When everyone is honored, no one is

Greg Jayne: Commentary

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As far as I can recall, I never earned all-league honors in high school — which won’t come as a surprise to anybody who ever saw me play.

Yet a perusal of the all-league selections for fall sports leads us to an inescapable conclusion — I’m pretty sure I could have been all-league these days. Because in an age of “everybody’s a winner and everybody’s special,” it seems as though everybody is worthy of all-league honors.

Oh, this is a bit of an exaggeration. But not much of one.

Consider this year’s Class 3A first-team all-league football squad, which includes three running backs, three receivers, a tight end, and five offensive linemen. It also includes a quarterback, but not Camas QB Logan Grindy, because he was the league’s offensive player of the year.

Counting Grindy, that’s a team of 14 offensive players — a pretty good strategy if you can get away with it. And they probably would have an advantage over the 13-player first-team defensive unit.

Not that the excesses are exclusive to football.

For the Class 1A Trico all-league girls soccer squad, a total of 14 players were offensive MVP, defensive MVP, or first team.

Counting the first-team, second-team, and honorable-mention selections, Ridgefield had 12 players honored. Which makes you wonder how the Spudders won the district title over Toledo/Winlock and its 13 honorees.

And then there’s the Class 3A all-league volleyball team, which features nine players on the first team. That, we suspect, is in violation of the rules of the game.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing athletes for working hard and having some talent and enjoying a successful season. But at some point the honor becomes watered down.

As the arch-villain Syndrome from the movie “The Incredibles” says: “And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can be superheroes. Everyone can be super. And when everyone’s super, no one will be.”

That is the dilemma facing high school coaches when they meet to vote on all-league teams. Typically, a coach will nominate players from his or her team who they feel are deserving, and discussion will ensue.

“Prior to voting, the coaches give a positive endorsement of the players, their own players,” explained Columbia River football coach John O’Rourke. “In 3A, we don’t get into cross-criticism of players from the other teams.

“There’s a tug of war — you want to honor those kids and still keep it special. The coaches are in a conflict to make sure there’s still value in it. That’s where the coaches get into a dilemma — you have a huge emotional investment with the kids.”

In the seven-school Class 3A Greater St. Helens League this year, a total of 56 football players received either first- or second-team honors. And coaches were not allowed to nominate players on both offense and defense, even though the best athletes typically play on both sides of the ball.

That means an average of eight players per team will someday tell their grandkids they were all-league when they played high school football. And there’s probably nothing wrong with that.

Yet it seems as though we go overboard these days to recognize mediocrity. This is an age, after all, in which 6-year-olds get a trophy simply for playing on a team. Not a high-five and a pat on the back, but a trophy.

Being all-league at the high school level hasn’t reached that point. Yet. And let’s hope it never does.

So, for now, receiving an all-league mention in any sport remains a great honor. Well, not that I would know.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail atgreg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne