Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Johnnie Walker, red?

"If you can't be in athletics, at least be an athletic supporter."

- Eve Arden (as Principal McGee) in Grease

It's after midnight, technically the morning after the elections, and between watching the last few returns come in online I thought I'd pass along a few thoughts before turning in. I'm not one for instant analysis, especially when it comes to politics, and besides I have to teach a class all day tomorrow.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through the halls of Grand Junction High attending Parent-Teacher conferences when my attention was drawn by numerous posters advertising a professional wrestling card slated for the GJHS gymnasium this coming Saturday. It seems that this event, sponsored by the GJHS Athletic Department and a couple of local businesses, will feature the "AWA" championship bout between someone whose name now escapes me and an overly made-up chap named "The Warlord". The undercard is also impressive, featuring the always entertaining (?) midget wrestling.

I used to watch this stuff when I was little, and when it wasn't so ridiculous. Studio Wrestling on Channel 11 in Pittsburgh was the big thing in the 60's. I would always root for Bruno Sammartino, Jumpin' Johnny DeFazio and Baron Scicluna. These guys were part of the World Wide Wrestling Federation, now the more appropriately-named WWE (emphasis on Entertainment). Then I grew up and my tastes changed, and I discovered mainstream sports like hockey. Let's Go Pens!

There were posters plastered seemingly everywhere in the school. They had TV commercials on at least one local station, in one instance sandwiched between a 527 political ad and a Bresnan commercial for another wrestling pay-per-view "event". I had a hard time determining which was worse for a minute. I looked all over the GJHS website, and couldn't find a single reference to the event. The Orange and Black, true to their excellent journalistic roots, did list it on their events calendar.

Eventually I decided to call the school and ask about what possessed them to attach their name to an undertaking like this. I was transferred to Johnnie Walker, the Athletic Director, also listed on Saturday's card as a "special guest referee". I asked Mr. Walker if he had received any concerns from parents or other citizens regarding the sponsorship of an event that is viewed by many as not really an athletic event, and by even more as staged or "fake". He said I was the first one. I then went on to express my concerns about these perceptions, and whether or not sponsoring an event like this one was becoming of a publicly-funded educational institution.

His response? "OK".

There are a few things that I have to recognize beyond my own assumptions and biases.
First, there is a market for this sort of thing, otherwise they wouldn't bother. Second, there are people who take this stuff seriously, my guess the monster truck rally set and Spike TV fans. Third, there must be some fiduciary benefit to the school for them to host and sponsor the event. This reminds me of the saying about how nice it would be if schools got all the money they needed, and the Air Force had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.

For about 5 years in the 80's, I was the PA announcer for my high school's varsity football and basketball games, so I understand the need for effective marketing of the "product" that is scholastic athletics. The pride that these types of activities instills in a community can be a very positive (and negative) influence, witness Friday Night Lights.

I still enjoy high school football a lot, especially knowing kids my son grew up with actually participating. The honesty of the competition, the reinforcement of sportsmanship and decorum regardless of what side of the outcome you're on, the lesson that regardless of who wins and loses there is still a rich life to lead off of the field. These to me are the true lessons of sport.

I don't see these types of lessons coming out of a minor-league pro wrestling event, which from my experience serves more as sweaty soap opera than a genuine display of athletic prowess.
What lessons for today's high school student-athlete will come out of this display? Money talks? Speak softly but carry a big metal folding chair? Most of life's problems can be solved by a no-holds-barred, locked-cage match? When you fail, change your name and put on a mask?

I feel embarrassed for the school in their sponsorship of this event, but I hope that the weekend is a success for the sake of whatever benefit the school stands to reap for their participation.
I hope that in the future the school will look to different avenues for athletic "entertainment" that will be of mutual benefit to school and attendee alike. Back east in the 80's they used to resort to Donkey Basketball, but now that is no longer politically correct and is perceived by many as a liability risk. Better to let the "little people" have at it, I suppose.

One other important item that is on the GJHS website is tonight at 6:30 PM in the GJHS Library. This Parent Advisory Meeting will focus on the topic of school safety, and appears to include a panel discussion. It's unknown if audience participation will be encouraged/allowed.
See you there.


a♥c said...

And look at Mr. Walker now LMAO

John Linko said...

Like John Lennon said, "Instant Karma's gonna get you...."