Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for April 2009

And this little piggie stayed home

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The Your Kid’s Not Going Pro emergency alert center reports the following athletic cancellations as a result of H1N1 — oh, forget it, you’re all gonna call it swine flu no matter what authorities say. (NOTE: I am adding to this list and alphabetizing by state rather than creating new posts every team a school or organization cancels sports.)

EDIT: On the Pitch has some great practical resources for handling the swine flu scare. Its advice is targeted toward soccer leagues. But the lessons — including handling communication with parents — are valuable for any kind of league and coach.

ALABAMA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION All events postponed until further notice. Events postponed until May 5.

MADISON COUNTY, ALABAMA – All children’s activities, including T-ball practices and games, in county parks canceled until May 4.

BRANHAM HIGH SCHOOL, CALIFORNIAAll events canceled through May 6.

INDIO HIGH SCHOOL, CALIFORNIAAll events canceled through May 7.

BATAVIA HIGH SCHOOL, ILLINOIS
All games and practices canceled through May 4, as well as a ban on outside groups using school facilities.

HOMER COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED DISTRICT 33, ILLINOISAll afterschool activities in middle and elementary schools, including sports, canceled for May 1.

WABASH SCHOOL DISTRICT, INDIANAAll practices for Thurs., April 30, called off. Games still scheduled, unless rained out.

WOODHAVEN-BROWNSTOWN SCHOOLS, MICHIGAN — All after-school activites, including sports, canceled for Thurs., April 30, and possibly through the weekend.

BEMUS POINT SCHOOL DISTRICT, NEW YORKAll sports canceled through May 3.


FABIUS-POMPEY HIGH SCHOOL, NEW YORK
All events canceled through May 1.

MAPLE GROVE SCHOOLS, NEW YORK
Schools and all sports activities canceled through May 4.

ST. FRANCIS PREP SCHOOL, NEW YORK — All events will go forward as scheduled, unless opponents are too scared of contracting swine flu to show up.

NORTH KINGSTOWN HIGH SCHOOL, RHODE ISLAND
All events canceled through Friday.

MAULDIN HIGH SCHOOL, SOUTH CAROLINAAll activities, including games and practices, canceled on April 30 and May 1.

NEWBERRY COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, SOUTH CAROLINAMost after-school activities, including sports, canceled through May 4.

MONTGOMERY BELL ACADEMY, TENNESSEEAll after-school activities, including sports, canceled through May 8.

THE CITY OF THE COLONY’S PARK AND RECREATIONS DEPARTMENT, TEXASAll youth league events at city facilities canceled through May 6.

CITY OF DENTON, TEXASAll league play and athletic programs including Denton Youth Soccer, Denton Boys Baseball and all field rental activities suspended through May 11.

CITY OF FORT WORTH, TEXASAll recreation center-hosted activities canceled until at least May 8..

CITY OF HIGHLAND VILLAGE, TEXASAll organized youth sports league games canceled from May 1-10.

LEWISVILLE ISD, TEXAS
All school district sporting events canceled through May 11.

TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF PRIVATE AND PAROCHIAL SCHOOLSRegion I-5A and 4A South Regional track meets scheduled for May 1 canceled.

UNIVERSITY INTERSCHOLASTIC LEAGUE, TEXASAll events canceled until May 11.

SALT LAKE CITY CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, UTAHAll sports at Judge Memorial Catholic High School and Our Lady of Lourdes School canceled until May 5.

PARK CITY SCHOOLS, UTAHSchools and all sports activities closed through May 4.

CLOVER PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT, WASHINGTONLakewood High School sports activities canceled for May 1.

Further updates as events warrant. Please send any closing and cancellations to rkcookjr at comcast.net, or through Twitter to @notgoingpro.

