At the games, clap like you mean it

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North Linn Lynx guard Austin Hilmer (25) shakes hands with a Grand View Christian player during the starting lineups before the Class 1A Championship game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, March 11, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

It’s that time of year when people pack high school gymnasiums to watch basketball, and I’d like to suggest a recalibration of the audience. Or, in many cases, a calibration. The vast majority of fans do not applaud when introducing opposing teams and coaches.

Now, some will say that my observations are not accurate. I attend enough sporting events, however, and the phenomenon I observe is pervasive and indelible. If you’re in a gym where loud applause for the other team happens regularly, I’m saying your gym is an anomaly.

This lack of applause behavior is inhospitable and unequal while reeking like a skunk of bad taste and possibly bad breeding. It even signals being cut from an inferior fabric.

Are we so fond of tunnel vision that we can’t embrace the whole community experience, instead of retracting into pustular insularity? Are we so insecure about our own team’s athletic prowess that we dare not fuel the mental momentum of the opponent with hearty cheers directed at them? Are we so embarrassed to turn away from our stale, mundane chatter (which we misinterpret as fresh, deep conversation) that we can’t muster a few dozen more rounds of applause?

It’s not like we’re cheering on a bitter, partisan battle. The game is not the Visigoths against the Vandals, nor the Hatfields and the McCoys. These are great interactions of commendable communities (or collaborations) – all with some level of memorable pasts and promising futures. It’s Oelwein and Monticello; Moravia and Centerville; Forest City and Storm Lake; Clarinda and Stanton; and OABCIG and MVAOCOU.

If we can’t put our phones down for two minutes and focus our attention on the opposing players who are working hard, preparing, growing and giving what they have to this sporting competition, then we can only claim pettiness and superficiality . Nobody will believe that we are here for athletics, sport, community building and the spirit of the game. No one will believe that we are here for effort and excellence, no matter which athletes provide it.

If, on the other hand, we can celebrate and recognize all participants, that talent positions us for greater things. We become fans rather than sectarian hacks. We become neighbors again. We become school assets, maybe even super boosters. We are building a community. We ignite citizen energy. Heck, we might even trigger regional development.

When we celebrate and embrace the event, we commune with age-old sporting tales like the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, Casey at bat, miracles on the ice, Cinderella runs, calls shots, three rounds and the love of the game.

When we sincerely applaud the other team, we transcend “I hope my child starts” and “We have to win tonight” – two understandable sentiments – and go in “for the love of the game”.

Our child can start or we can win the contest and we can still join for the love of the game. That’s the beauty of real public sportsmanship. It’s win-win rather than us/them.

Patrick Muller lives in Hills.

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