Doug Wolter: Sportsmanship should never be taken for granted

Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to be a good sport. I was reminded of this last weekend, when I watched Novac Djokovic get ejected from the U.S. Open for hitting a line judge with a tennis ball.

This is a column primarily intended to thank our high school coaches, and our high school athletes, for demonstrating that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. I’m amazed at how well our teen-agers exhibit sportsmanship thanks to the teaching they receive from their coaches.

I still smile to myself when I hear, at the beginning of athletic contests -- such as I heard again at the most recent high school soccer game I attended -- the “winning is not as important as” speech. But we forget, sometimes, that high school sports is a learning tool and not an excuse to lord our dominance over the other guys.

There have been times recently when I saw one of our Worthington girls tennis players lose a big point on what I thought was a bad call. Whereas I personally might have gone haywire over such a minor violation, our plucky Trojan shrugged it off as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

That takes guts. And self-discipline. I’m impressed. I’m always impressed when I see it, in fact.


I spoke with a longtime tennis player, like myself, the other day and explained that I own four rackets. Why? Well, it’s like this. I need to hold on to as many old and battered rackets as I can because the day will arrive when my wife won’t let me buy any more new ones.

When I was younger (you may be shocked to learn this), I was a tennis racket abuser. In college I wrecked I-don’t-know-how-many Wilson T-2000 rackets by throwing them, smashing them, or both. Every new one I bought, I promised myself that I’d change my ways. And then, in a brief moment of Djokovician rage, I could not control myself.

It’s embarrassing, of course. I’d feel guilty a split-second later. Promise myself I’d be stoic like Bjorn Borg and not a sorehead like John McEnroe. Promises, promises.

Fact is, I still toss my racket today. Not nearly as much. And not as violently. I suppose I’ve mellowed somewhat. But not enough, obviously.

I was relieved to hear recently, when talking to another grownup who’s also a dedicated tennis player that he, too, has a history of racket-smashing that goes way back. It makes me feel better, I guess. He’s also got a dozen or more rackets at home. I wonder how his wife lets him buy so many. Good rackets are expensive.

A couple of days ago I was curious to hear what my wife would say if I told her I’d been thinking of purchasing another racket. My best racket has held up fairly well since I purchased it last year. It’s held its shape despite several tosses against the wire fence at our local middle school courts.

It bears the scars and scrapes I’ve put it through, but you know what they say -- there’s nothing like a brand new wand to make you feel on top of the world.

So I floated a trial balloon, saying, “I know this might sound ridiculous, but I’ve been thinking about buying a new tennis racket.”


I waited for a response. But she didn’t say a thing.

In other words, the balloon fizzled.

Well, that’s only what I deserve. I went online to see what was said about the word “sportsmanship.” I saw something that defined it as winning with dignity and losing with grace, and respecting the game.

Hats off to our coaches for instilling a healthy respect for the game. They don’t get enough credit. And ditto for our athletes. Their virtue is seen and appreciated.


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