.

In 1981 the Lusk Tigers finished the year 9-1 as Class B state champions and had just four players named all-state, and just six all-conference. They had a sophomore running back who rushed for 1,502 yards and didn’t get any post-season honors. Being all-conference was an honor in those days, and all-state meant you were a cut above the rest.

To be fair to coaches, all-conference teams are a death trap. The wrong snowplow parent doesn’t get their little superstar on the list and the head coach is on the board agenda for the next meeting.

We came to a solution many years ago that some conferences continue to use today. You nominate your entire team, but you can’t vote for your own players. The all-conference list is made up by the votes of opposing coaches. A unanimous pick means the kid is a player. The top two are first team, the next two second team, and anyone else who gets a single vote receives honorable mention. If you notice three or more first or second team players at a position it means the vote was tied. Since you can only nominate your players and not vote for them, you’re protected as the head coach.

It sounds like a ridiculous situation because it is. The need for vicarious parents living through their children to recognize them as special (just like everyone else) went off the deep end a long time ago and shows no sign of coming up for air.

When everyone receives an award, the award is meaningless.

Being one of 239 all-conference picks in a tiny 10-team league doesn’t amount to much and won’t impress a single college recruiter.

A state title in a team sport still means something. An individual title in swimming, cross country, wrestling, or track and field means even more.

There are no games, politics don’t work, parental influence doesn’t work, just plain old work does the trick when it comes to an individual sport.

Until that mindset returns to the playing field with the accompanying bruised egos, the trend will continue with parents preferring to have their son named all-state, rather than have him play as part of a state championship team.

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