Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for September 2009

Autistic football player's dream comes true

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You would think it’s a cliche, the story of a player with some disability who is put into a youth-level game and is allowed to do something spectacular, thus teaching everyone involved the meaning of sportsmanship.

But every time I see one, it really gets to me. I dare you read the story about Winfred Cooper and stop yourself from welling up.

From the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill. (hat tip: Hilary Shenfeld, the Suburbanista):

During a junior varsity football game between Elgin and Lake Park high schools, Elgin would sometimes put in a player who lined up far off the line of scrimmage.

Lake Park coach Nana Agyeman noticed this, and during halftime, he talked to Elgin’s head coach, Dave Bierman, about it. He learned the player, Winfred Cooper, has severe autism.

“Well,” Agyeman told Bierman, “if you want to throw him the ball, just let us know.”

Bierman was skeptical, questioning whether Cooper would catch the ball. But he and the coaches decided to give him a shot. After all, Cooper is a beloved member of the team, it’s his senior year and he rarely gets to play.

So the coaches from both teams concocted a play called “Driver Driver,” named after Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver. In the second half of the Sept. 12 contest, with Lake Park leading by a score of 6-0, Cooper was put in the game.

The Driver Driver play was called. The ball was snapped. Cooper ran to an open spot, and a wobbly pass was thrown his way.

The coaches cringed as their eyes followed the ball into the air. Cooper extended his arms … and caught it.

Elgin’s sideline erupted with cheers, and his teammates jumped up and down and screamed as Cooper raced full-sprint down the field. The fans, and even the Lake Park coaches, were cheering, too.

Cooper wove past a few Lake Park defenders, avoided a well-choreographed tackle attempt by Lake Park’s Mike Schenone, and went 67 yards into the end zone to tie the game 6-6.

All of Cooper’s teammates ran into the end zone after him, jumping up and down and slapping his helmet. The coaches choked back tears as they watched Cooper celebrate in the end zone with his teammates, doing his trademark dance, something called “The Winfred Shuffle.” Some players danced along with him.

The story goes on to say that Cooper got the game ball, which he sleeps with. He has watched the play dozens of times. He was the BMOC after the touchdown.

Cooper himself is an amazing story. According to the Herald, he was diagnosed with autism at age 2, but his father pushed eventually to have him in mainstream classes. With the only concession being extra time for tests, Cooper has a 3.6 grand-point average, runs track, works in the lunchroom, leads his football team in prayers and raises money for autism-related causes. He is a member of the National Honor Society. The touchdown was but a great feather in the cap of a wonderful high-school career.

Something like Cooper’s touchdown doesn’t happen without coaches who recognize that sometimes sports is about more than winning and losing, and are willing to do whatever it takes to impart that lesson to their players. From the Herald:

Given all the bad sportsmanship that’s made headlines recently, the coaches saw this as a teaching opportunity for the players. It taught them that winning doesn’t matter if you can provide someone with a moment like that.

“There was a greater victory that morning,” Lake Park head coach Andy Livingston said.

Lake Park did end up winning the game 13-6, and afterward, Livingston couldn’t hold back tears as he talked to his players. He shared the words Bierman said to him after the game: “Thank you. You made that young man’s career.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything cooler than this,” Livingston said. “Vince Lombardi would crack a smile, and probably a tear, at this.”

The lesson goes beyond just the team, judging by this comment on the Herald story.

Hello everyone,

My little Brother is Mike Schenone, the cornerback covering Cooper. When mike told me the story about what happened I personally did not think it was that big of a deal. It sounds allot like his personality. In fact, my family was giving him a hard time for missing the tackle, joking of course. However, after reading this article and seeing your comments from another point of view, I truly realized how blessed I am to be able to say “that is my brother”.

Excuse me, I think I have a little something in my eye.

Written by rkcookjr

September 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Passing on your love of sports without yelling "helpful advice" to your children

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3195132578_8f6c9a9414A site called GreatDad, which is better than the site AdequateDad and definitely better than SitsOnHisFatAssAndFartsDad, posits some advice on bonding with your children through sport in a safe environment — your living room, where you can all yell at the dumbshits on the field on screen instead of dad yelling at his kid and calling him a dumbshit on the field live and in person.

The post is called “Bonding with children through football, snacks and jerseys.” It’s got some good advice, although I will break down how it works in my house.

While every new season of the NFL can bring a variety of surprises, like this year’s non retirement of Brett Favre, there is one constant: it’s always a great opportunity for fathers to get close to their kids.

In American society, watching football games is already perceived as a group activity and when fathers introduce their favorite sport to their children, it can also be an effective bonding exercise.

Some good parenting advice to get children involved with football-watching on Sunday afternoons is to give them appropriate jerseys to wear during the game. Better yet, personalized family jerseys may solidify the event as a family gathering.

