Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for April 17th, 2009

One of the good ones is taken

leave a comment »

Contrary to public belief, or the feeling you might get reading this blog, not every coach is a nutjob or is under siege from parents. Hugo Bustamante was one of the good ones. Unfortunately, outside his immediate circle, no one knew that until tragedy struck.

Bustamante, 46, and a co-worker died Thursday when they were shot to death by a fellow co-worker at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital pharmacy in California. The attacker then shot and killed himself. Police don’t know his motive, and they think they might never know.

Bustamante was married with a young daughter and son. According to this story from the Orange County Register, Bustamente helped out with his daughter’s softball team but spent most of his coaching time with soccer. He was, to say the least, not a yeller. From the Register:

When he was volunteered to help coach his daughter’s AYSO soccer team, the Cypress Cyclones, the former college soccer player smiled and helped coach them to compete in a Southern California championship game.

At the start of the season, Bustamante’s gentle demeanor had some parents wondering whether he could push the kids hard enough, but he made believers of them, team mom Melissa Tan-Torres said.

“He had that soft, gentle voice, but he could get the kids to do what he wanted,” Tan-Torres said.



“He was exactly everything right about youth sports. He never pushed them,” said Glenn Morikawa, whose daughter played on the Cyclones.

Being right about youth sports also gained Bustamante a measure of fame in the Los Angeles area.

When Bustamante’s U-10-year-old girls qualified for the state finals by default because the team that beat them could not afford the trip, the Cyclones tried to raise the money for their opponents so they could play in the championship game instead of going themselves.

The team only ended up raising $300, but one of the fundraising e-mails was sent to KIIS-FM D.J. Ryan Seacrest, who paid for a charter bus and hotel rooms for the Huntington Park team and gave the kids spending money for the trip, Tan-Torres said.

On the way back, the girls from the Huntington Park and Cypress teams got to be special guests of the Los Angeles Sol and go out on the field at halftime of one of their games.

The team was to be honored at Saturday’s Los Angeles Dodgers game, but decided to cancel after Bustamante’s death.

RIP, coach. And let’s remember there are more of him out there than you’d think.

Advertisements

The Ballad of Todd Marinovich

with 2 comments

Exhibit A in the Modern Age of Crazy Sports Parenting is usually the oddball relationship between Marv Marinovich and his son, Todd. As the story famously goes, when the ex-Oakland Raider and personal trainer found out he was going to have a baby boy, he started in the womb the training and feeding of young Todd, using the Eastern Bloc training methods he studied. After his birth July 4, 1969 (while your humble blogger was still in the womb, not being fed a diet of carob), everything in Todd’s life was trained to make him what was later called “robo-QB.”

373691911_30e0117897Just as famously, Todd made his way to USC and a first-round pick of the Raiders, but flamed out quickly because of drug addiction and other personal problems, cementing Marv as a unanimous choice for one of the worst sports parents of all-time. (Further cementing Marv’s status is that with his second wife he had another son, Mikhail, whom he tried to develop, with a few variations, into a robo-linebacker. Mikhail is a reserve at Syracuse, where he’s made his fame opening a hookah bar and getting arrested. Oh, and Mikhail is an aspiring model, too.)

The assumption is that Todd’s downfall was some sort of passive-aggressive rebellion against his father trying to make him into a quarterback machine, a less destructive (at least to Marv) way than say, the monster killing Dr. Frankenstein, to show his displeasure with his creator.

After reading Mike Sager’s piece in the latest Esquire on Todd Marinovich, I’m rethinking a few of my own assumptions — although his story still stands as the unintended consequences of crazy sports parenthood, or crazy parenthood in general. It’s a reminder as a parent that whatever ambitions you have for your child, however you try to steer them, no matter how overbearing and focused you are, and no matter if you indeed are doing what is best for your child, that child is a human being who can — and perhaps should — veer off your course at any moment.

Actually, I wish this story were more about Marv, because Todd himself is just another boring junkie. He was clean as the story was reported, but the story notes a February relapse into addiction, while Todd handles with much more maturity than he had in the past — he calls his parole officer to report his violation.

What has me rethinking some of my assumptions is that for all of Marv’s effort in making sure Todd ate and trained right, he appeared to make no attempt to shield his son from the party-hearty lifestyle a star athlete can get away with.

