Who’s Number One? Nobody… Everybody!

Southampton Mariners No-Win-No-Loss Scoreboard
graphic: Oliver Peterson

With their Long Island Class B Championship last year and with the best players still leading them, Southampton High School’s Lady Mariners basketball team is poised for another strong season in 2013. But a second championship isn’t going to happen this year. On the other hand, the team won’t lose a single game, either.  How can a team play an entire season and never lose a game, yet still not win a championship? By not winning any games, of course.

In the spirit of the Southampton School District’s recent decision to do away with class rankings and the coveted Valedictorian and Salutatorian distinctions next year, the administration and School Board has also decided to do away with competitive sports in the district, starting with the current season. Changes to the academic system begin next September when students with high grades will graduate summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude. There could be nine or 90 summa cum laude students, if enough kids qualify, so Southampton students should get a good leg up with college acceptance boards.

This may not be so helpful for sports scholarships.

According to Arnie Lyle, director of the district’s newest committee, Southampton Athletics Means Everyone (SAME), Mariners teams will no longer win games or championships, since it would be unfair to the opposing teams that tried.  “A team that plays well—or even not so well—should feel good about its achievements. Losing a game, especially a championship game, could be hard to take,” Lyle said. “We don’t want our kids to experience coming in second, or worse, at such a fragile time in their lives.”

The new “No-Loss-No-Win” system has been very successful during initial high school basketball non-league games, Lyle said, explaining how Mariners basketball now works. “We play just like normal, we just keep the scoreboard locked at 100 points,” he said. No individual statistics are recorded by Southampton, either, though opposing teams are permitted to keep their “less progressive” scoring and statistics in private.

“We also instruct the crowd to cheer for every basket attempt, even if it’s a horrendous air ball,” Lyle said, quickly adding, “Don’t quote me on the ‘horrendous air ball’ part. Our kids don’t get air balls or misses anymore—we call them ‘good tries.’”

The SAME director noted that teams are also required to hug their opponents after home games. “We couldn’t get other schools to sign off on hugging in their gyms, but I’m hoping they turn around on this one,” Lyle said. “Like the pursuit of academic excellence and/or superiority, sports should be a love-in, not all this cutthroat business of rank and position.”

A district coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put down his crossword puzzle and virgin piña colada during an after-school practice last week to discuss the benefits he sees in No-Win-No-Loss. “Look, these players are learning to be independent and strong without the pressures of winning or losing. I’m allowing them to be self-starters, since I don’t have to make sure they’re performing at such a high level.”

One player, who also asked to remain anonymous, took a break from texting her boyfriend during practice to share her thoughts. “It’s all good. It took a while to get used to the idea, but it’s pretty awesome, actually. It turns out I’m pretty happy just chillin’ when no one is forcing us to work so hard,” she said. “This has been totally awesome for my social life, too.”

Opponents of No-Win-No-Loss say that since the new rule does not allow wins or individual player stats to be recorded, it could lead to fewer college athletic scholarships. But SAME supporters believe the student-athletes could get a real boost. “I think athletic scholarships will be at an all time high in Southampton,” Lyle said. “We’re hoping colleges will see that every one of our athletes is a winner, since none of them are losers.”

Following five scrimmages, the Southampton boys basketball team begins its League VII season at Center Moriches at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, December 12. The Lady Mariners will play a tournament at 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 8 at Suffolk Community College and a non-league game at Sachem East at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, December 12 before starting the League VII season with a home game and hugs against Center Moriches at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 14.

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