Written by rkcookjr

April 29, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Rain, rain, go away…

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WGN’s Tom Skilling, the world’s greatest TV weatherperson, informed us last night that Chicago Midway Airport has had its wettest meteorological spring on record — 11.37 inches since March 1. If you didn’t know meteorological spring started March 1, you probably don’t watch Tommy, and also you probably don’t know what an isobar is. Or you’re my mother-in-law, yelling during the midst of one of Tommy’s 10-minute weather jags, “Get to the forecast!” Anyway, that near-foot of rain is double what Midway normally would have by now.

So what does that have to do with youth sports?

It means we’re not playing them. It means, as a T-ball manager, I’m monitoring radar all day like I’m working in the National Hurricane Center. It means my cell has a button to send a notice to every parent whether we are, or aren’t, parenting. It means Monday I watched my 9-year-old daughter’s softball team get one inning in during a downpour on her opening day before the coaches had to call the game, clearly against their will except that the pitcher couldn’t keep control of even the dry ball the coaches would throw after she slid another one in the dirt.

It means that about mid-May, millions of parents nationwide will be racing from game to game, every day, to make up for the many canceled games. Especially those parents where I live, about eight miles due south of soggy Midway Airport.

Thursday I have a T-ball game to manage (including my 6-year-old) son. My daughter has a game scheduled as well. Tommy’s forecast: 70 and a strong chance of thunderstorms. Sigh.

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And it’s not like last meteorological fall was any picnic either. Taken by my then 10-year-old son in the area around the SAC softball fields in Oak Lawn, Ill., where the fall league softball team I managed didn’t play some games thanks to what you see here.

Written by rkcookjr

April 28, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Florida uses the nuclear option

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Maine couldn’t bring itself to cut high school sports at a statewide level. But Florida could — and did.

On Monday night, the Florida High School Athletic Association voted 9-6 to chop varsity sports games by 20 percent and JV and freshman games by 40 percent for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Varsity football, a big moneymaker, is unaffected. Competitive cheerleading is unaffected as well. Wait, is that a big moneymaker, too? New FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing in March put forth this proposal, saying the only other option was eliminating sports.

As you can imagine, this isn’t going over well with athletic directors.

From the Miami Herald, which notes that a lot of high-powered basketball programs who hosted or traveled to tournaments now can’t do so with a 20-game limit:

”I was a student in this county, and now I’ve been coaching in this county for 20-some years,” said Larry Brown, athletic director at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. “I have never seen anything like this, cuts so drastic.”

Added Roger Harriott, AD at Davie’s University School: “It sends the wrong message to the kids, considering they’re the whole reason we have a job.”

In Miami, these games cuts were made five years ago. But the county school district says it still might have to eliminate multiple conference tournaments.

The problem in Florida is this: the state’s property taxes are refigured on an annual basis, and they’re based on the average sale prices for January, the busiest home-selling month in the state. (In my state, Illinois, your property gets reassessed every three years, based on an average price for the previous three years. So my schools are doing OK, because the last assessment caught the last three years of the real estate peak.)

The Florida system was great during the real estate boom times. Now, it’s sending school budgets cratering. Here was my report from January 2009, when I was visiting mortgage-scarred Bradenton.

Individual schools across the country are cutting sports budgets, but I haven’t heard of another state athletic association putting the hammer down on everyone. Will it be the last? I’m going to go out on a limb and say: probably not.

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A Florida High School Athletic Association board member at work.

EDIT: Boy, I am behind. New York and Mississippi already have enacted similar cuts statewide, with New York (unlike Mississippi) even cutting football. Oklahoma earlier this decade cut sports schedules to save money, though that was before the current recession. Idaho’s state high school athletic association in April voted down an across-the-board 10 percent event cut, but it might revisit the issue in May, as well as looking at other cost-saving moves.

An authority tells me she’s looking for where the women coaches at

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None other Nicole LaVoi (pronounced La Vwah — like Stephen Colbert would say, it’s French, bitch) responded to my post the other day, “Where the women coaches at?” That was the name of the post, not her response.

nicolelavoiheadshot_2006_21LaVoi (left) is associate director of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, and as such has done a lot of work on answering the grammatically challenged question posed in the previous paragraph. The center recently hosted University of Southern California professor of sociology and gender studies Michael Messner, who has done some work on the subject himself.

