Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for October 2009

Massachusetts, if you can't play nicely, we're taking the football and going home

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Given I’m about to, for the third time in 10 days, write about criminal activity surrounding football in Massachusetts, I’m calling for a ban on the game in the state, up to and including the New England Patriots.

2265020491_86b6f3ce15Anyone still remember Spygate?

The latest case involving the Massachusetts constabulary comes from the suburbs of Boston, where authorities Oct. 30 charged a 17-year-old Arlington Catholic linebacker with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly head-butting a rival from Abington after a play was over — and after the Abington player’s helmet had already popped off.

The linebacker in question, James LaShoto, was suspended from his team for two games after the Sept. 19 incident (the minimum under state athletic association rules for unsportsmanlike conduct, though no penalty flag was thrown during the game). The Boston Globe quotes his lawyer describing him as an honors student and captain of the team. The attorney called the hit “an unfortunate play” and that charges were a “misuse of the criminal process.”

The charges were pressed by the parents of the player who was the head-buttee — Daniel Curtin, 17, who suffered a deep cut to his forehead that had to be glued shut, and has been told he’ll have a scar there the rest of his life. “We’re hoping that by doing this, this doesn’t happen again to anybody,” Daniel’s mother, Paula, told the Globe.

There’s only one way this won’t happen to anyone again — a ban on football in Massachusetts. With this, the East Lynn Pop Warner team with homeless beaters on it, and the coach charged after popping a parent, maybe the game is more responsibility than the state can handle.

Plus, it’ll stop ridiculous TV reports like one turned in by Jorge Quiroga of WCVB in Boston. I don’t care how many awards he’s won — what made Quiroga think  it was a good idea to have a fake POV shot through a facemask of his helmetless, hairless head, followed by a blurred shot of the field? If he was trying to let viewers know what being head-butted was like for Daniel Curtin, why didn’t he go all the way and have the camera head-butt him?

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Written by rkcookjr

October 31, 2009 at 10:04 pm

How to fail at enforcing school athletic codes, and look supercreepy, too!

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Two Indiana high school girls got a painful lesson that whatever you post online can come back to bite you. A large amount of that pain came from what their high school put them through after declaring their Internet post violated school athletic rules, including an initial ruling they would be banned from all sports for one year. The school itself is now feeling some pain — the girls have fired back with a federal lawsuit that will end up drawing the line, as others have put it, between school space and MySpace.

The contretemps stem from two Churubusco High School girls posting naughty pictures of themselves on MySpace. The pictures were taken during a summer sleepover. According to the girls’ own lawsuit against the school:

“[T]he girls took pictures of themselves pretending to kiss or lick a large multi-colored novelty phallus-shaped lollipop that they had purchased as well as pictures of themselves in lingerie with dollar bills stuck in their clothes.”

Say this about the girls: when it comes to novelty phallus-shaped lollipops, they’re not racist.

The pictures were put on a MySpace page that presumably was open only to their chosen MySpace friends. But someone got his or her hands on the pictures and made the outside world aware of them. That outside world happened to be the school’s principal, who responded by suspending the girls from sports and all other extracurricular activites for one year.

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Geez, all that happened to the Popsicle Twins was that they allegedly didn’t make the West Coast feed of “The Gong Show.”

The school system justified the punishment based on Indiana High School Athletic Association Rule 8-1, a version of which also is included in the high school’s handbook:

Contestants’ conduct, in and out of school, shall be such as (1) not to reflect discredit upon their school or the Association, or (2) not to create a disruptive influence on the discipline, good order, moral or educational environment in the school. NOTE: It is recognized that principals, by the administrative authority vested in them by their school corporation, may exclude such contestants from representing their school.

“Our athletes travel to surrounding schools, our conference schools, and represent [Churubusco] High School and they represent the community,” Smith-Green Community School Corp. Superintendent Steve Darnell told Fort Wayne television station WANE. “We certainly want the best behavior to represent our school.”

Isn’t it cute how high schools still treat their athletes as if everyone else in the community looks up to them?

The school did have one deal to offer the girls, after their parents filed an appeal: go through three counseling sessions, apologize individually to the athletic board, and you only have to sit out 25 percent of the volleyball season. So they did. And that was that.

