The story of Matt Marotta has touched the nerve of so many this week across the province.
Marotta plays for the Viking Construction Tier 1 peewee Cougars, a hockey team of 11 and 12-year-old boys. The squad was in Vernon over the weekend to take part in a tournament and, in the game to decide fifth-place, faced a team from Nanaimo.
Late in double overtime, with the game tied 2-2, Nanaimo scored a controversial goal. Prince George and some spectators had noticed the time clock hadn't started at the faceoff but the referees ruled the goal still counted and the game was over.
The goal may have been disputed and no one disagrees on what happened next.
Rather than go to centre ice and shake the hands of the victorious team from Nanaimo, the Prince George coaches and players headed straight to the dressing room in protest.
All except for Matt Marotta.
Refusing to follow his team and his coaches, he dropped to one knee on the ice and waited alone for the Nanaimo players to finish their celebrations so he could shake their hands and congratulate them on a good game.
The Nanaimo players mobbed Marotta in appreciation of his sportsmanship, while the crowd of parents on hand cheered in support, an eyewitness said.
Since word has got out, praise has been heaped on Marotta while the condemnation has been angry and loud towards Cougars head coach Ryan Arnold. For more on the significance of the decisions made by the player and by the coach, read the excellent column by Jason Peters in our sports section today.
From a different angle, what Marotta did actually doesn't make much sense. Human brains are hardwired to support our kin and our clan, no matter what. If we weren't that way, we wouldn't have formed strong enough bonds to survive and thrive in prehistoric times. That part of ourselves has been clearly on display during the past two weeks, as local residents have been cheering for Canadian athletes they don't know, competing in sports they don't follow except for once every four years. On Thursday, we cheered for the gold success of our women's hockey team and our women's curling team while feeling the pain and disappointment of Brady Leman, who crashed during the men's ski cross final and finished out of the medals.
In other words, the natural thing for Marotta to do on Sunday would have been to follow his teammates. Humans are social animals because our chances of survival in the wild dropped dramatically if we ever found ourselves alone. That old and deep-seeded fear of being separated from the herd is there for a reason and it's not easily overcome.
Marotta made a rational choice to overrule his instincts and ignore the easier and more obvious decision to follow his team. No one is born with that ability. Rather, at some point In his life, this boy has had one or more formative experiences with inspirational mentors - family, teachers, and coaches - about the value of sportsmanship and fair play. Those lessons have evolved from abstract concepts into central parts of his character.
Marotta must have been terrified to see his teammates heading to the dressing room, instead of joining him on the ice. He must have been filled with doubt about the wisdom of his decision to stay behind. He must have also been shocked that his team wasn't joining him to do what needed to be done.
There is no doubt that Marotta was as disappointed and frustrated as his teammates and his coaches about how the game ended.
But in a split-second, he put those feelings aside. Instead, he chose to be brave, he chose to do the right thing, and he chose to stand alone in his convictions. The people who instilled those characteristics in him deserve our thanks for raising a leader.
Marotta's decision resonates deeply in the adults who have heard about what he did because we all want to believe we hold that kind of decency and courage inside of us but we are also terrified those traits will abandon us at the moment when we need them most.
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