You might remember my previous post for its frequent, sardonic use of “soft essentialism,” Messner’s term for women thinking they are making a choice not to coach when it’s really the Man (or, in fact, the old boys running the coaching network) who have unconsciously made that choice for them. I responded that while that might be true in some cases, at least among the moms that I know, their choice not to coach has more to do with either a lack of interest in sports or a desire not to add one more goddamn thing to their schedule after work and chores.

I have come to learn two things since my previous post. One is that “The Soft Essentialism” is a great name for a band, and with that name I am totally gonna open for Radiohead within three years. The other, as Professor LaVoi pointed out, is that while I have my differences with her and Messner, we have more in common than I might have believed.

Thank you for your blog in raising more awareness on this issue and providing additional insights and opinions. In Messner’s book he actually does talk about how many men also feel left out of the “old boy’s network” and face many of the same barriers to coaching that women perceive and face. Neither Messner nor I are making the claim that men are overtly scheming to keep women out of coaching, but there are many subtle ways in which this happens that are much more complex than merely saying “women don’t want to coach”.

I wrote  two blogs about the lack of female coaches in youth sport and why it matters and how to help increase the number of female coaches in youth sport. I agree with you that many women are just too busy to even think about coaching and are juggling many roles. I don’t think we disagree…not that much anyway! I also agree that implementing the strategies is much more difficult than writing about it, but if one thinks it is an important issue…it is a starting point!

I would heartily agree with you, professor. Whatever we think the reason, I think we all like the idea of having more women coaching.

I’m not sure I buy Brooke de Lench’s (of Momsteam fame) contention that, and I paraphrase, that women coaches are needed because they tend to bring unicorns and sunshine while, by contrast, male coaches tend to be overcompetitive assholes. However, different people bring different talents, and leagues should make it abundantly clear they want and encourage women among the coaching ranks.

While it seems like there should be a lot more female coaches nearly 40 years into the Title IX era, perhaps this problem will solved by a future generation — the so-called second wave of feminism, if you will. I eagerly await watching my 9-year-old and 3-year-old daughters someday coaching their kids.

Written by rkcookjr

April 27, 2009 at 8:07 pm

As the Stinson turns, latest edition

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According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Jefferson County school district is investigating allegations of retaliation against Pleasure Ridge Park High football players who spoke to police after last August’s death of teammate Max Gilpin.

Gilpin was the 15-year-old who died a few days after collapsing in practice after Coach David Jason Stinson forced the team to run “gassers” in a heat index of 94 degrees after he was displeased with their effort. Stinson has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide charges in a rare case of a coach being held criminally liable for an athlete’s death. His trial is scheduled to begin in August. Stinson, as well as the school district and other coaches, is being sued by Gilpin’s parents in a wrongful death case. Stinson is no longer Pleasure Ridge Park’s football coach.

From the C-J:

Superintendent Sheldon Berman said [April 24] that he has asked Joe Burks, assistant superintendent of high schools, to look into the allegations.

Berman said he has not received any complaints but was asked about the matter during a deposition last week in a lawsuit filed by Max’s parents, Michele Crockett and Jeff Gilpin.

“As soon as I got back (to the office), I instructed my staff to investigate,” he said.

If there is retaliation against students, Berman said it would be “completely inappropriate.”

“It should not even be a topic for discussion,” he said. “No student should be harassed in any way for what they told the police.”

The Courier-Journal has received several calls from PRP parents who said their children were being retaliated against because of the statements they gave police. They asked not to be named.

The story doesn’t mention exactly what kind of retaliation is being meted out, and exactly who is meting it out to exactly whom, by name at least.

There also are conflicting statements about whether fundraising for Stinson’s legal defense is happening on school grounds.