Until this: the American Civil Liberties Union, every conservative’s favorite punching bag pre-ACORN, in late October filed a lawsuit on behalf of the girls. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, accuses the school district and principal Austin Couch of violating the girls’ First Amendment rights. As Kenneth Falk, the legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, told WANE:

“Students, not in school, have a right to communicate and this is how people communicate today. We cannot start looking through those communications, which are clearly expressions… protected by the 1st Amendment. We can’t start policing them.”

I think we can all agree that it wasn’t the wisest thing for the girls to post those pictures. Social Media 101 is that no matter how private you think something is on the Internet, something can always leak out, especially if it’s particularly damaging. Though someday, when the current young generation is running things, they probably look askance at anyone who DIDN’T post salacious pictures of themselves online. (“Your resume looks great, but I’m sorry to say I could find no online pictures of you naked beer-bonging. That makes me think you’re not the kind of person who would fit in at our company.”)

But the school administration, as school administrations tend to do, completely overreacted. Let’s put it this way: if everyone who posted naughty pictures of themselves online was banned from athletic competition, Churubusco probably wouldn’t field any teams. Neither would their opponents. I could see the administration having authority if the pictures were taken at a school event, or under some circumstance when they were under school auspices. That’s why a school can suspend students who engage in novelty phallus-shape activity on the school bus, but not those who do so in their parents’ house.

It would seem, too, that the school might take into consideration that the girls made a good-faith effort to keep their photo private. In this case, it would be no different than if, pre-Internet, the girls had made prints to show their friends, except someone took one and handed it to the principal. It hasn’t been revealed who forwarded the girls’ photos to the principal. I’m sure they would love to know.

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Look for the Churubusco girls to appear in the next edition of the “Stop Snitchin'” DVD series.

And what makes this supercreepy, as alluded to in the headline? It’s that the photos of two pre-driving-age girls licking novelty phallus-shaped lollipops were pored over and judged upon — with an apology forced in front of — an all-male athletic board (all varsity coaches at Churusbusco serve on the board. And they’re all dudes). In just about any other circumstances, these guys would be in jail for spending so much time looking at pictures like that.

Youth sports as cultural linchpin: Why a Hoosier sent her toddler to basketball camp

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Organized sports starts so young these days, it’s amazing your child doesn’t emerge from the womb and fall straight into a pair of baseball spikes. Often, the assumption is that parents are starting their kids in sports so young because they believe the earlier they start their children, the better chance they have at going pro. Or, the better chance the parents have to network for the right playdates to get their kids headed toward Harvard.

Well, it’s not always the case that signing up your 3-year-old for organized sports is inherently a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s a way to impart culture, a way to show your child the important identifying markers of his or her ethnic group, even if his or her ethnic group, technically, in terms of categories listed on the U.S. Census form, does not exist.

For Amy Wimmer Schwarb, signing up her 3-year-old daughter Edie for basketball camp is as important a part of learning her Hoosier roots as heaping helpings of giant fried pork tenderloin sandwiches, the Indianapolis 500 and bitching about Daylight Saving Time. Schwarb wrote a great story for Indianapolis Monthly putting Edie’s fledgling basketball career in context the family’s decision to move back to her home state to Indiana from Florida so their girl could be raised in a good Hoosier way.

I, an Indiana native, am raising my kids only 15 miles from the Indiana state line. But that’s distant enough to make plain to me that no matter how much you try to impart the importance of basketball to your children, it’s just not the same as doing it in Indiana.

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Rev. Peyton and His Big Damn Band want to take us all back to Indiana for some fried biscuits with apple butter. Oh, how I miss it.

From the article:

In this town, at age 3, your opportunities are boundless. A 3-year-old can take the floor at Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy, the northside gym that produced 2008 Olympic medalist Bridget Sloan. Likewise, at the IU Natatorium at IUPUI [note: your humble blogger’s alma mater], 3-year-olds can take swim lessons, kicking and floating in water where Michael Phelps has set world records. At age 3, a child can seek instruction at the Pepsi Coliseum and learn to skate on the home rink of the league-champion Indiana Ice.

And then there is the Indiana Basketball Academy, where, beginning at age 3, children can sign up to learn dribbling, passing, and shooting—or, at least, what those words mean, and that you need to stay within the lines while doing them. The academy is owned by Tom Abernethy, a starting forward on the IU team of 1975–76— a stellar squad that, with Bob Knight at the helm, finished the season undefeated and won the national championship. At the academy, Abernethy himself—with assistance from other coaches on the staff—introduces the children to drills, tweaks their shooting form, and doles out candy at the end of practice.

