On Jan. 19, Ed McFalls left work early to attend his son Klaas’s 10th-grade Southwest High School basketball game against Edina. McFalls, a cardiologist, arrived at the gym with a couple minutes left to play in the first half. The Lakers were being manhandled by the bigger Hornets, thanks to a full-court press that discombobulated the Southwest backcourt and resulted in a flurry of steals and lay-ups.
As the clock wound down on the first half, McFalls checked the scoreboard to find the young men from Edina up 48-6.
“At first I thought it was wrong, because you don’t full-court press when you’re up that much,” said McFalls. “I started looking around the place for one other person who might think like I did. I just kept thinking, ‘You don’t do this, do you? This is bull**.’”
Outraged, but without anyone in the sparsely-populated gym to share his feelings with, McFalls texted a few friends and tried to make eye contact with the Southwest coaches and parents, who sheepishly avoided his gaze. When the game ended (final: 78-9), McFalls collared the Edina coach.
“He had grey hair, about 55, and I was being cool, under the radar, not a crazy parent,” said the 59-year-old McFalls, who played baseball, basketball and football for Tamarac High School in Troy, New York. “I just said, ‘You know, in the old days that would’ve be viewed as really running up the score.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘You listen to me, sir. I had my second team out there. I don’t want to hear it.’
“I said, ‘No, no, no, no. I’m just telling you, I saw a full-court press with a minute and half left with the score 48-6. Now, I’m not trying to get in your face, and maybe that idea is in the old days, and maybe the game has changed, but you just don’t try to show up the other team. That’s all I’m saying.”
That’s all Edina boy’s basketball head coach Pat Dorsey is saying after the fact, as well.
“I didn’t like that score either,” said Dorsey. “But I want our kids playing hard, and a sign of respect for the other team is playing hard. I’ve been on the other end of that score when we’ve lost to Hopkins by 30 or something, and you try to make sure you maintain sportsmanship.
“But I watched the film of the game, and there was no full-court press, just good defense. And it all came with [the Minnesota State High School League’s so-called mercy rule, which says the clock switches to running time when a team is up by 30 points]. Hard to say, but I wouldn’t want my team out there; it was definitely not the kind of competitive atmosphere you want in a good basketball game.”
As participation in high school sports becomes more popular, and more players and programs of varying skills and ambitions meet head-to-head, the topic of blowout losses becomes more prevalent. In 2009, Dallas Christian high school The Covenant School beat Dallas Academy, a team of eight from a school for students with learning disabilities and a total enrollment of 20, 100-0. The Covenant coach, who used a full-court press throughout the game, was fired after he declined to apologize for the outcome. The same week in Utah, Christian Heritage High beat West Ridge Academy 108-3 in varsity girls’ basketball.
The record for the most lopsided high school basketball game occurred in 1964, when one Louisiana prep team beat another 211-29. The Minnesota State High School League doesn’t keep such records (hoops historians may recall the 1975 Minneapolis Central boys basketball team disposing of Edison 100-25), but check the daily box scores these days and losses by 30 and 40 points are not uncommon.
Times have changed, almost everybody plays, and schools’ varying and disparate philosophies are often exposed. Edina enjoys a rich sports tradition, with 145 total state championships, including three state boys’ basketball titles and a record 69 consecutive wins in the ’60s.
On the other side of the freeway, Southwest’s athletic claims to fame remain its 1970 state hockey championship and a strong soccer tradition of late, while Southwest basketball has produced gunner Tim Wahl, who lit up gyms and playgrounds in the ’70s, and that’s about it. This year’s Lakers varsity boy’s basketball team has notched 12 losses and 11 wins, including a 62-29 pummeling of Minneapolis North.
All of which, according to McFalls, should be beside the point.
“Maybe I’ve got no business talking, and maybe I’m just a Velcro parent, but when I went to the coach I wasn’t thinking about Klaas getting [beaten so badly], I was just thinking about the spirit of the game,” he said. “Partly because it’s Edina and that whole thing, I think the coach at some point should have said, ‘You don’t make somebody miserable and put ’em into the ground. You just beat ‘em.’
“I don’t know. I could be wrong. I don’t think he was evil. I just want this game to continue so Southwest Minneapolis can maintain a little dignity. I think it’s a great sport, and you don’t want to beat an opponent into submission so they can enjoy it when they’re older. Participation is the main thing, not performance.”
That idea might fly on the sidelines of park board games, but in high school as in life, expectations get more intense. Which is why, in the end, perhaps the truest thing anyone had to say about Southwest’s epic loss came from 15-year-old Klaas himself.
“Dad, we were terrible,” said the kid, in calming his steamed Hornet-hating father. “We were dogging it. Some of our guys didn’t care if we won or not, and the game is about winning.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.