The Windsor Warriors were on their way.
The Canadian basketball team of 10-year-olds was powering through the Blessed Sacrament tournament recently, going undefeated and looking forward to an appearance in the championship game.
Then they got the bad news. They were disqualified.
An opposing coach noticed the Warriors weren't giving equal playing time to everyone on the squad, among new “modified rules” that promote fun and “de-emphasize winning," tournament head John Rocchi told TheSpec in Hamilton, Ontario.
But the Warriors didn't take the disqualification lying down Sunday. Their parents reportedly made protest signs out of pizza boxes demanding "fair play," and the players and their families assembled on the court at Cathedral High School and marched in a circle, holding their signs aloft and chanting "We want gold! We want gold!"
In the end, the Warriors' protest shut down the tournament — the other teams packed up and went home...and the gold medal game was canceled.
Rocchi decried the Warriors' apparent breaking of the equal time for all players rule a “classic case of ‘win at all costs.’”
Anthony Ivanovski, a Warriors player, told TheSpec he and his teammates worked their “hearts off.”
“We’ve been practicing for this ... then it comes to the big game and we can’t even play, even though we won four games in a row ... They had one win all weekend and they get to play?”
Rocchi said the equal time rule is based on the Canadian Sport for Life model for youth athletics. CS4L's "Learn to Train" stage for boys aged 9-12 indicates "a greater amount of time should be spent training and practicing skills than competing."
Further the CS4L site links to a CBC News piece titled "Remove scoreboards from youth sports, group says," which quotes Richard Way, project lead for Long-Term Athlete Development with CS4L, who said keeping scores and standings for young children does nothing to build self-esteem and positive sportsmanship.
"When we have a little eight, nine-year-old that wants to be creative and take some risks in a game, they're yelled at by parents to pass the ball because it might be a goal against the team and then drop them in the standings," Way said, adding that the argument that keeping track of wins and losses builds character in young players is "laughable."
It should be noted that the CS4L model emphasizes winning once athletes get older and look to bigger stages of competition.
Windsor mom Shantelle Browning-Morgan said the Blessed Sacrament tournament was “unjust.”
“If you set a precedent on Friday night, you should stick to that,” she told TheSpec.
“It is about the children. They are our next generation," she added, noting that while the protest hurt the other teams, "you have to stand up for something when you know it’s right. You have to be inconvenient.”
Local radio host Scott Thompson took the Windsor parents to task, saying they weren't "giving a rats arse about the majority of the other kids who didn’t get to play or even those on their own team who were denied equal time...To those parents of the Windsor Warriors, shame on you!"
Rocchi also said an email from Basketball Ontario was sent in December clarifying the rules in question; Windsor said it didn't get that message — and Rocchi noted he hadn’t seen it before last weekend...but rules had to be honored.
Regarding the Windsor players and parents, Rocchi said he “feels for them” but that the protest wasn't necessary.
"You’re getting five games, a T-shirt and a medal," Rocchi told TheSpec. "Who cares what color the medal is?”
In the below YouTube clip and photos, it appears that the more than one Warriors team was on hand, which may explain the different colored jerseys:
This story has been updated.