Here is the appropriate jersey to wear in my house on Sundays: anything but an Indianapolis Colts jersey. That’s because I’m a big Colts fan, and a stupidly superstitious one. If the Colts are playing, no one in my house, especially me, is allowed to wear a Colts jersey the day of the game. That means starting at midnight, so if I, my wife or any of my four children have any Colts gear on Saturday, it must be off by 11:59 p.m. If that does not happen, the Colts are sure to lose. (By the way, I have the same superstition for the Pacers.)

Of course, I have no factual basis for this. If I did, it would not be a superstition. But to paraphrase Crash Davis, if the Colts are winning because my family is not wearing their gear on game day, then they are. I’ll leave it to the 63,000 fans in Lucas Oil Stadium to wear their jerseys, because if you’ve been to a Colts home game with me, you know I’m the only one not wearing one.

Fathers should find time to explain the rules of the game, but not get too specific. Patience will be required on some confusing plays, so be sure to be ready to lower the volume for the explanation. Remember, this is about introducing kids to the game.

Not just lower the volume — pause the game while you explain the intricacies of the Wildcat. I did pause Monday night’s Colts-Dolphins game (which the Colts won, because no one in my house was wearing their licensed apparel) to show my 10-year-old daughter how to tackle, and all the illegal hits.

Getting them outside to play some football in the backyard may be one of the best ways for them to get a handle on the rules. This also gets kids some much-needed exercise.ADNFCR-1662-ID-19371367-ADNFCR

Especially if their 10-year-old sister wants to see what it’s like to spear, trip or horse-collar you.

Written by rkcookjr

September 23, 2009 at 12:26 am

Posted in parenting, Sports

Tagged with , , ,

Why Johnny can't stop playing sports

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I never get tired of this clip from the CBC series, “The Tournament,” which at 2:47 delivers the funniest, saddest truism about youth sports, ever.

Stephen Rodrick, in the latest New York, writes an excellent piece about a 13-year-old travel-league baseball player as a slice-of-life look into the travails of major-league pressure on minor-aged athletes. If you’ve had any familiarity with the professionalization of sport — well, professional except that the kids and their families are doing the paying, instead of being paid — at younger and younger ages, the story itself carries few surprises. But the story is great in that instead of a histrionic look at sports killing our children’s souls and bodies, Rodrick stays out of the way and follows what is going on with Karl “KB” Blum and everything surrounding him, and lets you reach that conclusion yourself.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to most readers is what KB’s baseball-obsessed, hard-charging, living-out-the-dream-he-never-had father does for a living — orthopedic surgeon. On top of that, KB’s mother is a radiologist. In other words, he is the child of people who have gone through the highest levels of education and presumably know its value, and how it’s a far more sure thing to be a professional than a professional athlete.

Yet the siren song of fame and fortune of being a pro athlete calls. KB’s father, haunted by his own promising baseball career cut off when his family moved in high school, is sparing no expense (the story doesn’t say whether that expense includes paying little attention to KB’s younger brother and sister) to bring KB to academies and teams all over the country to play. Even more puzzling, Karl Blum the senior doesn’t shut his son down when he complains his pitching arm is starting to hurt. You can imagine Karl being able to get extra-special bonding in a few years by doing Tommy John surgery on his son.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Karl. After all, he’s hardly the only parent of means who, due to a combination of his own hopes and dreams for his child, and his child’s ability and seeming love for the game, wanders headlong down the path of pro sports dreams. As the article shows, there are certainly plenty of people eager and willing to take the money of those on the way.

In KB’s case, Karl is quoted as saying baseball could be a back door to getting him into Princeton, as if the son of two professionals would have an unusual amount of trouble doing so.

Speaking of which, I also won’t be too hard on Karl because, in the sense of trying to figure out how to get his child into an Ivy League school, he’s part of another group of parents obsessed with an extremely difficult-to-obtain goal. As you can see here, in the New York Times’ 37th part in a 198,000-part series, “How Do I Get My Kid Into Harvard, And Is My Life And My Child’s Life Over If I Can’t?”

Written by rkcookjr

September 21, 2009 at 11:14 pm

In Great Britain, you're a pedophile unless you prove otherwise

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In America, if a school employee lures two little girls to their deaths, it’s Thursday. In Great Britain, it’s the reason to put in the world’s most exhaustive system of background checks for anyone who works with children, including in youth sports.

Starting Oct. 12, anybody paid to work with children (or “vulnerable adults”) in any controlled setting must pay 64 pounds and register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority, a recently developed government agency borne out of Parliamentary legislation enacted in the wake of the Soham murders. That was a 2002 case where a school employee lured two 10-year-old girls to his house and murdered them. A volunteer doesn’t have to pay, but does have to register.

