Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual arts degrees from Ohio State University.

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For a half it was one of the best exhibitions of girls basketball of the year.  And then, it turned into something nobody really wanted to see.

Officially, Miami East won its 19th game of the season Saturday, a 63-52 decision over host Versailles in what’s become one of the area’s most anticipated matchups in girls basketball for the past decade.

Versailles (17-2), coached by Jackie Stonebraker, and East, coached by Preston Elifritz (19-1), are good.  They’re very good, the model of consistency among area programs, divisions notwithstanding.

And for a half Saturday their sparring back and forth was entertaining…captivating.

East, behind the pinpoint shooting of guard Angie Mack (3 threes and 18 points for the game), played as well as they could possibly play for the first sixteen minutes.  They were 14 of 24 from the field (58%), 4 of 9 from three-point range, and turned the ball over just four times.

Versailles was not far behind.  The Tigers hit 11 of 26 from the field (44%), 2 of 4 from behind the arc, and turned it eight times.

East, on the strength of overall shooting percentage, led 37-29 at the half.

Truth be known, there probably is some history between the two teams,  Perennially, they slug it out for bragging rights over this particular game, and it’s not coincidence that they’re both in the same sectional tournament draw, along with another perennial heavyweight, Anna.

But if there is no history of rivalry, grudges, hard feelings, et. al., as coaches are prone to dismiss (truth or otherwise), there’s certainly more than a fair share of pride.  Versailles, based on their standing in the highly respected MAC Conference entered the game ranked 8th in the state.  East, even with their 19-1 record, is unranked, thanks to the competitive questions about the Cross County Conference.  Thus motivated, the Lady Tigers came out smoking for the second half of Saturday’s game.

They turned up the pressure and they were physical.  East, no shrinking violet in the physical game, returned the compliment.  It got rough.

Versailles coach Jackie Stonebraker had her own issues with official Rick Delaney.

Bodies went flying.  East’s Madison Linn at one point was whistled for a blocking call on one of those, “is it blocking or is it charging?” calls.  Knocked backward and to the floor, she bruised her right forearm so badly that she was literally forced to play the remainder of the game with one hand.

A few minutes later Versailles’ Brooke Pothast drove the lane and ran into a human wall of East defenders in the form of the Current sisters, Ashley and Trina…standing straight up, arms extended.  Pothast went flying.  There was no whistle, and East picked up the loose ball and took off for the other end.

The crowd howled, first the East fans for the call on Linn, and then the Versailles partisans, for the lack of a call on contact to Pothast.

“That’s got to be something,”  said one of loudest.  And indeed, by traditional standards of play, one would think so.

Moments later, an East player threw an elbow trying to escape a double team and clocked a Versailles defender in the mouth.  This time there was a call…an intentional foul, and the cry from the stands came, “We’ll beat all eight of you.”

My point?  A perfectly good basketball game for a half amounted to little or nothing in the second half because it became too physical, too rough, and the focus became about surviving, not playing basketball.

East, for the second half shot just 4 of 16 (25%) from the field.

Versailles, for the second half shot just 6 of 20 (30%) from the field.

Jackie Stonebraker was in the ear of official Rick Delaney.

Likewise, Preston Elifritz questioned Delaney and partner, Dave Wortman.

And the game, such as it was at that point, was pretty much determined at the free throw line for the final four minutes.  East converted on 23 of 29 (79%).  Versailles made 15 of 19 attempts (likewise, 79%).

…As did Elifritz, here questioning Delaney about an intentional foul call in Saturday’s third period.

And so much for the game.  Fans from both sides left the gym shaking their heads over what they’d seen, and you can bet…more than one official would tell you that the fans had no idea about what they’d seen, based on the modern criteria of what gets called for a foul in modern basketball.

“The game got very physical in the second half,” Elifritz acknowledged.  “They came out and pressured us.  You come up here knowing they’re good and that they’re going to compete.  They play with a lot of pride here and those banners hanging on the walls are all you need to know.  You just hope to play a solid game and stay out of foul trouble.”

And you can stay out of foul trouble…when no fouls are called!

Now, lest anyone misunderstand…this is not a rant on officials, or officiating.  Rick Delaney, Dave Wortman and Pam Stewart (Saturday’s crew for Miami East/Versailles) are three of the best, highly recognized in the state for their quality and consistency.  They’ve worked meaningless games and they’ve worked state finals games, and all with the same dedication.

And I make this point.  The second half of Saturday’s game was rough, and it was ugly.  People howled about it and didn’t like it.  But…it’s not the fault of the officials!

