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In what now seems like another life, I was a sports reporter for The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington. I had been the night editor there for four years and was looking for something different, when the opportunity came along.

I loved it. I loved covering college and high school football. I loved covering college and high school soccer. I enjoyed covering baseball and softball. In fact, the only sport I didn’t enjoy covering was high school basketball.

Don’t get me wrong, I love basketball. But covering high school basketball was rarely a pleasure. For most sports, reporters are in a press box or some separated space, where they can survey the action. At basketball games, sportswriters and broadcasters are courtside. There’s no better place to watch a basketball game unfold, but it doesn’t take long for you to realize that the fans are virtually on top of you.

You hear everything, and a good deal of it is god-awful. Every missed bucket is a missed foul by the refs. Every call, or noncall, is the biggest miscarriage of justice since Barabbas was freed. I’ve heard high school basketball attendees shout things at referees that would, to paraphrase The Smiths, make Caligula blush. Fans also tend to make derisive comments — especially in girls games — about players’ relative attractiveness, taunting them on their looks with all of the maturity of ... well ... high- schoolers.

But it’s not just the kids doing the shouting. Parents and adult fans are sometimes just as bad, if not worse.

In late 2012, I was covering a high school girls game between Logan and Huntington High during which two Logan fans, both adult males, were thrown out of the gym for their behavior. One of them bolted from the stands to the court, yelling something about not driving all that way just to get cheated by the officials. A police officer intercepted him before he could reach the ref. In another setting, he might’ve been charged with disorderly conduct or attempted assault. In this case, he was told to go outside and cool off.

Logan won the game. Turns out, going from cold to hot from the three-point line had more bearing on the outcome than officiating. Despite my aloof analysis, Logan’s win seemed like a karmic injustice to me, because it felt like the fans had been rewarded for their behavior. I realize that’s just as ridiculous as thinking the refs were conspiring against the visiting team, but when people act a certain way, it produces a reaction in everyone else.

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After the game, I was talking to Logan’s coach, Kevin Gertz, who is a bit of a legend for his own antics. When I asked him about what happened with the fans, he was apologetic, saying they were parents of players on the team, and were probably embarrassed about how they acted (adding that he knew their kids certainly were). Then he gave a sheepish grin.

“If you’re in this long enough, you learn you either win or you got cheated,” he said.

That brilliant line has stuck with me, especially as culture, politics, sports, art and everything else have reached a point where they all bleed into one pool. We say and sometimes do whatever we want, no matter how horrible, often with little or no consequences. If we win, we win. If we lose, we didn’t really lose. It was rigged. It was a cheat. A steal. Forces beyond our control conspired against us, and it’s plain as day to anyone who would open their eyes.

We usually know this is faulty, even as we feed into it, with emotions and a quest for answers revealing misguided conclusions that have nothing to do with what really happened. It’s easy, and even forgivable sometimes, to fall into that trap. Life certainly isn’t fair. Justice in this world, whether it be in relation to something as trivial as a high school basketball game or as heavy as being diagnosed with a terminal illness, can seem elusive. It’s pretty normal to feel that way. Just don’t take up residence there.

One of the best things being a sportswriter did for me is that it separated me from rooting interests when it came to my job. It allowed me to watch how something unfolded, and what made the difference in the outcome. And hardly ever was the conclusion reached that someone got robbed. Refs make mistakes, but good coaches will tell you that’s not what decides a game. It can be hard to see that from the stands or the living room. I still struggle with it myself, from time to time.

It’s never a bad thing to at least try to remove yourself from a disproportionate emotional response before it leads you down a slippery slope. No matter what it is, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes it’s what you would consider fair, and sometimes it isn’t. But always take a step back, a deep breath and a full glimpse of the playing field before claiming you were cheated and sticking to that.

Ben Fields is the opinion editor. He is currently working from home. He can be reached at ben.fields@hdmediallc.com. Follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.

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