The ISA will maintain a national database, called the Vetting and Barring Scheme, that can be accessed by anyone doing background checks on those working with youth. (The ISA excludes Scotland, which is introducing its own version of this and will interact with the British system.) It’s a one-stop data shop that is supposed to replace the patchwork of local authorities responsible for maintaining such lists, thus making it easier to determine if that coach is creepy as you think he is.

In fact, in the case of the killer, Ian Huntley, it was worse than that: according to a government report, one police agency had destroyed previous records on child abusers, the other involved in the investigation had previously failed to vet Huntley before giving him a stamp of approval, and turned out to have a few child predators on the force.

So with all of that, does an extensive national database sound reasonable? Or does that sound like the path that America took to determining every traveler a terrorist until proven otherwise?

Like how Americans started complaining about how hard it was to get on a stinking plane when the TSA started feeling up grannies, banning your toothpaste and putting everyone on a terrorist watch list (I’m on it! I learned that a few years ago when I tried to do an electronic check-in and wasn’t allowed), many Britons are screaming how about something for their own good is turning out to be so intrusive.

And why wouldn’t they? Taking out the population of Scotland and anyone younger than age 16, the expected 11.3 million names on the Vetting and Barring Scheme represents one out of every four adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How extensive is the list? You’re not on it for driving your own child back and forth to practice. But if you take other people’s children along on a formal, regular basis, you must register. If you don’t register, you can face a fine of up to 5,000 pounds.

Many are concerned volunteers won’t come out anymore because of the scheme. Soccer, er, football coaches find it onerous, too. Children’s book authors say they won’t read their books at schools anymore, because they’ll have to register if they do. One author, Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, the book that became “The Golden Compass” at the movies, told a newspaper the scheme was “corrosive to healthy social interaction” because it will encourage children to see everyone as a potential rapist or killer. “Why should I have to pay £64 to a government agency to give me a little certificate to say I’m not a paedophile?”

Sir Roger Singleton, the head of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, told the BBC that the upset over the law was legitimate, and that the rules are under review. But the ISA isn’t going away.

However, the existence of the ISA isn’t necessarily going to make anyone any safer. Ian Huntley was already on a predator list. The problem, as previously mentioned, was that police in one jurisdiction didn’t pass that information on to another in the course of a background check. Presumably, a national database will take care of this problem by taking these lists out of the hands of localities.

However, it’s still very possible for a child predator to fall through the cracks in the Vetting and Barring Scheme. After all, if anyone has not been convicted of a crime, they’re not going to be on the list. Being creepy isn’t a reason to get red-flagged.

Personally, I understand as a parent the need for background checks and steps to protect kids from predators, especially after the father of one of my daughter’s friends was busted on child-porn charges. (That was the hardest conversation ever as a parent, trying to ask your 6-year-old daughter if anything, um, strange ever happened at her friend’s house without getting graphic about what we were trying to find out.) But in the end, it’s almost impossible to stop a determined child predator, particularly one who has never been found guilty of a crime, to get through. Instead, rules like never have an adult alone with a single child and other means to prevent potentially dangerous interactions make much more sense.

Perhaps all the restrictions put in place after Sept. 11, 2001, have resulted in Americans being safer. But it didn’t take long for many to feel that taking off your shoes as you go through the metal detactors at the airport was more about the government trying to make us believe we were safe, rather than something that made us safe. Many in Great Britain are feeling the same way about the Vetting and Barring Scheme, and no one has yet had to send the first 64 pounds to be proven not-a-pedophile.

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An American teen, noting the Harry Potter author’s distaste for the VBS, says she will never teach her children, “J.K. Rowling is going to come in the night and touch them inappropriately.” Yeah, everyone’s a know-it-all before they become a parent.

More exciting bumper bowling live-tweeting!

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Just an alert that for some inexplicable reason, I am again live tweeting my 6-year-old son’s Saturday bowling action, already in progress at Learn about the Angry Bowling Face, the Fry Game and the funeral home across the street’s constant, mocking reminder of your mortality.

Written by rkcookjr

September 19, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Criminal athlete sentenced to no sports

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An Ohio judge, channeling your parents, punishes a criminal athlete not by grounding him, er, putting him in jail, but by taking away his favorite toy, er, activity. From

Applause turned to gasps in a Butler County courtroom Thursday as a judge announced an unusual punishment for a Middletown track and football star: Dwayne “Deejay” Hunter is forbidden from playing organized sports during his five-year probation for a felonious assault conviction.