No, it’s the fault of basketball coaches area-wide, and nationwide, and, the National Federation governing the game in its present interpretation of rules and fair play pertaining to contact.  Coaches and governing body have let the game go unchecked, and use the excuse that because kids are bigger and faster there’s going to be more contact.  And, if you called all the contact you’d have a continual stream of players walking to the foul line.  BORING!

They’ll both tell you that the kids want to play with a faster, more up-tempo style because it’s more fun and competitive…the tail wagging the dog.

They’ll both tell you that the game is more entertaining to watch in its current form…that it better showcases the progression of the game and the athletic skills of those who play.

You hear, “Let the kids determine the outcome game by their play”, and often there is no whistle in the last minute of a close game, irregardless of contact.

Fine, but at some point when the bodies are flying and there’s no call, it’s not basketball.  It’s “roller derby”.  I used to watch that for years as a kid on Saturday afternoons and never could figure it out.  Later, I did.  Roller derby was the equivalent of big-time wrestling on skates.  The referees were just part of the script.  No one really knew the difference between what was a foul, and what was part of the act.

But now people can’t figure out basketball.  Only, basketball is real.  Roller derby was not.  And again…it’s not the officials’ fault.

Once upon a time they were asked to “call” contact.  Now, they’re asked to “evaluate” contact as to one player gaining an advantage over another, and then make a call…in a split second, as if they’re a walking Pentium processor with a whistle.

Tough!

Unlike wrestling, this is no act.  There is no script…no good guy, bad guy for people to figure out.  People are sitting there trying to figure out why kids go flying and there is no whistle.  It’s not fair, in their minds…no justice!  For the officials’ sake, it’s hard to be consistent even when you are consistent.

The kids take advantage.  They push the envelope as the game progresses, making it even harder for officials to evaluate what they see relative to what they’ve seen earlier in the game.  And at some point it becomes impossible for the kids to execute the essence of basketball.  Likewise, consistency, the essence for officiating, becomes impossible.  The focus becomes survival…get to the end.

“I really don’t mind it,”  said East’s Madison Linn after Saturday’s win, still nursing a sore right arm with an ice pack.  “It’s a great game.  Is it physical?  Yes, but we’re taught to play physical.  We expect it to be that way and take it as a challenge to play through the contact.”

Which is exactly what Preston Elifritz and his colleagues will tell you if you ask them.  Elifritz takes full responsibility and admits…coaches are perhaps to blame for the game becoming more like wrestling and less like basketball.

“This was a good crew that worked our game today,”  said Elifritz Saturday.  “They’re respected and I told them that I appreciated their work as we left the court.  The simple fact is that this year we’re a big basketball team…we’re very big, very physical.  We play like that.  We teach it that when players drive the lane go straight up and take the contact.  Now what ‘s called is up to them (the officials), but we’re preaching to be physical.  Others are, too.  How many times today did you see our girls drive and get hit and take a step back?  And we did a good job of adjusting to it.”

But that’s roller derby, and not basketball!

“You’re right,” admits Elifritz.  “But I think the officials take a look at the teams that are playing on a particular night and determine how much contact they’re going to allow.  Here, in this league, they play that way.  You rarely see that in the Cross County Conference.  You can’t practice that way, but our kids have enough experience in games that they have a sense for that kind of physical play.  We preach in the huddle and in the locker room…if they’re not calling it let’s work the ball and see if we can’t get an open look.  When it’s that physical, the best thing you can do is get back to the fundamentals and just play through.”

Which is great, but it isn’t basketball.

And I repeat…don’t blame the officials, the pawns in this masquerade of flying bodies and bloodied lips.  Blame those who teach the game…those responsible for governing the game!

“I’ll be the first to tell you,” said one area boys coach recently, smiling, “…that when we’re small I want the game called tightly.  But when we have the beef I want to go out and beat on people.  I’m willing to take the chance that they won’t call anything.”

My point, again.  It’s not basketball.  And if you don’t like what you saw at Versailles on Saturday, or what you see the next time you go to the gym…don’t yell at the officials.  Think about my words, the evidence, and the admissions.  Go talk to those who teach the game.

Think about the ones who admit…when they have the “beef” they’re going to beat on people.

It used to be called basketball, a beautiful game.  We’d like to have it back.  A lot of us believe it’s worth saving.

And it’s not the fault of the officials!

Note:  Additional photos of the Saturday’s game can be viewed in our online store gallery.  Go to the home page and click on the Online Store icon!

 

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