Several other parents who have contacted the newspaper said they are concerned that fundraising is being done during school hours to raise money for Stinson’s defense and that their children are being encouraged to wear T-shirts supporting Stinson.

Lauren Roberts, spokeswoman for the district, said yesterday that neither PRP nor the district has received any complaints from parents about fundraising.

[Principal David] Johnson “has advised me that there are no fundraising activities occurring on school property or during school hours,” Roberts said in an e-mail.

She said that earlier in the school year “there was a youth recreation league that sold T-shirts after school in support of the coach, but Mr. Johnson stopped that.”

A criminal coaching your child? More likely than you’d think!

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Sorry to use the TV news sweeps headline. I don’t mean to scare you that every person who might coach your kid is a felon, especially because of the off chance you’re a reader whose kid I coach. But the cost and limited efficacy of criminal background checks means that it’s very possible someone is going to slip through the cracks.

For example, someone like Marlon Rayford Wade II. The Saraland, Ala., Dixie Youth Baseball League coach was arrested April 16 on a charge of cocaine trafficking after police said they found $24,000 worth of those twinkling, twinkling grains in his Mobile home. That’s Mobile, Ala., not Mobile as in double-wide. That arrest is not so much the shocker. After all, if someone has never been arrested, he or she is not going to show up in a background check.

Except two problems here, as highlighted in the Mobile Register. First, Saraland Dixie Youth Baseball, which is affiliated with the city’s recreation department, does not conduct background checks. And even if it did, Wade probably wouldn’t have shown up even though he’s had a few prior arrests.

By a few, I mean 31 in 19 years.

But they were all for misdemeanors, and none involved any harm to a child. (The Mobile Register story doesn’t note how many convictions Wade had.) In most cases, the background checks done by your child’s league are looking for felonies only, and particularly for felonies that involve children or violence in general. And, according to the Register:

Wade had been certified with the National Youth Sports Coaches Association as recently as 2007, according to the group that touts itself as “America’s leading advocate for positive and safe sports and activities for children.”

169095954_ad8fe9ae3bYou have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. You have a right to coach 8U boys’ soccer if we only find a handful of weed  or you can plead down to disorderly conduct.

You might ask, with good reason, how could someone like this slip through? How could any organization in good conscience let someone like Wade slip through, especially in not paying at all for background checks?

Well, there are a couple of reasons.

The cost issue sounds like a cop-out, but the cost of a basic background check (a search of current name and address against a crime database) can run from anywhere from $1 to $10 per check, assuming the local police aren’t doing them for free. Not per name — per check. So if you’re looking at more than one jurisdiction or coach’s address, that counts as an extra check. It doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up. I could see how organizations that have never had any prior criminal troubles with coaches decide to save a few bucks and cross their fingers.

And for your money, in most cases you’re not getting a guarantee that you’re seeing everything, especially because there are police and courts that don’t contribute to the databases the background check agencies use. They also don’t go back more than the coach’s current address. The background checks are good if you’re trying to prevent someone currently on a sex offender list from coaching, but not wholly effective otherwise.

By the way, it’s stunning how many violent and sexual offenders are still trying to get close to your kids through coaching. The Register reports that Mobile city-run sports uses a background check through the local police that weeds out such offenders — and that the department was sending rejection notices to 30 out of 800 applicants for youth football and basketball coaching positions for failing those checks. Does that number seem high to anyone else?

I noted at the beginning of the month a Denver Post that recommended you play private detective to get more information on coaches. The advice was wholly impractical for parents who have other things to do, like work and raise children. But that doesn’t mean you should completely trust a coach, or ignore the little voice inside that says something is wrong.

If you want quick questions to ask to make sure things are OK, here are two you can ask a league that can go a long way toward determining if everything is on the up-and-up:

– Do you do criminal background checks? (Even a minimal one is better than nothing.)

