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How much is too much when it comes to high school sports and winning?
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I’ve been covering local sports for more than a year, enough time to experience all the firsts that come with the job—or so I thought.

I was reminded that I hadn’t seen it all Saturday night when I drove to Pitman High to cover back to back varsity games for Turlock Christian High’s homecoming. TC’s girls and boys teams hosted Delhi High in the final game of the regular season with the ladies taking the court first and the boys playing afterwards.

The girls game played out as expected — with Halie Bergman and her Eagle teammates dominating the court of play—but with 6:02 left in the fourth quarter the script took a dramatic turn. Trailing 57-11, Delhi’s head coach Demetrio Quintrero calmly called a time out, signed a piece of paper, and walked off the court with his team. They had had enough.

TC’s roster and all the fans in attendance sat silently, stewing in confusion, as the scene unfolded.

“I have no problem with losing, I can accept a loss, but I will not have my kids humiliated for their [TC's] sake. If they want to run up the score so be it, but don’t do it to my kids,” Quintrero said.

“To win is one thing, but to run up the score and press with your starters in just to give your girls more stats, so they can look good at our expense; I won’t deal with it,” he added.

TC’s head coach, Edwin Santiago, had a different take.

“You want to give your very best and leave it on the court. Nothing else is under your control but the effort you put in. We played our very best and we gave our very best effort,” Santiago said. “There’s always something to work on whether you’re winning by a lot or losing by a lot.”

Gripes from Southern Athletic League opponents are nothing new to TC. With the exemption of Ripon Christian High, the SAL offers little competition for the Eagles and the stats show it.

Through this season’s 12 league games—not including two matchups against the Knights—TC’s average margin of victory was 48 points. The Eagles' greatest margin of victory came against Denair High on Jan. 3 when they defeated the Coyotes 80-6, one of three games won by 60 points or more.

“I understand a coach’s willingness to win but I don’t understand a coach’s willingness to humiliate a team,” a SAL coach said. “I don’t get it. I think every coach should give every player on the bench an opportunity to play, especially if they’re not playing much.”

In a situation like this, where things aren’t clear cut and emotions are strong, it’s hard to single out a party as right or wrong.

Is there such a thing as too much domination? Should a team pull back and play below its potential to prevent ill feelings from the opposition? And if so, when? Is there ever a justified reason to quit on a game? Should high school athletics be approached with empathy for those who fall short or should the strongest be allowed to thrive?

It’s easy to see both sides of the story: one coach preaching maximum effort to his team and another who’s willing to put himself on the line for the sake of his team.

“It’s not a good lesson to teach, to quit when the going gets tough. I’m sure he had his reasons; I don’t know what they were,” Santiago said. “If the score’s 57-11 there’s an opportunity to develop your point guards and forwards for next year, and that’s what we do.”

“If you run up the score for the purpose of stats it tends to get to a high school kid. This is a common occurrence with TC,” Quintrero said. “Did I make a mistake? I don’t think I did.”

You can’t fault a team for winning, no matter the fashion, and it’s next to impossible to fault a coach for taking his girls’ feelings into consideration, which makes Saturday’s situation all the more murky.

Delhi and the rest of the SAL might not have to worry about TC for long, though. The California Interscholastic Federation Sac Joaquin Section has taken note of TC’s SAL dominance and is in the process of moving the Eagles into the Central California AA Conference by the start of the 2014 season.