At a panel discussion about sportsmanship in fall, 2010, the crowd was captivated by Division III women’s volleyball coach Beth Wilmeth and her team’s amazing display of integrity. After setting a school record for wins in 2008, Coach Wilmeth wanted her team to raise their game even higher – by playing with integrity on the court, just as they did in their lives off their court. So, in 2009, her Northwestern College team instituted an “honor call system,” in which players would surrender a point if they touched the net or ball – regardless of whether the officials saw it or not.
Civility isn’t something you tend to see on the football field, the baseball field or the basketball court. In fact, we’re often taught that evading the officials is a skill. It’s not a crime against your opponent; it’s a way to win – at all costs. That’s why the story of Northwestern College was so fascinating and refreshing.
Coach Wilmeth’s team lost 30 points because of the system during the 2009 season, but none cost them a match. In 2010, however, after advancing to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in school history, the team called two honor calls within a few points of each other during crucial moments and lost a close match.
In this article on the college’s website, middle blocker Elissa Sandstrom is quoted from the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “It still stinks giving up a point, but it feels right. Other teams have said, ‘Thank you for being honest.’ And if you want to be a person of integrity, you have to have it in all areas.”
As a result of the tremendous display of civility, the Northwestern College women’s volleyball team received a Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Award from the NCAA. Read more about the prestigious honor, here.
What do you think of the honor call system? How would sports be different if all teams acted this way? How would we view athletes differently?