Good morning, Rui Li.
We don’t know each other – you’re a Kentwood High School teenager; I’m a 40-something in the work world. We probably don’t have a whole lot in common athletically – you like to use golf courses for their intended purpose of playing golf; I’d much rather run on them in a cross country race.
It appears there is one little thing that ties us together, though – and a lot of other people, too:
Doing the right thing.
As adults who interact with high school teenagers on a regular basis – teachers, administrators, parents, coaches, or in this case, even reporters – we all try, in our own ways (some subtle, some not so subtle) to get that message across: Make good choices. And do the right thing.
No doubt about it: You got the message.
Last Wednesday, you were getting ready to leave Sudden Valley Golf Course in Bellingham, disappointed that a less-than-stellar second round had dropped you from first place into second. You did, however, finish off with a nice birdie on No. 18.
At least, that’s what everyone in your group thought – including you. Until several minutes later when someone tossed a compliment your way about how well you played to save par on that 18th hole.
That’s when it hit you: It really was a par. It wasn’t a birdie at all, like it showed on your scorecard. Your signed scorecard.
Well, who would know the difference?
Not your coach. Not your playing partner who rallied past you that day for the win. Not even the officials.
But you would know.
You did the only thing you could. In a sport where honesty and integrity are as much a part of the golf bag as a dependable putter, you walked right back to the scoring area, reported the error – unintentional though it was – and essentially disqualified yourself. You willingly returned the second-place silver medal.
That was gutsy, Rui. And courageous.
And the right thing to do.
I’ve seen and heard about some great examples over the past 33 years of writing about high school athletes.
• During a cross country meet at Lindbergh High School in Renton, the league’s top two runners, who were friendly rivals, were well out in front of the field. Somehow, one of the mid-course markers had gotten moved, and the Highline runner took off the wrong way. The Lindbergh runner, who could have seized the home-course advantage, instead called out to him immediately that he was going the wrong way, and his Highline opponent quickly got back on course. I don’t even remember which of them won that day. But I’ve never forgotten the gesture.
• In the state girls singles finals a few years ago in the Tri-Cities, one of players hit a shot that landed on the line. Her opponent correctly called it good, and sent the ball back across the net for the next serve. At that juncture, the chair umpire said the ball was out. The opponent essentially said, no, it was good – it was on the line, it’s her point. The umpire would not relent, and ultimately had the final say. In this case, one at least has to give credit to the opponent for trying to do the right thing.
• In a wrestling showdown between Auburn and Tahoma four seasons ago, the teams battled to a 31-31 tie. In tiebreaker criteria, both teams were in the scorebook with three pins apiece. The next criterion was technical falls, and Auburn had one to none for Tahoma. So the Trojans were declared the winner. But then-Auburn coach Brian Peterson, in going over his scorebook before the team bus pulled out of the Tahoma parking lot, realized that his team had just two pins to Tahoma’s three. Since pins are a higher priority on the tiebreaker list, that now gave the edge to the Bears, who did, in fact, have three pins. Peterson walked back into the gym, reported the error, and the victory went instead to Tahoma.
There are some things about high school sports today that I flat-out can’t stand. The pressure to specialize in one sport and forsake all others. The sense among some parents that their kid is entitled to a starting spot or more playing time or even a scholarship. The tendency of some club coaches to tell kids that the high school version of their particular sport is a waste of time. (Don’t even get me started on that issue – that’s for another day and another column.)
Then there are people like you. And that cross country runner. And that tennis player. And that wrestling coach. People who love to win, are disappointed to lose, but never seem to forget that today’s disappointment is tomorrow’s motivation. And that regardless of outcome, it was decided with honor, and integrity – and within the rules.
Somewhere up there, Rui, I’ve gotta think there are some mysterious gods of golf who saw what you did last Wednesday afternoon in Bellingham. They weren’t able to give you a mulligan this time. But you do have two more years to do something about it.
I can’t predict what the outcome of those next two years will be. But I’ll predict this much:
You’ll do the right thing.
Mark Moschetti can be reached at 253-833-0218 or firstname.lastname@example.org