The story has been making the rounds in B.C. this week and, through social media, has spread at least as far as Saskatchewan. Likely, much farther.
It's about local minor hockey player Matthew Marotta and his show of sportsmanship and bravery at the end of a game last Sunday in Vernon. Marotta's Viking Construction peewee Tier 1 Cougars had just lost 3-2 in double overtime to the Nanaimo Clippers in the game for fifth place at the Coca-Cola Classic tournament. Nanaimo's winning goal was a controversial one because of a mistake by the timekeeper as the clock was winding down, but the on-ice officials allowed the goal to stand.
Typically, at the end of a game, players and coaches from both teams will line up on their bluelines to receive their plaques. Then, before leaving the ice, they will shake hands.
In this case though, the Prince George coaches -- after arguing with the officials -- told their players to get off the ice and head to the dressing room. And all of them did, except Marotta, who kneeled on his blueline and waited so he could congratulate the Nanaimo team on its victory.
Rather than go with the crowd, Marotta did the right thing and stayed behind. All by himself.
Pretty amazing for a boy who plays in an 11- and 12-year-old age group. Pretty mature and pretty courageous, especially knowing he'd have to face his coaches and teammates when he did finally go to the room.
Of course, there's a disappointing part to all this too, and it's two-fold.
First, it's a shame the adults on the Prince George bench -- head coach Ryan Arnold and his staff -- missed an opportunity to teach the kids about the value of being a good sport, even in difficult circumstances. It's understandable that emotions were running high and that the coaches were trying to stand up for their players -- whom they felt had been wronged -- but at a certain point, sportsmanship has to win out. In sports and in life, things don't always go the way we want them to and we have to learn how to accept our setbacks gracefully. If we don't, we poison ourselves and those around us as we move forward.
Second, it's disappointing to see the response the Prince George Minor Hockey Association has had to this incident. One of the things PGMHA president Alec Hartney told The Citizen on Wednesday was that "it's unfortunate this got into the media."
Unfortunate, supposedly, because the conduct of the Viking coaches and players -- Marotta excluded -- makes the PGMHA look bad. But what, exactly, is unfortunate about the spotlight shining on a young man who followed his heart and stuck to his principles in the face of adversity? Marotta's actions last Sunday had some spectators dabbing their eyes, knowing they had just witnessed an extraordinary demonstration of character. And, through the media -- traditional and social -- the story is touching more and more people and reminding them about the meaning of sportsmanship and class. Marotta, even though he never meant to, has set an example for all of us.
According to a story by Wayne Moore on the Okanagan-based Castanet website, Nanaimo team manager Tia Heslop sent an e-mail to Marotta's parents in which she praised Matthew for his actions.
The message, according to Castanet, reads as follows:
"On behalf of our team we just wanted to commend your son for his courage! Our group of parents were very impressed and most were moved to tears while he waited on the blueline all by himself.
"Matthew demonstrated what a great player he truly is and what true sportsmanship is all about. It took a lot of courage to do what he did, I hope all of our players learned something from this amazing display of courage and respect.
"You must be amazing parents to have raised such a wonderful son. He will no doubt become a great man one day. This is [a] very special moment in hockey and life that we will always remember."
Arnold, it should be noted, sent a letter of apology to the Clippers so he at least showed proper sportsmanship after the fact.
The PGMHA, meanwhile, has said it may take disciplinary action against the Viking coaches but that no decision will be made until an investigation has been completed.
Really, suspensions will accomplish nothing.
A better course of action would be to tell the adults -- the coaches -- to conduct themselves more like the kid -- Matthew -- in the future.
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