Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Violence and Abuse

How bullying can happen: mass parental indifference

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You don’t have to be a parent who explicitly encourages your child’s bullying behavior, or knows of it and doesn’t discourage it, for such abuse to happen at school. Sometimes, all it takes is good people doing nothing.

Such as at East Middle School in Biscoe, N.C., where 12 students face juvenile charges for sexually hazing and bullying 13 younger members of the school baseball and soccer teams. Fox 8 News in Greensboro is reporting the efforts the school is making to get counseling for the victims and institute new anti-bullying programs.

But the school already tried reaching out to parents three months beforehand — and their efforts were met with a collective shoulder-shrug.

From Fox 8:

Officials at East Middle School held a poorly attended bullying awareness and prevention program for parents just three months before a dozen students face assault and sexual battery charges in connection with a sports team hazing ritual.

Attendance records show six parents attended the program, which was held in January.

I can’t get too haughty about how East Middle School parents must be horrible and ignorant, because my son’s junior high hosted a cyberbullying session for parents, complete with a speaker from Vermont whose son committed suicide after a long stretch of being on the receiving end of such activity. About 150 chairs were set up in the school gym. Counting me, seven parents showed up.

Of course, some parents don’t show because they’re working, or they can’t get child care. But, really, these pitiful numbers speak — to me, anyway — about how much parents want to put their heads in the sand about bullying and hazing. They figure if their kid isn’t a bully, or a victim, who cares? Or, more than that, they could never imagine their child in either position, so why bother? Or, worse yet, they chalk up such behavior as a normal part of growing up, so kids should just suck it up and tough it out — just like they did.

I don’t think the schools — or myself — are asking for parents to be rabid anti-bullying activists. It would be nice, though, if they would acknowledge that the behavior exists, and it’s not a good thing.

Youth sports hazing: not just for high schoolers, anymore

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If this is any indication of the atmosphere surrounding early-teen school sports, maybe it’s just as well my seventh-grade son got cut.

First, from Indianola, Iowa (as told by the Des Moines Register):

Two members of the Indianola Middle School track team were charged with assault last week in connection with an alleged hazing incident.

Carter Jacobsen, 14, and Trey Kuehl, 15, both of Indianola, were accused of tackling a 14-year-old teammate and holding him down before a track practice. … [EDITOR’S NOTE: Please please please, God, tell me the parents of the latter boy didn’t give him his name as an homage to Green Day drummer Tre Cool.]

Indianola Middle School Principal Mike O’Meara told police that Kuehl and Jacobsen held the victim down and rubbed their testicles on his face.

“There were some sexual connotations in the report but we couldn’t establish that, so we just charged them with simple assault,” Police Chief Steve Bonnett said.

The victim’s mother declined to comment when reached [April 20].

Kuehl and Jacobsen told school authorities that they held the victim down, but denied rubbing their testicles on his face, according to Marsh’s police report.

And from Biscoe, N.C., as told by Fox8 in Greensboro:

At least 10 eighth-graders at East Middle School have been suspended for involvement in alleged sexual bullying and/or hazing over the past week, according to Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Jordan.

The suspended students are suspected of bullying sixth- and seventh-graders on the soccer and baseball teams, primarily in the boys locker room. A parent told FOX8 News on Tuesday that her son witnessed the eighth-graders pinning younger students against a wall and grinding their groin into the victim’s bottom.

Jordan said the [nine] victims were targeted because they were new to the athletic teams.

Parents and schools needs to teach a simple lesson that would eliminate so many of these incidents. That lesson: keep your hands to yourself.

In Indianola, Jacobsen’s father told the Register his son was just wrestling and horsing around, which a lot of boys were doing. Apparently his son and the other boy didn’t see fit to share that with police, who reported the boys made no statements in meeting attended by their parents. Regardless, if Jacobsen’s father wants to proclaim his son’s innocence, hey, that’s his right. But he should tell his son, when the door is shut, to stop playing grab-ass before track practice. I give the school credit, though: it seemed to deal with this appropriately and swiftly.

