HEISER: Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Program puts proper value on sportsmanship

  • Gretchen Wolf Swartz sportsmanship award winners earned $114,000 in scholarships last year.
  • Students from York Suburban and South Western each earned a total of $57,000 in scholarships.
  • The scholarship winners were determined by York County basketball officials.

A team’s success is often judged by wins and losses.

To many, those are the only numbers that truly matter.

York Suburban's Brianna Embrey-Banks, right, won a $12,000 Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship in 2018. DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Pile up enough wins and a team will be celebrated for a championship season.

Wins and championships, however, are not the only barometers of athletic achievement, especially on the scholastic basketball courts of York and Adams counties.

In these parts, there’s another way to gauge a triumphant sports season, and it has nothing to do with victories and titles. Instead, it has everything to do with sportsmanship and character.

We’re talking about the Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Program.

Some big money at stake: Before your eyes start to glaze over at the thought of another column about sportsmanship, it’s important to remember that there are more than 100,000 reasons to care about the Swartz awards.

Last year, for instance, senior students from York Suburban and South Western equally shared $114,000 in Swartz scholarships. That’s not exactly chump change. It's certainly not a total to be scoffed at.

Last year, 10 scholarships, ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 were awarded. What family couldn’t use that kind of money to help with the staggering cost of a college education?

Logan Kemp

The program: With the 2018-19 winter sports season set to begin Friday night, it seems like an appropriate time to remind folks about the Swartz program.

Each year, a boys’ and a girls’ program from the York-Adams League is honored for the sportsmanship displayed by their players, coaches, cheerleaders, scorekeepers and fans during the basketball season, from the junior high through the varsity levels.

The program winners are determined by a vote of the York County Chapter of PIAA Basketball Officials. After the program winners are determined, senior players, cheerleaders and managers from those high schools can then apply for a Gretchen Wolf Swartz Sportsmanship Scholarship Award.

Gretchen Wolf Swartz, for those who don’t know, was a York County basketball official from 1981 until 1995. After her death from leukemia in 1997, her fellow officials created a scholarship fund to promote and honor the sportsmanship she so effectively displayed. Since that time, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded.

Sportsmanship not a "quaint idea:" These days, good sportsmanship can seem like a quaint idea from a bygone era. Today, folks often seem more inclined to celebrate the “killer instinct” of a “cold-blooded assassin.”

Well folks, we’re talking about teenagers and high school sports here. Terms such as “killer” or “assassin” should be reserved for professionals competing at the highest level and for millions of dollars. They have no place in scholastic athletics.

Besides, sportsmanship and competitive drive are not mutually exclusive terms. It’s possible to be both a good sport and dogged competitor.

Previous winners weigh in: Just ask one of last year’s Swartz winners — York Suburban’s Briaunna Embrey-Banks, who is using a $12,000 Swartz award to help with expenses at York College, where she’s a freshman on the Spartans’ women’s basketball team.

“I feel as if sportsmanship and competitiveness can be compared to a dog,” Embrey-Banks said. “You don’t have to hear a dog bark to know that you don’t want to get bit. What I mean by that is trash talking has no effect on how competitive your game is. You can still be respectful and be a threat on the court.”

Another Swartz winner from last year, South Western’s Logan Kemp, has a similar outlook. Like Embrey-Banks, Kemp was awarded a $12,000 scholarship and is using it at Kutztown University, where he’s competing for the men’s soccer and men’s tennis teams.

“Sportsmanship has always been an important part of my game because of the respect factor,” Kemp said. “In order to receive respect from your opponents you have to give them the respect as well.”

Both Embrey-Banks and Kemp said that sportsmanship is something that has been emphasized to them throughout their scholastic careers at York Suburban and South Western, respectively. They both knew about the Swartz awards before their senior seasons, but the awards were not a primary motivating factor in acting in a sportsmanlike way. Rather, good sportsmanship was simply something that their coaches and parents had long stressed as important.

That kind of attitude probably explains why Suburban and South Western won the 2018 awards.

Attitude may be spreading: Apparently, it’s also an attitude that’s spreading. Last year, for the first time in the 18-year history of the Swartz program, all 23 Y-A schools received votes. That’s an encouraging sign. Maybe the word has finally gotten out — sportsmanship is just as important as wins and championships. In fact, in the long run, it’s more important.

A good sport normally possesses good character. They tend to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with winners and champions.

That’s something we should all keep in mind when attending, coaching or playing in high school basketball games over the coming winter months.

Your actions could be the deciding factor on whether some deserving students from your favorite school receive some much-needed scholarship help. 

The local officials will be watching and taking notes.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.