From the story, picking up after Marinovich, as a freshman, opens the season as the varsity’s starting quarterback:

After the final gun, Todd stood with his parents. His new teammates drifted over and surrounded him. “When I was growing up, the term my mom used was ‘terrifyingly shy,’ ” Todd says. “That’s why I always loved being on a team. It was the only way I could make friends. It was really amazing to have these guys, these upperclassmen, come over. And they’re like, ‘Hey, Todd, let’s go! Come out with us after the game. It’s party time!’ “

Todd looked at Marv. The old man didn’t hesitate. “He just gave me the nod, you know, like, ‘Go ahead, you earned it.’

“We went directly to a kegger and started pounding down beers,” Todd recalls.

For what it’s worth, the story notes that it was Todd’s goal to start as a freshman. Was he just under Marv’s thrall? Maybe, maybe not. But you can’t always assume with a perceived crazy sports parents that the kid is being dragged along for the ride.

Later in high school, Marinovich’s parents divorced — and the leash loosened.

Then the January 1988 issue of California magazine hit the stands with Todd’s picture on the cover. The headline: ROBO QB: THE MAKING OF A PERFECT ATHLETE. A media onslaught ensued. They called Todd the bionic quarterback, a test-tube athlete, the boy in the bubble. All over the world, people were talking about Todd’s amazing story. In truth, he was leading a double life.

“I really looked forward to giving it all I had at the game on Friday night and then continuing through the weekend with the partying. It opened up a new social scene for me — liquid courage. I wasn’t scared of people anymore,” Todd says.

At Mater Dei, Todd had also begun smoking marijuana. By the time his junior year rolled around, he says, “I was a full-on loady.” His parents had divorced just before his transfer, and he was sharing a one-bedroom apartment with Marv near Capistrano. “Probably the best part of my childhood was me and Marv’s relationship my junior and senior years,” Todd says. “After the divorce, he really loosened up. It was a bachelor pad. We were both dating.”

For all his personal troubles, one thing Todd does nowhere in the article is blame Marv. Below a photo of the two men, Todd looking more like bald Ron Howard than the flowing red-haired god of his youth, Sager concludes the piece:

From the driver’s seat, sensing his good mood, I ask: “How much effect do you think that Marv and sports and all contributed to you turning to drugs?” I’d been saving this line of questioning since our first interview, six months earlier. “If you look at your life, it’s interesting. It appears that to get out of playing, you sort of partied away your eligibility. It’s like you’re too old to play now, so you don’t have to do drugs anymore. Has the burden been lifted?”

Todd looks out the windshield down the road. The truck bounces. Thirty full seconds pass.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” Todd says at last. “I really have very few answers.”

“That’s kind of what it seems like. A little.”

Twenty seconds.

“No thoughts?”

“I think, more than anything, it’s genetic. I got that gene from the Fertigs — my uncle, the Chief. They were huge drinkers. And then the environment plays a part in it, for sure.”

He lights another Marlboro Red, sucks down the first sweet hit. He rides in silence the rest of the way home.

Despite having a fiancee with a baby on the way, and how he handled his February relapse, and the faraway end to his athletic career, Todd appears to have a hard time breaking his addictions. After the Esquire piece was written, Todd was arrested for missing a Drug Court hearing and will sit in jail at least through May 4, when he has a hearing on his case. There is a good chance Marinovich will spend his 40th birthday in prison.

“Let’s win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here”

leave a comment »

2905358106_4967baa9cb1

If you’re tearing up a little reading that headline, then you must be as big a fan of “Hoosiers” as I am. It’s not only the quintessential sports movie, but it’s also the quintessential youth sports movie, a look at how adults project their own hope and aspirations into their high school basketball team — and vice versa, as it turns out. Every inherent contradiction about youth sports glory is in this exchange, as Jimmy Chitwood’s guardian argues with Coach Norman Dale against Jimmy playing basketball:

Myra Fleener: You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god, er, uh, how can he ever find out what he can really do? I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.

Coach Dale: You know, most people would kill… to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.

Part of the appeal of Hoosiers was its cast of basketball players. Except for David Niedorf, a professional actor, every one was a real life Hoosier, found through auditions. Interestingly enough, Maris Valainis, who played Jimmy Chitwood, was the only one who didn’t play high school basketball. But whatever happened to this guys?

I can tell you what happened as of 2004, when I wrote a story for Flak Magazine in which I caught up with as much of the cast as I could. I still get emails from people about the story, including one that popped up last night. I was inspired to write it after the suicide of Kent Poole, who played Merle Webb, the player who delivered the oft-quoted line that became the headline. It’s a where-are-they-now mixed with my own thoughts on the myths and realities of basketball in the state in which I grew up, and how those are reflected in the movie itself and the lives of the people who were in it.

I’ll link to the story here. Thanks for reading.