Hometown Report

Hometown Report: Saco’s message for basketball finals is one of sportsmanship

Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson

The low points of decorum and decency played out in three forms: a player, a fan and a coach.

Each incident came during high school basketball playoff games in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s showcase championship event at Sleep Train Arena, with no regard for sportsmanship.

In 1998, a player leveled an opponent with a vicious elbow to the temple and was ejected. The instigator’s father hustled to the scorer’s table, arms flailing, and threatened an immediate court injunction if his son wasn’t reinstated for the remainder of the tournament. Then the father saw the monitor replay. He walked away, quietly.

In 2001, a late foul that turned a game in the final seconds prompted chaos. The father of the boy who committed the flagrant foul was so outraged with the call that he bolted out of his second-row seat, past security and raced across the floor in full view of some 11,000 fans and followed the referee into the back hallway.

In 2010, a boys coach sprinted across the floor after a referee who waved off his team’s potential game winner at the buzzer. Replays backed the call.

So in recent years, before each of the 10 championship games, section Commissioner Pete Saco has met with the team captains, school administrators and referees in a back room at the arena. The sessions are two-fold: He offers congratulations for reaching the finals, then issues a stern warning about conduct.

Saco’s message continues to resonate. The section playoffs at Sleep Train largely have been held without incident the last six seasons, other than the coach’s reaction in 2010. This is Saco’s final championship weekend as commissioner before he retires in August, and he’ll continue to preach sportsmanship.

“We see what happens at games of all levels across the country on TV or read about it in the paper, and I don’t want it to happen at Sleep Train,” Saco said Friday. “We’re going to do this the right way. It’s very important to me that I take 10 minutes and talk to them about this, a slap to say, ‘OK, this is the big dance, your time to shine, but handle it the right way. Have fun, compete, but let’s not make national news for all the wrong reasons.’ ”

Saco understands the rigors, pressure and expectations on teams during championship seasons. He played high school sports in the Bay Area and he coached basketball in this section.

“We talk to the coaches and players about bench decorum,” Saco said. “I know coaches won’t agree with some calls and players get excited. I get that. But there should be no taunting or outbursts. Everyone’s on notice. This is still a classroom. It’s a little different than English or trigonometry, but it’s still about education. This is a place to shine, to act appropriate and not act like fools.”

Et cetera

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