I can’t say so much for the schools in Biscoe, N.C., given the Fox8 reports. The school has only made statements that it’s looking into the matter, and it has made clear that the topic of sports bullying and hazing (which the sheriff says also might be happening at the nearby high school) is off-limits at an upcoming Parent-Teachers Organization meeting, April 22. Parents, if they bring up hazing, will be encouraged to speak to the principal privately.

Good luck with that, East Middle School! I understand there are privacy laws, but it might behoove the administrators there to talk about how it was possible for the behavior alleged by police to take place not over a few days — but apparently a few years.

Written by rkcookjr

April 21, 2010 at 6:34 pm

That's not bullying! It's tradition!

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A big part of the problem in fighting bullying and hazing in schools, and on their sports teams, is that no one in authority can seem to agree on what bullying and hazing is. To you, mean cheerleaders stuffing another girl in a locker against her will is probably bullying. But to, say, a principal, it can be written off as a school tradition.

For example, take this incident at Elm Grove (La.) Middle School, near Shreveport.

A sixth-grade girl, Abigail Herring, said that during cheerleader tryouts, she was shoved into a locker, had trash thrown at her, and then had the door shut on her while another cheerleader stood guard for 20 minutes. Sounds a lot like bullying, right? Or hazing? Or something you probably would lose your shit over if you heard it happened to your kid? (For example, if you’re Abigail Herring’s mom, losing your shit enough to run to a local TV station so your daughter could tell her story.)

But to principal Bobby Marlow and his crack investigative team at Elm Grove Middle School, what happened to Abigail Herring was not bullying. From KSLA-TV in Shreveport:

He told us the school’s resource officer completed a thorough investigation, “and what bullying would be is when somebody is repeatedly affected in a negative way by someone.”

Marlow described what happened to Abigail Herring as an unofficial tradition he knew nothing about.  “Evidently, it had gone on for several years where a girl would get in a locker for good luck on the tryouts.”

So let’s see if I get Marlow straight. If we were in school together, and I shoved a broomstick up his ass once, that’s not bullying, because I wouldn’t be repeatedly affecting him in a negative way, right? Now, if I did it twice, that’s wrong. But once, OK.

And, if shoving a broomstick up someone’s ass was an “unofficial tradition” for “good luck,” I’m even more off the hook, right? “Hey, meat! Bend over for good luck! It’s an unofficial tradition! That we’ll only do once!”

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Why do we stuff you in a locker? Tradition!

To be fair to Marlow, plenty of parents, administrators and prosecutors somehow excuse bullying behavior they would never tolerate otherwise as long as it involves kids and sports. It’s this kind of twisting of logic that leads many of us to the conclusion that  waterboarding isn’t torture, at least when our side is doing it.

And in these cases of bullying and hazing involving kids in sports, the bullying is coming from people who are supposed to be part of the same team! On what planet can you, say, interview for a job and be told that before you can be part of the company, you have to participate in some “unofficial tradition” that involves your abject humiliation? You know, to prove yourself worthy. One of us.

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Gobble, gobble, we accept her.

For the record, Marlow says the “unofficial tradition” of stuffing prospective cheerleaders in a locker is over. At least that tradition. Oh, and apparently the good-luck charm didn’t work, because Abigail didn’t make the squad.

Sports hazing scandal brewing at my old high school

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My old high school and hometown, Carmel, Ind., has long cultivated for themselves an image of wealth, class, intelligence and sophistication, despite my type mingling with the hoi polloi, and despite the presence of new resident/former Hef spittle-cup holder Kendra Wilkinson Baskett. So for me, it’s hard to watch the linked video of the school superintendent, the high school principal and the police chief talking about a “bullying” incident involving Carmel basketball players — an incident that is being widely reported as a probable sexual assault — without imagining thought bubbles over their head that say, “Oh, shit.”

