Defining “The Best” in Sports

Did the title get your attention? Although it sounds much more authoritative than what will be offered, let’s just say you will hopefully come away with some thought processes that will help you understand what’s really happening on the field, the court, or your broken NCAA Basketball bracket. A lot of folks need help with the latter this year.

For the first time in one hundred six (106) years of Texas University Interscholastic League history, a member high school has achieved what can be referred to as a “Double Back-to-Back” by winning State Championships in the sports of football and basketball in two consecutive seasons. A school which had previously joined the list of other high schools which won State Championships in the same school year that numbered only seven (schools) in the same 106 years.

The Class 2A Canadian Wildcats fielded the teams which accomplished what other schools could have only six times before, but could not. The list of factors of why other schools had not accomplished the Double Back-to-Back is unnecessary to explore here. But what has been said about the final of four (4) Championships (the 2016 Basketball Title) that Canadian brought home to their school trophy case and their community within fifteen (15) months will the be the focus of the remaining comments.

In a letter to the Amarillo Globe News, Mr. Phillips, claiming residence in Amarillo, questioned whether or not the Canadian Wildcats were really the “best” team in the Texas Panhandle. To be fair to Mr. Phillips, who has been the brunt of jokes and comebacks on social media for his comments, the following explanations and conclusions will be offered.

The “best” team in any sport means a lot of different things. There is the best team on paper. There is the best team in the polls. There is the best team athletically. There is the best team with the best season record. There is the best team in YOUR mind. From all of these distinctly best there must yet be determined the best of the best.

The average sports fan relies on a lot of various opinions published and broadcast that know sports teams, and provide facts to give fans enough information to ascertain which team is the top ranked, the chosen, “THE BEST”. But it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Why? Because there is no valid, exact science included in the formula of “sport”. Athletic competition depends on the individual or the team to show up, be prepared, and perform well enough to defeat the competition at the appointed time and date or forfeit their opportunity to be declared the victors.

The irrelevant meaningfulness of “the best team” was just recently extolled by Pablo S. Torre, a Senior Writer at ESPN when he tweeted: “A single-elimination basketball tournament is a pretty bad way to assess which team is the best and a pretty foolproof way to entertain us.” With all due respect, Mr. Torre, you can have your “best teams” and we will take our tournament and playoff CHAMPIONS.

A Champion team (or individual) will prepare themselves to face opponents of superior experience or athleticism and WIN despite overwhelming odds. A Champion will kickoff, tipoff, or set himself (or herself) in the blocks against an opponent that everyone including coaches and media expect to win, and rob that opponent of the expected victory. A Champion is the team or individual that not only played their best when only their best would succeed, but they played their best BETTER than the opponent on the date and time the event was scheduled. So what is your preference? Cheering on a Champion? Or witnessing a mythical, formulated process that crowns an individual or a team “the best”?

Back to Mr. Phillips and his assertions that the Canadian Wildcats were not “the best” basketball team in their district, being beaten by Stratford, as he said, “not once, but twice”. Canadian Wildcat fans, coaches, players, and this writer, can not deny the Elks of their well deserved District Championship. As a matter of fact, @CHSWildcatNews has more than once congratulated the Stratford programs on being the most competitive team the Wildcats have faced at any level of play in Class 2A in the State.  We even took a poll asking which team presented the Wildcats the greatest challenge in the 2015 Football season; Stratford or Refugio. Fans voted 80% in favor of Stratford, many of those votes from Canadian fans.

Mr. Phillips also mentioned that he attended the double-overtime playoff game Canadian won over Panhandle, stating “The Panthers received no help from the officials in that game…” insinuating that the Wildcats were helped (more so) by the officials. Mr. Phillips, do you believe that the Wildcats have never experienced less than acceptable officiating? It is the ability to defeat opponents AND bad officiating that distinguishes a Champion.

Mr. Phillips should note that at the Regional tournament, it was Canadian that beat the UNDEFEATED Anthony team that defeated Stratford in order to move on to the State Championship Tournament. The issue here that Mr. Phillips fails to acknowledge is that Champions continue to improve their overall game performance when it matters the most. @CHSWildcatNews has not heard ONE Canadian player or fan brag that they could have beat Stratford that weekend. The truth is, we were not required to play Stratford again and the Elk’s season win/loss record against Canadian remained intact at 2-0. Congratulations to the Elks, District 1-2A Champions, but they are not Region 1 Champions. That Title went to the Wildcats. Fair and square.

Rather simplistic of Mr. Phillips to think that after the Regional tourney, for teams like Canadian it “is fairly easy coasting” to win a Championship. Did he miss the fact that Thorndale made up a 10 point deficit in the 4th quarter against Canadian to actually have two shots in the last seconds that would have beat the Wildcats in the Semi-Final? And you call that coasting, Mr. Phillips? (Congratulations to Thorndale for a great comeback effort in the Semi-Final and for a great season played.) As for the assessment Mr. Phillips wrote about the 10 point win over Muenster, he should have mentioned that not only was Muenster favored to win, but they were more than capable enough to win. But the team made up of Champions were able to take control of the game away from the favorites and win despite what the experts had predicted. If you want to call that coasting, Mr. Phillips, then many of us would like to visit the universe where you watch basketball. (And a hearty congratulations to a young Muenster team who had a great season and will most likely appear in next year’s Class 2A State Tournament.)

And this was, and forever will be recorded as the legitimate struggle that the Canadian Wildcat basketball team (all of which were also members of the Back-to-Back Championship Football team) fought through to complete the only Double Back-to-Back Championships in UIL history. And speaking of Football Championships, the Wildcat 2014 and 2015 State Championship teams are undoubtedly the two most dominate high school teams in Texas UIL history by lining up 31 times in two seasons without the taste of defeat. They proved that the titles of “the best” and Champions can and do indeed co-exist.

Mr. Phillips was CORRECT about what is probably the most important issue when he wrote: “I couldn’t be more proud of the conduct of Panhandle-area Class 2A sports teams — splendid behavior.” Canadian ISD extracurricular programs take pride in representing their community with class, honor, and sportsmanship.

The explanation of Champions versus “the best” is being played out on your TV as this is being written by seeing more lower seed NCAA basketball teams defeating highly seeded teams in record numbers. Somehow, Mr. Torre, ensconced within the Ivory Towers of ESPN, believes this process is unfair. Unfair to “the best” teams.

Agree or disagree, but @CHSWildcatNews believes that after you have read this, you will understand there is a difference in being considered the “best” or being a “Champion”. If you understand that difference, you will probably decide to teach you children it’s more desirable to become a CHAMPION, than to be perceived as “the best”.

March 19, 2016