Is HS programs, student-athletes leaning into public antagonism worth the fight? | Opinion

Apr. 30—It's striking how professional wrestling can frame life sometimes.

They say those in that realm who are the best antagonists — known as heels — are those who lean into it regardless of reality.

You can understand why a pro wrestler would do it.

Same goes for professional and even high-profile college athletes.

If every reasonable attempt is made to dispel misconception, or if no attempt at it will alter perception, you might as well lean into it. In the process, leaning into it allows you to prove doubters wrong and provide fuel for your own aspirations.

When you're dealing with a high school sports dynamic, though — when detraction tends to emanate from adults toward teenagers — then the idea of leaning into being a heel isn't all that simple.

Last month, the Richmond Heights boys basketball team won its third consecutive Division IV state championship. As the fifth boys hoops program all-time in Ohio to complete a threepeat, joining Akron SVSM (2017-19), North College Hill (2005-07), Columbus Wehrle (1988-90) and Dayton Stivers (1928-30), it's a remarkable achievement.

No one gets to such a lofty perch without the right combination of talent, refinement, dedication and circumstantial accumulation.

The proverbial elephant in the room, however, is it comes with visceral detraction. There are those who have, treading lightly, concerns about program construction and approach. Some of those voices — regardless how justified or unjustified — tend to be louder than others.

As loud as those detractors can be, though, Richmond Heights has a few entities to which it has to answer ultimately: The OHSAA, its fellow member schools and rules, its own conscience and the truth. Provided all those boxes are checked, peripheral perception only goes so far.

That said, there was a dilemma as the Spartans completed their threepeat during state weekend in Dayton and thereafter.

During their D-IV state final win over Berlin Hiland on March 24, Richmond Heights began to trend on X, formerly known as Twitter. Some of the top posts, with one detractor taking aim at the community aspect of the program, were not kind.

Richmond Heights vs. Hiland boys basketball: Three-peat complete, Spartans win Division IV state title, 62-35

That criticism led to what was clearly intended as a retort from @Spartan_Hoop, the team's handle on X.

"He who argues twice as loud is least convinced," the post began. "We don't worry about what old washed up adults got to say about us. We just show and prove through our ways and actions."

Several hashtags followed, including "#findahobby" and "#theylovetohateus."

He who argues twice as loud is least convinced . We don't worry about what old washed up adults got to say about us. We just Show and Prove through our ways and actions. #findahobby #menitonuswiththegreats #Legacy #Tradition #DYNASTY #theylovetohateus #gottaloveit #wenotdone

— Richmond Heights Spartans Basketball (@Spartan_Hoop) March 24, 2024

A little more than a month later, the post has been liked 115 times. Replies were turned off.

Like it, dislike it — the author leaning into the detraction so publicly was ... a choice.

On one hand, it's understandable and human for anyone to put in hard work toward a goal, get criticized and want to defend that work as above board and honorable, especially if it may be and the criticism implies or outright states it is not.

But it also gets into an interesting conversation that goes beyond Richmond Heights and boys basketball.

If a school, program, individual student-athlete or group of student-athletes has consistent hate spewed toward it or them — again, to be clear, justified or unjustified — what should be the response at the high school level?

Should it be ignored with an "action over words" tact? A hearty defense?

One aspect in which this Richmond Heights representative is correct is the concept of how adults address criticism amid high school sports.

Shouting into a vortex isn't tangible. If — stressing IF — there is proof of impropriety, by all means take it up with the adults. Take it up with the people in the community who facilitate such a dynamic. Take it up with the OHSAA. And if allegations are proven correct, fate is warranted.

The program had a student-athlete ruled ineligible by OHSAA bylaw this past season after a temporary restraining order was overturned by a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge.

But until and unless that time comes where fate is warranted, adults directing insults at teenagers and giving them grief about the uneven landscape of high school sports seems at minimum misguided.

This scenario harkens me in some facets to the fall and the controversy involving the Andrews Osborne boys soccer side's unbeaten D-III state title run.

Andrews Osborne boys soccer's state title run watershed, but does open broader, uncomfortable conversation — Opinion

There were people who were livid at the concept of the Phoenix's roster construction while operating as a varsity side, comprised mostly of international student-athletes studying abroad on F-1 visas.

I won't repeat my stance on that complicated subject, other than to note this one parallel: The smallest divisions of Ohio high school sports have a unique way of framing the argument over who lays rightful claim to the "American dream," in this case pursuing a state championship.

You can understand why Richmond Heights is eager to defend itself against stringent allegations of impropriety.

You can understand why anyone who's not Richmond Heights, against a litany of college-bound standouts, would take issue with a program that talented being in Division IV.

Both of those things can be true.

But when those converging opinions intersect, leaning into being a heel at the high school level — up to and including when that criticism may not be fully valid — doesn't seem like it's worth the trouble or effort.

Let the threepeat, national-caliber schedule, work, these young men's character and success and D-I college skill do the talking.

If everything is being done within the bounds of OHSAA protocol and arguing isn't going to alter perception — this is rhetorical, of course. But who cares, then, what a bunch of "old washed up adults" say?

As a general point, if someone wasn't worried about something, they wouldn't waste their time on it. This isn't showing and proving — it's aiming for final public word on the subject.

If the structure of a Richmond Heights being a D-IV program essentially in size only is such an issue, facilitate change at a statewide level.

Otherwise, what is the end game, other than to give off "I want to speak to the manager" vibes in an adults vs. teenagers tug of war counterproductive for both sides?

It's striking how professional wrestling can frame life sometimes.

But it also doesn't mean everyone should lean into being a heel — particularly if the truth proves you're not anyway. And particularly if that complaining leads toward a path to nowhere.