Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Archive for January 27th, 2009

Slurred speech

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Just in case you thought the election of Barack Obama brought us into a post-racial society:


From Phillipsburg, Pa., comes an oldie but a baddie, the allegation of racial slurs at a youth sports game. This one, basketball. From

A Phillipsburg youth basketball coach said players and fans from an opposing team yelled racial slurs at his players during a Community Basketball League game Friday night in Palmer Township.

Todd Opitz coaches the Phillipsburg Police Athletic League Enforcers, a 17-and-under team in the league. He has 10 players on the team, three of whom are black. Opitz said he is white.

Let me interrupt for a moment to point out the familiar pattern in youth sports controversy stories. Somehow, well after the fact, word gets to a reporter or someone in the outside world about, say, an extreme girls basketball beatdown. No reporters were there to witness it, mainly because these are the sort of events no one outside immediate family and a few friends. How can I tell in this story? “Opitz said he is white.” Either that, or the reporter never takes anything at face value. (/rim shot)


Or, maybe the coach was a certain Mr. White.

Sorry, I digress. Let’s continue:

Friday’s game at the Chrin Community Center was the first between the Enforcers and the Palmer Wildcats this season. About 100 fans were in the stands, Opitz said.

Opitz said when his team started winning near the end of the first half, opposing players and fans started using threats with racial slurs.

Phillipsburg player Monsio Jlaka, 16, said it started off as friendly trash talking.

“Then it just started getting out of hand. They just kept talking a lot, using the n-word,” Jlaka said. “I told them to stop saying it because it was getting me really mad.”

Opitz said he told the referee about the slurs, but the official “said he couldn’t do anything about it.”

The teams returned for the second half of the game and after a few minutes, “it just started in again,” Opitz said.

Jlaka said he had to be taken out of the game because he was getting so angry. The Community Basketball League has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to fighting at games.

“I did not hear anything and no one brought anything to my attention — players, coaches or referees,” said Scott Sanguinito, the Wildcats assistant coach.

Perhaps Opitz, who says he is white, and his player are mishearing the opposing team’s play-calling signals: “Chigger.” “Digger.” “Bigger.” “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Or the Wildcats coach needs a cochlear implant. Or, more than likely, someone is fibbin’.

Opitz, who says he is white, and his player had more to say:

The taunting continued into the parking lot and Phillipsburg parents and fans worked to keep their players under control, Opitz said.

“It was just chaos, basically,” Jlaka said.

Opitz, who has coached the Phillipsburg team for three years, and Jlaka both said they have never seen anything like what happened Friday.

“It was disgusting,” Opitz said. “It just ticks me off that this had to happen at a kids’ basketball game. No kid should have to tolerate hearing those things — period. It was uncalled for.”

Even discounting that this league has had a couple of parent rumbles in the last few years, according to the story, he’s right: no kid should have to tolerate hearing those things — period.

If all of this is true — and it’s not stretching the bounds of reason to think that it is, especially because it’s an area of Pennsylvania that Obama sent Joe Biden to often to assure the locals that their possible new president would not be a Scary Negro — it makes me wonder: what exactly possesses people to do this? Especially at a youth sports event?

“Hey, ma!”


“Billy’s got a game tonight. And there’s gonna be darkie kids playin’!”

“Thank the Lord! Now I can get all my pent-up darkie-yellin’ outta my system!”

None of the league officials were available to the reporter for the above story. Hopefully, they’ll come out of their hole and check all this out, and make clear that if a team and its fans are going to engage in this kind of behavior, it will give referees the power to boot them out, and if it doesn’t stop, give the league itself the power to boot a team out of the league. It’s crazy the league has a no-tolerance policy toward fighting, yet racial slurs are apparently a-OK.

My coach, the asshole

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An item from Joyce Bassett’s excellent youth sports blog at the Albany Times-Union. I’ll leave out the stuff about Micah Grimes to focus on this:

Erin writes in to my blog with this special report from a CYO tournament:

My 12 year old son played a local Wynantskill/Troy CYO (Christian Youth Organization) in basketball. He was called several foul names, and was told a nasty remark about me. (Mom) This was reported and the boy laughed it off and received a special trophy. What are we teaching our children?

Maybe the question is not “What are we teaching our children?” but “Who is teaching our children?”

In high schools, we often have no choice. But in youth sports, we can help oversee the coaching, assist in managing the team or just pay close attention at practice. Coaches need to be evaluated, even if they are volunteering their time.


Agreed. However, there is a way to go about this that does not fire up the coach-parent tension that seems to exist from the first whistle.

If you’re a coach, you should send a note to all the parents that explains who you are and your philosophy of coaching. For example, in my note I tell parents every team I have coached, at every age level. I de-emphasize won-loss record in favor of talking about what sort of practices I run, and how I try to even out playing time. If I mention won-loss record, I emphasize that any success has been a result of the players and I working hard together. Hey, there are parents who want to know your bottom-line result, if only so they have assurance you some idea of what you’re doing.

I also mention that playing time is not always equal — if I feel a player is becoming a discipline problem (not paying attention in practice, not being a good teammate, complaining about the referees), I will bench that player for a time until he or she gets his or her head straight. Basically, I try to anticipate as many questions as I can and answer them.

If you’re a parent, and you don’t get one of these notes, feel free to make an appointment with the coach to talk about his or her background. It’s better to do this during a time when you both are relaxed and able to talk — getting in a coach’s face before or after practice or a game is pretty much the worst time because of all the activity. If you want the coach to talk freely, make sure to ask the questions in as friendly as manner as possible, and don’t focus only on your own child. “How much playing time can be expected” — good. “Are you the kind of douchebag who will make my kid rot on the bench” — bad. If the coach doesn’t want to have this conversation, that’s a bad sign.

Hopefully, you, as a parent, and your child’s coach will have regular communication through the season, whether it’s a chat after practice or emails updating all the parents on the team’s progress. They can help defuse some tense situations. For example, I talked to a parent of one of my fifth- and sixth-grade hoopsters to tell him I benched his son for a time because he was out on the floor complaining about the refs instead of playing his game. It turned out not only did the dad understand, but he also informed me his son had had problems during baseball with complaining about the umps. Working together, we got his son to stop worrying about the calls and play ball.

As Joyce Bassett wrote, you as a parent have a choice. If you don’t like the coach or the philosophy of the program, you have the right to take your kid out. My first experience with Little League baseball was short because my dad yanked my brother and I off our team after a few practices because it was clear the coach was a jerk. We rejoined the next year with a different team and a nicer, better coach. (Ahem, we won our league championship, and that other coach finished last. Not that winning and losing matter, of course.)

In fall softball, I had a parent take his daughters off my team (8- to 10-year-olds) because he didn’t think it was the right fit. The league was supposed to be a fairly casual workout just to keep skills sharp for the main season, the spring, with no practices and weekend games. This parent believed I should have had the girls out practicing every day. I told him that wasn’t what the league was designed for, and that I thought his girls would still benefit with two games a weekend rather than zero. But he was adamant his girls would be better off signing up for private coaching sessions. So I said, hey, they’re your kids, and you need to do what you think is best. I have no hard feelings.

As for the mom in Wyantskill/Troy, I have no idea what her past interactions with the coach were. I’m going to guess they were contentious, or that the coach must be a tool of the highest order, or both, because I’ve never met a coach, even a first-rank asshole, who made a point of ripping somebody’s mom in front of everybody. Unfortunately, everyone is going to run into a bad coach, just like your child is going to run into a bad teacher. At least with a coach, if you have a conversation in the preseason, you’ll have the chance to do something about it.