Positive discussions on sportsmanship were part of the lesson plans in Minnesota and Wisconsin schools this week. One case served as a reminder that it's possible to go too far with the details — even when the desired goal is right on. The other drove home the importance of being encouraging and kind to players — even highly paid professionals who miss short field goals.
First, our neighbors to the east. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) sent an e-mail to its 500 member schools reporting a "noticeable increase" in unsportsmanlike taunting at athletic events during the first half of the year.
"Any action directed at opposing teams or their spectators with the intent to taunt, disrespect, distract or entice an unsporting behavior in a response is not acceptable sportsmanship," the e-mail said. "Student groups, school administrators and event managers should take immediate steps to correct this unsporting behavior."
No problem there. But the WIAA went off the rails by giving examples of common and relatively tame chants such as "Fun-da-mentals," "Airball," "There's a net there" and "Season's over." That prompted an understandable barrage of social media criticism. Call it a case of the right spirit, wrong specifics. Better for Wisconsin officials to stick with a general definition of unsportsmanlike behaviors and let schools deal with the specifics.
We have no problem with the other local case. To teach empathy and persistence, first-grade teacher Sarah Myhre and her fabulous students at Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine sent letters of encouragement to Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh following his season-ending missed field goal in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Among the messages: "I know that it can be hard to get through things that are sad, but you have to try and try again," "Everyone makes mistakes sometimes,'' "You can help them win the Super Bowl next year'' and "We love you.''
Walsh, who was attacked on social media after the kick, was so touched that he visited the school to thank his first-grade fans in person. He said he wanted to make sure the kids knew that the botched kick would not be a "defining moment'' for him. That's a valuable lesson in perspective for all sports fans — young and old alike.