– Are coaches allowed alone with children? (It’s optimum that there’s an assistant so there are two adults at one time, but you want to know that at least the coach is always with a group of kids, not one-on-one)

Bully for you

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bully_frontcoverYou think being a big-time teenage sports star makes you immune from bullying? Think again.

Tom Daley, 14, a British diver who competed in the 2008 Olympics, and his family say he is likely to change schools because of bullying. He says it’s not “high-level” but that “everyone is doing it.”

From the BBC:

Tom said: “It’s not getting to me, as in the words are upsetting me, it’s just the fact that I can’t have a normal school life like everybody else.

“It’s not high-level bullying, just name calling, someone chucking a bit of paper at you, tipping your pencil case out.

“After the Olympics it went mad… everyone that you walk past has a little dig at you.”

He said he had not been back to school since before the Easter holidays and had considered changing schools.

Katrina Borowski, principal of Eggbuckland Community College, said: “Tom’s extremely high profile has led to a minority of students acting in an immature way towards him.

“All involved in his education are supporting him as best we can and immediate action was taken to address concerns raised.”

It seems almost trivial to bring up Daley’s story after the recent suicides of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, both of whom were reportedly bullied ceaselessly, far beyond have their pencil cases tipped out. But Daley’s case shows just how endemic bullying is, and how, even in small ways, it forces lives to change against their will. Here are some numbers from the National Youth Violence Prevention Center that should disabuse you of any notion bullying is just a phase kids go through and grow out of.

I review until it hurts. I mean, “Until It Hurts.”

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Mark Hyman’s “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids,” is a concise (140 pages) look at how, well, America’s obsession with youth sports is harming our kids. It was an interesting read, and I must give Hyman some credit for his taste in blogs.

It’s easy to react to Hyman’s book by demanding that the entire parent/coaching/merchandising establishment be rounded up and shot for the child abuse they call youth sports. But I didn’t have that reaction, in part because I’m a heartless bastard, and in part because I was a history minor. (The two might be related.) Instead, I found snippets that were telling about why all this crazy sports parenting might not be so crazy after all.

Hyman opens his book talking about looking at a picture of his son Ben at 18 months old out in the snow with a T-ball set. “Whose idea was it to hone the swing of a toddler in the dead of winter? Mine. What was I thinking? I wish I had an answer.” This guilt is a running theme as Hyman exorcises his own demons of Ben needing arm surgery as a teenager after a series of coaches, including himself, pitched him too much. The book ends with Ben have a grand old time pitching on a college club team, no adults coaches to be found.

Hyman has plenty of other stories of athletes burned out, mentally and physically, by specializing in a sport from an early age, pushed by adults to succeed. Did you know, for example, that Michael Phelps’ sister Whitney was the original Olympic hope of the family, until her body burned out by age 16?

cover-of-until-it-hurts1Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I would have loved to have read a lot more about the history of organized youth sports, and how it evolved. It seems pretty clear that adults from day one had purposes other than just fun and games; usually it had something to do with preparing for war. There’s great stuff in the book like how Little League Baseball, by 1955, had frozen out Carl Stotz, who only founded LLB in 1939. He had the temerity to question the wisdom of an LLB World Series.

An interesting history as well would have talked about something not quite so youth sport-y, but something that drives the nuttiness we see today — how the demands of college recruiters and the money to be made in pro sports has changed the youth sports dynamic.

While old-time coaches like UCLA volleyball coach Al Scates and Hawaii baseball coach Les Murakamai speak out against the year-round specialization that provides the Hurts of the book, newer coaches like Quinnipiac women’s soccer coach Dave Clarke refuse to look at any player who hasn’t survived the rigors of club soccer. To him, school soccer is, and I paraphrase, for losers.

Hyman lays out the overwhelming odds against your kid not getting a college scholarship, much less going pro. (In most nonrevenue sports, few athletes are getting scholarships of any kind. That’s why you always see a few football players on the baseball team or track team.) But you’re not going to have a chance if your kid doesn’t specialize early and aim for that elusive scholarship. Given how colleges recruit and who pros sign, parents (and their children) who go down this road are not crazy. They’re making a rational decision based on the available evidence.

