It's hard to praise sportsmanship without sounding like a chump.
We celebrate cunning, guile and trash-talking in our games every day, but sportsmanship exactly once a year, which in case you missed it, officially came and went March 4. Yet every so often, those same games produce a gesture so grand it reminds you that sportsmanship will always be more about strength than weakness. Maybe that's why it remains the exception instead of the rule.
Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman wasn't doing anything more than keeping track of the baserunners and pitch count in a game last Saturday when Western Oregon's Sara Tucholsky hit the first home run of her career. Never having had occasion to practice, Tucholsky's trot around the bases quickly turned into a disaster -- she missed first, turned back to tag it and collapsed with a knee injury.
As Tucholsky crawled back to the bag, Western's first base coach shouted, "Nobody touch her," knowing that any assistance from teammates or her trainers, or replacing Tucholsky with a pinch-runner, meant the homer would only count as a single. While the coaches and umpires tried to figure what to do next, Holtman waded into the huddle and asked, "Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?"
With the umpires' blessing, Holtman and Central teammate Liz Wallace gingerly scooped up Tucholsky and carried her toward second. Trying to figure out which was the good leg, the trio broke into giggles. By the time they reached second, just about everybody in the grandstand was on their feet cheering or crying, and some were doing both. It's worth noting the game, which had NCAA Tournament implications, was won by Western Oregon 4-2.
"It's one of those things that in the moment of it, it didn't feel like a big deal," Holtman said a few days later.
Since most of us let National Sportsmanship Day slide by without notice, we owe a debt of gratitude to Holtman for making a tired old slogan, "Dare to Play Fair," seem hip, if only for a little while, one more time.
Reach Jim Litke at firstname.lastname@example.org