with Michael Betteridge

Summer Is Here…

Let’s Celebrate

Most of us have seen the silly antics of NFL football players doing their handshakes, dances, and performances in the end zone after a touchdown. It’s not sports, it’s performance art at its finest. It started out with the “spike” years ago; at first, the officials threw a flag and called it unsportsmanlike conduct, then they let it slide. Soon, the spike was followed by a finger pointed at the sky and a sort of combination “thank you, God” and “We’re number No. 1,” depending on the player. Then, this performance art became Lambeau leaps, somersaults into the endzone, choreographed dances, political statements, and so on. It spread to other sports, which now permeates most pro sports as we know it. Pro-athletes are for sale to the highest bidder; their brand is more important than the team.

At high school and collegiate levels, overt celebrations were completely unacceptable—it sent the wrong message to young athletes.  These celebrations took the focus off the team and put it on the individual; it was disrespectful to opponents and simply not allowed. But, just like in pro sports, exceptions have crept in.

This Cougars’ high school season, we had a high visibility collision between culture, official rules, egos, and fair and consistent application of the celebration rules. An athlete raising one finger to the ceiling during an event could receive a disqualification, but a mosh pit celebration at home plate for a baseball player who hit a home run was fine. Why?

My favorite celebration recollection was several years ago in the gym at Catoctin High School during a basketball game. It was the last game of the season, and Catoctin had a big lead over its opponent.  Coach began putting his bench in the game to give them some floor time.  There was a very special kid named Cody who was a heck of a Cougars football player, but he wasn’t as good at basketball. He was a third-string basketball player, and he hadn’t seen any time in a game all season. So, when Coach put Cody in the game with five minutes on the clock, the crowd reacted with a round of applause for Cody. Then, something unbelievable happened.  His teammates all collapsed into a four-corner offense and fired the ball to Cody who was standing just beyond the three-point arc at the top of the key. His teammates managed to get the word to their opponent, who relaxed their defense for a moment; in that split second, Cody was wide open with the ball. Cody set his feet, took aim at the basket and launched the shot! The pin-drop silence fell over the crowd. The ball arced into the air with the faintest hint of backspin and gently swooshed through the net for a beautiful three-point basket. The crowd erupted into a deafening roar of celebration. It was as if Catoctin had just won the state championship.  Cody turned to the crowd and gave his best Hulk flex then dropped to the hardwoods and rattled off three rapid fire push-ups. Again, the crowd erupted. It was a moment I will treasure forever because in that moment of complete unity and accord between both teams and fans, everyone understood what had just happened, including the officials.  That was a common-sense application of the rules. No whistles were blown.  No flags were thrown.

Today, common sense seems to be in short supply on both sides of the equation. Catoctin track star, Brody Buffington, one of the fastest high school sprinters in America, was disqualified back in February when he looked back at his own teammates and raised his index finger into the air.  The track meet was in Hagerstown, but the DQ (disqualify) wasn’t announced until later.  Everyone who has ever competed in high school athletics in Frederick County understands the officiating in Washington County. His disqualification was biased, excessive, and lacked any common sense. The backlash spread throughout Frederick County and beyond, reaching all over the nation in newspaper and TV reportings, making Buffington somewhat of a local celebrity as a result. Three months later, in a head-shaking moment, Buffington did it again. And, this time, it wasn’t an individual event, but a team relay event that affected the whole team.  Remember what I said about common sense on both sides of the equation? 

But in all fairness, something else was at play. I asked a Catoctin football player why he thought they singled out Buffington. His answer was on target, “because it hurt the loser’s feelings.” He was right. In this “everybody is a winner” culture, you can’t point out that there are losers on the field. Because if you’re No. 1 then they are No. 2, and that’s unacceptable. There is another factor involved: the rules are different for different players in different sports.  You can pile up in a rugby scrum, or you can pile up on the pitcher’s mound after a big win in a delightful revel of celebration in baseball, but a raised finger is a NO-NO? You can drop to the floor and do pushups during a basketball game, but a gesture to the crowd by a track star is verboten. You can hurtle over the net and toss your racket into the air after winning a tennis match, but spiking the football will get you 15 yards. So, what’s the answer? 

Simple…save the celebrations until after the game is over. Also, someone has to remind the officials that their decisions affect lives for years to come, so use your God-given common sense. Don’t be stupid!

Now is the perfect time for celebrations, now that the season is over. Let’s celebrate Catoctin’s never give up “Little Football Team that Could,” who put a big scare into the only undefeated team in Frederick, and with one-point losses in their two final regular season games against top ranked teams, made believers out of all of us. How about celebrating the grit and determination of Catoctin’s boys’ soccer team or the girls’ soccer team, led by Nicole Andre, Natalie Hoys, and Molly Parsons? Don’t forget Catoctin field hockey, led by Anna Abruzese; Catoctin volleyball and Anna Belluomo; Catoctin lacrosse, led by Jameson Doll and Vince Reaver; Catoctin golf, led by Jordan Moore. Catoctin girls’ basketball ran all the way to the region finals, led by freshmen sensation Brooke Williams and sophomore point guard Taylor Smith.  Catoctin boys’ basketball went on a run with Robert Ruch Jr. and Colin Toms, led by Matthew Offutt. Catoctin boys’ baseball was sensational, led by Joey McMannis, Peyton Castellow, Connor Crum, and Joel Miller, battling all the way to the region final for the second year in a row after a state championship in 2021, the most recent addition to the Catoctin championship trophy case. And, finally, our Lady Cougars basketball team 1A Maryland State championship runners-up, with a story book season, led largely by a team full of sophomores. I’ll say it again: Now is the time to celebrate!

As a former coach, I was never a fan of in-game celebrations. My response to my players has always been, “Knock it off, act like you’ve been there.” There is nothing that gets under an opponent’s skin more than a calm, focused “that’s what we do because we’re Catoctin” swagger.  I’m throwing down the challenge to every Catoctin Cougars athlete and coach. How about you? Are you ready for some real Mountain Ball in September? The kind Fort Hill faced in November 2019 when they lost their first-ever road football playoff game right here in Thurmont?

To all my Catoctin Cougars friends: Have a great summer. You deserve it! 

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