“We’re going to see who Dwayne Hunter the person is, not who Dwayne Hunter the star athlete is,” declared Judge Andrew Nastoff, as he said Hunter still has a six-year prison sentence that would be imposed if he violates any conditions of his probation. …

Then he began outlining all the conditions of probation: no sports, not even intramurals; a $500 fine; 500 hours of community service, which can include his helping youngsters in Special Olympics, pee-wee football or other sports; plus 180 days in the Butler County Jail. With credit for time served, he will be released just before Thanksgiving.

Within 30 days of his release, Deejay Hunter must either obtain full-time employment or enroll in full-time schooling, Nastoff ordered, and also must attend counseling to address “personality and relationship issues” outlined in a mental-health evaluator’s report.

…Hunter, who pleaded guilty as charged in July, could have received up to eight years in prison for shooting a BB gun from a vehicle on a Middletown street in January, striking a 15-year-old boy in the face; one of the BB’s struck the victim’s eyelid.

In terms of giving athletes special treatment, Judge Nastoff, in the scheme of Ohio judges, is a whole lot better than the doofus who in 2006 let two high school football players start their sentence after the season was over after they were convicted of nearly killing somebody in a prank. But I still can’t decide whether Nastoff is brilliant or a pompous ass.

Hunter isn’t just some guy who likes sports. He’s a star football player and sprinter who had scholarship offers coming from big-time programs such as Tennessee.

He also isn’t just some guy who did one bad thing. He was arrested in May on charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend — the same one he beat up last year, a crime that got him a restraining order (filed by the girl’s family) and a conviction in juvenile court. In June he was arrested for the fifth time IN A YEAR on charges of violating that order when the girl’s family spotted her at his house.

The question is, will Hunter be better off without sports? Hunter, who is 19 and would have otherwise been playing college football if not for his troubles, has essentially been barred from pursuing a sports career. Is that right? After all, you don’t see judges telling young, promising, criminal plumbers that they have to put down the pipe wrench as a punishment. Perhaps there is a way of getting Hunter on the right path while letting him pursue what he loves (sports, not getting arrested).

On the other hand, I wonder if the judge, in the back of his mind, thought people were letting Hunter off the hook for too long because of his athletic prowess, and by taking away sports, figures that’s the only shot Hunter has to focus on his problems and turn his life around.

Will it work? It’s tough to say — Hunter still might end up in jail on the charges relating to the beating and the restraining order violation, a sentence that could make Nastoff’s creative sentencing moot. But Nastoff certainly sent a message: he might be giving special treatment to an athlete in his courtroom, but that special treatment is making sure he’s no longer an athlete, and can never get special treatment again.

Written by rkcookjr

September 18, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Miller passes to the boy and boom goes the dynamite: video highlights for youth sport

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Forget “Highlights for Kids.” Watch highlights of kids.

From The Associated Press:

…Little League International has a new deal with Youth Sports Live to offer its video service to all of its more than 7,500 chartered programs.

“What we’re hearing from our subscriber base is they get used to it to where it becomes the norm, not the exception,” said Youth Sports Live co-founder and CEO Greg Centracchio.

The company installs a camera behind the backstop at each field. Leagues don’t pay anything for the service; in fact, they can make money if enough people sign up. The revenues come entirely from people who pay for a subscription to view the games live or on demand over the Internet.

Centracchio believes enough parents who miss games, relatives who live far away and families who want to relive a child’s big hit will be willing to pay for the service. Subscriptions are $4.95 per day, $9.95 per week or $14.95 per month. DVDs of games can also be purchased.

Still not sold on the idea of professional recording of youth games? And paying for it? How about having ESPN’s Karl Ravech saying, “THAT’s a Web Gem nominee!” over a montage of your kid’s exploits? From a Sept. 16 news release:

…The myESPN Highlights products provide athletes and parents everywhere the opportunity to showcase their sports photos in an authentic “highlight reel,” complete with commentary by ESPN’s Karl Ravech. Both sales organizations have extensive experience providing unique programs and products to national and local sports leagues, as well as recreational and parks sports associations.

Tim Brown, former NFL star and 1987 Heisman Trophy winner, is a leading advocate for youth sports and a J&K Distributors affiliate. He remarked, “myESPN Highlights is not just another photo product. It is a key part of our program to help build the self-esteem of every player on every team. Athletes can now experience the thrill of their photos being featured in an authentic ESPN production, which is something they will treasure for the rest of their lives.”

Produced in collaboration with ESPN, myESPN Highlights offers the ultimate personalized photo products. These products transform personal digital photos into compelling authentic SportsCenter productions. The myESPN Highlights themed product line includes customizable DVD videos, photo books, sports posters and shareable MP4 files that can be shared on social network websites.

Goofus let his dad film his games. But Gallant had top-grade video with professional announcers as a record of every sporting event he played.

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Oh, Goofus. Will you never learn from your consistently superior peer?

Written by rkcookjr

September 18, 2009 at 12:42 am