There's Now Crying in High School Basketball

Lake Clifton's Antoine Allen wipes away tears. Crying, once considered a sign of weakness, is now accepted and common during playoffs.
Lake Clifton's Antoine Allen wipes away tears. Crying, once considered a sign of weakness, is now accepted and common during playoffs. (Preston Keres -- The Post)
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By Jeff Nelson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 14, 2008

Three years later, Tommy Kramer still recalls every moment, every detail from one of the most compelling high school basketball championship games in recent memory.

He can picture his Bethesda-Chevy Chase teammates trying to corral one more rebound to seal a state title. He can see the final seconds of overtime descending and B-CC failing to come up with a loose ball amid chaos. Then, the most enduring image -- Randallstown's final shot going in at the buzzer.

"That's pretty much burned in my memory, the end of that game," said Kramer, who was a sophomore reserve in 2005. "It's that clear in my mind. I remember seeing our point guard, Carl Buck, collapse, and one of our forwards collapse. They were on the floor forever."

A generation ago, according to interviews with a dozen area coaches, the players on a team that lost in such painful fashion would have taken a deep breath and walked off the court. Emotions would have been suppressed; tears would have been unthinkable. But not anymore.

If there's one certainty this weekend as state high school basketball championships are decided in Maryland and Virginia, it's that tears will fall.

Sometimes they will come from the winners, sometimes the losers, sometimes both. But at the end of nearly every game, regardless of sex, some players will break down and cry.

"I think it's a human thing," said Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Rod Hairston, whose team is the three-time defending Maryland 4A girls' champion. "I don't think it's a boys' or girls' thing anymore. When you put so much time and effort into something, I think you can't help but have those kinds of emotions and feelings about the outcome."

Now a freshman at Stanford University, Kramer remembers his teammates -- especially the seniors -- letting it all out. They wept on the court as Randallstown's players celebrated; they wept on the bench while waiting for their second-place trophies; they wept in the locker room as the seniors contemplated the end of their playing careers.

"I've never seen that kind of emotion until my guys [three] years ago," Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coach Steve Thompson said. "I didn't cry, but I wanted to. For them."

Male and female coaches who attended high school in the 1970s said girls always have been permitted to cry. It's always been an acceptable outlet of female emotion.

Not so for their male contemporaries. In that era and the years preceding it, coaches said, tears represented "weakness" and "being soft."

"I could never [imagine] my high school coach crying when he played," said Gwynn Park Coach Michael Glick, a 1984 high school graduate. "I think generationally, it wasn't accepted."

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