Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The End of Good Sportsmanship

While watching a football game over the weekend, I was reminded of my elementary school principal, Emerson Powrie. I was a student at Wines School in Ann Arbor from 1959 until 1966. I never got to know Mr. Powrie that well because only the bad kids got sent to the principal's office, and I was a good little boy. Still, over the years I came to like and admire him. Often near the end of the school day, he would make an announcement over the intercom. He always began it the same way: "May I have your attention in all rooms please, may I please have your attention," he would say. We knew that he cared about us, because often the purpose of his announcement was to warn us of a storm that was moving in, and he would ask us to be especially careful walking home. I also remember that he would occasionally say something that we thought was funny, which we always enjoyed.Mr. Powrie was also a part of my world outside of school. My dad took me to lots of sports events when I was young, and I would see Mr. Powrie at many of them. He worked as the timekeeper at both University of Michigan basketball games and Ann Arbor High football games, and he also was public address announcer at the high school basketball games. I thought it was cool that my principal was the announcer there, and felt proud and honored many years later when I was offered and accepted the same position that he had held so many years before.For the most part, the personal lives of the adults at our school were a mystery to us, but occasionally we would hear little stories that we found quite fascinating. Once one of our teachers told us that Mr. Powrie did not have a TV set at his house. We were shocked that our principal felt no need to own an item that we considered to be one of life's necessities.The other story that puzzled us was when we heard that Mr. Powrie felt that booing at games and other public events was totally inappropriate. On these two issues, watching TV and booing, he obviously was in a distinct minority. At those Michigan basketball games where Mr. Powrie kept time, the boos and jeers of fans unhappy with an official's call routinely echoed off the ancient walls and tin roof of cavernous Yost Field House.Although I didn't entirely understand Mr. Powrie's stands on these issues, I admired him for sticking to his principles regardless of popular public opinion. And when I really thought about it, I realized that he was right about the booing thing - no one participating in or officiating at a sports event deserves to be booed. I have to admit that on many occasions I have joined in the jeering, seeing as it's hard to resist booing someone like Woody Hayes or Bobby Knight. Which brings me up to this weekend - what happened at the football game I was watching is routine these days, but it is something that I have never engaged in - the fans were booing their own team. I first experienced this phenomenon when I attended my first Detroit Lions game more than 40 years ago, and I quickly decided that if the "fans" of this team boo their own players, I wanted nothing to do with said team.When I heard the fans booing their team this weekend I thought about Mr. Powrie, and then I wondered to myself - if he was against booing, imagine how he would feel about what happened at the Palace on Friday night. And at that moment I realized that it was all connected - the booing of the officials at Yost 40 years ago happened because there weren't enough Emerson Powrie's around to stand up for what is right. First it was just booing the refs and the opponents, then it escalated to booing the home team, then it became OK to throw things on the playing surface and curse, and finally this disintegration of decency has resulted in the near-riot at the Pistons game the other night.A few years after I left Wines, Mr. Powrie received a promotion in the Ann Arbor School system and shortly thereafter was one of the top-ranking officials in the district. Then about 25 years ago he suffered a sudden illness and passed away at a much too early age.In light of recent events, it seems to me that a return to the principles and ideals of Mr. Powrie are long overdue. A good first step in this direction would be naming Ann Arbor's new high school in his honor - Emerson Powrie High.