It’s like the lottery — you don’t win if you don’t play. Like the lottery, if you win, you win huge. But if you fall short, you have a lot of regrets and money pissed down the toilet. Hyman’s book focuses on how much is being pissed away, and how adults are squeezing the bladder. However, there’s still a book to be written to explain, in further detail and with less author’s guilt, how we got here.

(Oh, and a personal note to Mark Hyman, in case he reads this — don’t feel guilty. Like any parents, you made the best decisions you could with the information you had on hand. Plus, who doesn’t get caught up in their kids playing a sports, especially when they’re good? It’s nerve-wracking to watch you kid out there alone, especially as a pitcher, in control of everything when you’re not. As for that picture, my daughters dragged bats and balls out in the dead of winter when they were 18 months old. I suspect the idea to have Ben hit off a tee at that age and that time was not all yours.)

High school junior plays basketball in Europe; world does not end

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It’s a bit slimy that shoe huckster Sonny Vaccaro is behind this trend. OK, really slimy. But it’s hard to argue that a 6-foot-11, 17-year-old already being discussed as an NBA No. 1 pick should waste his time playing high school ball.

From the New York Times:

Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 high school junior whom some consider the best American big man since Greg Oden, says he will be taking a new path to the N.B.A. He has left San Diego High School and said this week that he would skip his senior year to play professionally in Europe.

Tyler, 17, would become the first United States-born player to leave high school early to play professionally overseas. He is expected to return in two years, when he is projected to be a top pick, if not the No. 1 pick, in the 2011 N.B.A. draft.

Tyler, who had orally committed to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville, has yet to sign with an agent or a professional team. His likely destination is Spain, though teams from other European leagues have shown interest. A spokesman for Louisville said the university could not comment about Tyler.

“Nowadays people look to college for more off-the-court stuff versus being in the gym and getting better,” Tyler said. “If you’re really focused on getting better, you go play pro somewhere. Pro guys will get you way better than playing against college guys.”

When Brandon Jennings left last year to play in Europe rather than college, he had already graduated from high school. Tyler’s move could be significant because elite players who haven’t graduated could follow his path. It’s hard to argue they shouldn’t. They can make money and hone their careers — two things they might not be able to do under your usual egotistical, semi-despotic, preening college coach. Let’s put it this way — if this kid were a talented violin player, and the Berlin Philharmonic wanted him, no one would worry whether he would lose anything missing senior calculus.

Sonny Vaccaro, a former sneaker company executive, orchestrated Jennings’s move and has guided Tyler and his family through the process.

“It’s significant because it shows the curiosity for the American player just refusing to accept what he’s told he has to do,” Vaccaro said. “We’re getting closer to the European reality of a professional at a young age. Basically, Jeremy Tyler is saying, ‘Why do I have to go to high school?’ ”

Vaccaro said he was unsure how much money Tyler would make, though it will most likely be less than the $1.2 million Jennings made in a combination of salary and endorsements this season. Vaccaro said Tyler would make a six-figure salary, noting that the economic crisis in Europe could hurt his earnings.

The Times story notes that two of his high-school coaches were fired for illegally recruiting three transfers to play with him. When they were ruled ineligible, he was left with no teammate taller than 6-foot-2, meaning Tyler was subject to triple-teaming and a lot of hacking. He wasn’t going to get any better playing high school, and probably not even playing AAU ball.

There are plenty of parents spending big money hoping their kid turns into a star. If you kid already is one — a real, legitimate star like Tyler — you would be doing your child a disservice if you didn’t explore every option, as he and his family are doing. Even if Sonny Vaccaro is involved.


Everything that’s wrong with sports

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My 6-year-old son’s bowling league ended last weekend. And everybody got a trophy.

If that makes you mad, just wait until you hear his T-ball team doesn’t keep score. Mark Durm does not approve.

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