The vast readership of this blog (both of you) might be surprised that I’m writing about something as seemingly mundane as “sports” since I usually write about politics and elections. Well, let me tell you, last night I witnessed not only one of the most exciting basketball games of all time, but I also got to see the classiest damn act in sports today—Coach Wayne Tinkle and the Oregon State Beavers men’s basketball team.
For those of you who don’t know, Wayne Tinkle took over a team that could charitably be described as “in transition.” Before Coach Tinkle took the helm, players had bailed in droves—whether they transferred or graduated or whatever, the operative guiding principle seemed to be to get out of Dodge. The Exodus, in part, seemed to prompt the sudden dismissal of last year’s Coach and the program was left in tatters.
Enter Coach Tinkle who promised only an emphasis on fundamentals, teamwork and dedication. The team, many said, had “no stars” left; no high-scoring players, no big names. But, like me, the fan base seemed to react to Coach Tinkle’s approach—and so did his players.
Coach Tinkle’s roster appeared to be light on just about everything—from experience to the number of players who had actually been recruited. To fill out the roster, the team held open tryouts—an almost unbelievable consideration for a Pac-12, Division I team. A handful of players made the roster as walk-ons with the promise of nothing other than being able to be part of the team for a year.
Last night, Coach Tinkle rewarded those walk-ons—most of whom hadn’t played a minute all season—with the distinction of starting in one of the most important games of the season: the final home game; the Civil War with the rivals from down the road, the dreaded Ducks. It was an incredible gesture—all the more dramatic for what was on the line. The near-capacity crowd at Gill Coliseum couldn’t have cared less if it was a risky—or even reckless— move. We roared our approval when the line-up was announced and did so again when the starting five—all Oregon kids—came out of the game and were replaced by the usual starters. There was no finer way to honor the contribution those players made to the team and to the unexpected success the team has enjoyed this season.
I haven’t enjoyed any “spectator” sport this much since I was a kid (although, as much as I scream and cheer at the games, maybe I’m more than a mere spectator). Whether the sportswriters consider the Beavers’ players to be stars is absolutely irrelevant: there is a wealth of talent, athleticism and teamwork on the court. And the atmosphere in Gill Coliseum has been nothing short of electric all season. Beyond all that, with last night’s gesture, the Beavers and Coach Tinkle showed us that sportsmanship is about much more than just playing a game.