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Keller - Sometimes in sports, the truth hurts

April 14, 2010|Commentary by MARK KELLER

A couple years ago, I coached my daughter's middle school softball team.

We were, in a word, bad.

Our pitchers struggled to throw strikes, our fielders struggled to catch the ball and our hitters struggled to make contact. And to be fair to those girls, I struggled to coach them.

Of the 15 games we played that season, we won just one. In the 14 losses, we were probably only close in two or three.

As much as I wanted those games to go differently, as much as I wished we would have been more competitive, I couldn't change the truth.

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So, I reported our scores -- bad as they were -- to this newspaper after each game, just as I have asked high school and youth coaches to do for more than a decade.

I never gave thought to reporting a score as anything other than what that score actually was.

Unfortunately, not everybody thinks the same way. Late last week, our department got word that one local coach had -- on at least one occasion -- intentionally called in a score that had his team losing by five runs when it had actually lost by more than 20 runs.

Mistakes happen, yes. But there is a big difference between losing by five runs and losing by 20. There's no mistaking the two.

The coach explained that he was trying to protect the kids, to help them save face after an embarrassing loss. It was obvious he saw no problem with reporting the score inaccurately.

In fact, there are several problems with reporting a score -- or details of a game -- inaccurately.

· Coaches are teachers of their games. Do we really want to teach kids that it's OK to lie if it makes you feel better?

· It's not fair to your players. They still know what the true score was. Reporting it differently to the newspaper can't change that. Will it really make them feel better to pick up the sports page the next day and see a false result for their team?

· It's not fair to players or coaches from the other team. How will they feel picking up the same newspaper and seeing that false result? What happened to all the runs they scored? What happened to all the hits they had?

· It's not fair to our readers. I don't necessarily expect coaches and parents who report scores to have the best interests of Herald-Mail readers in mind when they contact us. But the readers do expect to read accurate accounts of the events in their community, whether it's sports, news, entertainment or anything else. And reporting inaccuracies does those readers a disservice.

· It's not fair to our staff. We go out of our way to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that we are accurate in our reporting. Because of the huge number of sports activities happening on any given night in the area, we have to trust that the information being submitted to us is correct. We can't possibly fact-check every score that is phoned in. We have to take it on faith.

And we're not perfect either. Every one of us has made mistakes in the past, and we will again in the future, but we do everything we can to avoid them.

This kind of thing has happened before and I'm not naive enough to think it won't happen again. I cringe every time I see a youth baseball result in which seven kids on one team each has four hits.

Kids do like to know that their coach has their back, but I think they also like a coach who tells it like it is.

The truth matters, even when it hurts.

Mark Keller is Sports Editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7728 or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com">keller@herald-mail.com.

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