It’s not that the city’s reputation will be completely ruined by a police investigation into exactly what three senior players did to two freshman teammates on a 100-mile bus trip back from a game in Terre Haute. The preceding paragraph, however, does indicate the enormous schadenfreude being felt throughout the Indianapolis area over what could be an extremely revolting, disturbing incident — even the school has acknowledged something untoward happened, and now it’s a matter of finding out how untoward it was. (It appears to be untoward enough that one freshman had to go to the hospital, which prompted state child services to get involved.) And the feeling among many of those same people that Carmel, in its insistence that the investigation into the incident will take weeks, is trying to hide something to protect its image.

From an open letter from Fox 59 in Indianapolis, explaining why it’s been filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get information on the investigation. Emphasis is mine:

To be clear, this alleged incident happened more than a month ago — Friday, January 22nd. Despite four adults being on the school bus at the time, the school district maintains it did not know about the allegations until Tuesday, February 16th. We are now more than a week later — February 24th — and the school and police still maintain they can’t give basic, public information about what they are investigating happened on that school bus. Clearly, by the large response to FOX59 by phone and email, many of you are appalled by these explanations, and we are as well. We also understand your concerns about whether the correct course is really being followed by both the school district and police, considering several of the students involved are reportedly tied to prominent families in the community. I assure you that FOX59 News is taking a close look at every action the district and police are taking to make sure justice is served.

That local media are having to take a legal crowbar to get a copy of the mere police report sends a signal, true or not, that somebody has something to hide.

“Oh, shit.”

According to Fox 59, the alleged victims themselves did not initially report what happened on the bus. Instead, the station said, “a Carmel parent overheard rumors in the hallway.” (This sort of shame and fear of reporting is very common in hazing cases.)

The three basketball players — Scott Laskowski (son of former Indiana University player and announcer John Laskowski), Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge — were suspended from school for five days for the bus incident — but not until Feb. 19. How do I know this, as well as their names? Because the Indianapolis Star noted that in a game story posted before the incident became a press conference-able police investigation.

Actually, a few days before that story, another Indianapolis television station, WISH, quoted principal John Williams as saying he heard of the incident around Feb. 10, and that he was satisifed everything was handled properly. Head basketball coach Mark Galloway issued his own statement to the station: “We talk about adversity throughout the season and this is a challenge. This is an opportunity for some kids and we have to keep our team goals in front of us.” Translation: under no circumstances am I going to let whatever happened fuck up our season.

“Oh, shit.”

Unfortunately for Galloway, not only is this incident already fucking up his season, but it’s going to fuck up his life, the lives of whatever coaches were on that bus, the lives of the coaches who allow seniors onto a freshman bus, the life of the principal who might end being seen as not riding herd enough on those coaches, the superintendent who… you get the idea. Meanwhile, the police department, in its obliqueness, is proving that in Carmel being roundabout is more than just existing as a circle at an intersection. All in all, the adults are looking a little too much like they’re hiding something.

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I’ll be the rouuuuuundabout.

What the adults don’t get, in their rush to protect the image of their fair town and boys, is that something happened on that bus, something that was not supposed to happen. Even if it was a few overdone noogies, any sort of hazing should not be tolerated and/or ignored by people who presumably should know better. Sheesh, coaches, what did you think was going on in the back of that bus, anyway? Didn’t you hear anything? Did the idea of checking to see what was going on enter into any of your minds?

And if it was in the realm of sexual assault, then a lot of people have a lot to answer for — and they’ll have a lot of people cheering for them to be exposed as more concerned about protecting Carmel’s image than its children.

“Oh, shit.”

FEB. 25 UPDATE: The city of Carmel released a heavily redacted police report, removing names of victims and reported perpetrators, and the exact nature of the reported assault. But there was a list of the offenses: battery/no minor injury, criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement.  I can’t find in the Indiana code what “battery/no minor injury” means. But depending on the serious, battery can be upgraded from misdemeanor to felony. Criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement are felonies no matter how you cut them. A conviction for criminal deviate conduct, a sex crime, gets you onto the Indiana sex offender registry.

FEB. 26 UPDATE: Fox59 is reporting that a fourth Carmel senior (there are five on the basketball team) is suspended for five days for attacking an underclassman in the boys’ locker room, and that he will miss tonight’s game along with the three other seniors caught up in the Jan. 22 incident. There also are reports that Carmel police have just launched an investigation into an alleged attack on a 17-year-old at the school Jan. 8. It is not known whether the two actions are related.

Oh, and tonight’s game is (was?) Senior Day. This should be awkward.

Youth sports isn't totally full of crazy people. Really.

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If you were to look at media reports, Twitter feeds and this here blog, it might be easy for you to come to the conclusion that everyone involved in youth sports is either a child molester, a thief, or generally a crazy person, and that the kids are out for blood, too. However, loyal readers of Valpolife.com, the official blog of the Porter Health (Valparaiso, Ind.) hospital system — and you are a loyal reader, aren’t you? — are getting a different, radical message: that, generally speaking, kids are having fun in youth sports, and adults are helping them in that pursuit.

I’ll wait a minute for you to compose yourself before I go on.

Anyway, here is the evidence Valpolife.com is citing to reach its conclusion:

The Rutgers Youth Sports Research Council recently completed a study of over 5,000 publications keying in on the phrases “youth sports” and “violence.” Going back over 20 years, the results yielded over 1,000 citations, but many were “false positives” that focused on an unrelated topic and only passively mentioned violence in youth sports. “The investigation failed to produce any evidence to substantiate the belief that violence in youth sports had reached epidemic proportions in recent year,” wrote study author Gregg S. Heinzmann, Director of the Youth Sports Research Council.

The even better news, according to the article is that there are still “millions of volunteers and parents involved in youth sports that are doing all the right things, teaching valuable skill lessons, and providing fun and healthy environments where young athletes can compete and create lifetime memories.”

In my experience as a coach and parent, it’s an unusual day when a parent confronts a coach, or a fight breaks out, or a parent or relative in the stands is screaming at the ref full-bore. But the definition of news is something unusual, and it is unusual, believe it or not, when a coach is a child molester. You don’t hear breathless reports about the planes that landed safely that day. You only hear about the ones that crash.

Not to say that everyone is holding hands and celebrating how wonderful we all are to our children. The caveat in Valpolife.com’s sunny picture of youth sports is how money changes the dynamic. If we’re all noticing parents getting more ornery, it might be as much as protecting their investment as protecting their child. And with more school districts going with pay-to-play in sports, parents are going to, probably rightly, demand more from coaches and the whole sports experience. After all, you have a $3 T-shirt rip, it’s a minor annoyance. If that T-shirt is $100 — and you didn’t have a lot of spare cash lying around even when you bought it — that becomes a very big deal.

Indiana University professor and chair of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies Lynn Jamieson agrees that while the data doesn’t suggest any epidemic of violence, the negative influence of financial pressure has.

“I know a woman who worked two full-time jobs so her child could compete with a traveling team,” said Jamieson. “When your life revolves around the sport and competition, the stress and frustration can manifest itself in the player and parents.”

Over 99-percent of high school athletes will complete their athletic career on the prep stage. A tiny percentage will be able to leverage their athletic prowess into a scholarship or professional contract; yet there remains an unreasonable pressure by some parents to push their children beyond a logical point in pursuit of athletic greatness with hopes of financial gain.

Jamieson suggests a better alternative for parents is to leverage a portion of the dollars spent on athletics in a college savings plan. “Every dollar spent on leisure could be saved for higher education,” said Jamieson.

Wait a minute — taking your travel team money and putting it toward college? Now there’s a radical idea.

Written by rkcookjr

January 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

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