Edie Schwarb’s parents do not, for the record, think she is a basketball prodigy. Her mother is five-foot-four; her father, five-foot-nine. She wears Stride Rites purchased on clearance at T.J. Maxx, and her “people” are not seeking any sort of shoe-endorsement deal. My daughter’s hoop dreams will, most likely, be short-lived. But she, like all other kids whose parents make them sign up for tee-ball or wear goofy outfits at dance recitals, is still malleable to the hopes and aspirations her parents have for her.

And this, truth be told, is what I have always wanted for my child: I want her to be a Hoosier.

Sure, everyone knows that Indiana loves basketball, like Texas loves football. But it’s hard to understand how much it’s really ingrained in the culture unless you’ve lived in the state, which I did from ages 12 to 24, a seminal time that has me calling myself a Hoosier no matter where I reside. Even as Peyton Manning — gasp, a football player, who’d have thunk it? — stands as Indiana’s athletic standard-bearer, and even as interest in going to high school basketball games isn’t what it was in the days depicted in the movie Hoosiers, basketball has a cultural grip on the state. It isn’t just something people do. It’s what they feel. That counts, too, for people who don’t like basketball — it’s so pervasive, you have to have feelings about it.

And it’s been that way since 1893, when Presbyterian Rev. Nicholas McKay returned to the Crawfordsville, Ind., YMCA from a trip to its facility in Springfield, Mass., with James Naismith’s just-invented game of basketball in tow, providing the perfect game for Hoosier small towns during the winter harvest break, and making Indiana the only state where basketball grew from the farm fields instead of the city streets, a rural connection that’s kept the game grounded even if its players increasingly are not.

From Amy Wimmer Schwarb:

Not far from where I grew up, near a northeast Indiana town called Mount Etna, is a basketball goal mounted on a backboard affixed to two old beams that rise out of a field. There’s no concrete pad beneath it, just a flat spot in the dust where a ball can find a good bounce.

I had never noticed it, despite its proximity to my hometown, until a photographer friend visiting from Florida snapped its picture as a sort of life-in-Indiana vignette. The hoop seems to grow organically from the Indiana soil; in fact, when corn is at full height, it disappears from sight. It is a reminder that—no matter how detrimental the advent of class basketball or how empty the gymnasiums on Friday nights or how distant the Milan Miracle—around here, still, basketball just is.

2598006053_bd201c0842In Indiana, it’s not a barn without a hoop on it or near it. Photo taken near LaPorte, Ind., by Don Kalkman (posted to Flickr).

So is young Edie Schwarb on her way to Hoosierdom? Given the copious amount of Indiana University and Colts gear in her collection, and her newfound ability to hit a jumper, it looks like she is. And someday, if she’s living out-of-state, she’s probably going to have the same urge to bring her kids back to Indiana so they can train in basketball in their training pants, and thus become properly imbued into the ways of being Hoosier.

Written by rkcookjr

October 29, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Child-molesting coaches and naked swimming: don't tell me about the good old days

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Practice just started for the fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team I’m coaching, and I’m fortunate enough to have as assistants two parents who have served as head and assistant coaches in the same league. I said they still needed to fill out the form so the Alsip (Ill.) Park District could check if they’re child molesters, and they nodded their heads. They know the drill.

If you’ve read my headline grabs lately, you might think: why do organizations bother to do this? There’s the gymnastics coach in Florida, the football coach in Washington and the softball coach in Oklahoma among a stream of arrests of youth sports authority figures arrested for sex crimes against the very children they are supposed to be training. It’s enough to make you wonder if, in America, we should be like Great Britain, making everyone pay to be on a Not A Sex Offender List in order to work with children. Heck, some of the vile search terms people use to get to this site makes you want to pour bleach on the Internet.

However, not that it necessarily will make you feel any better, your child is far, far, far, far, far, far, far safer on a sports team than he or should be with the past. That’s because even a cursory look at the local police files and an awareness that child perverts might want to be, you know, around children is well ahead of what like was like when, say, my 39-year-old self was playing first base in the North Muskegon, Mich., Little League in the early 1980s. At least now, an allegation can lead to arrest, and some of the weirder stuff that was pulled without anyone batting an eyelash is no longer looked at as normal.

Former NHL Stanley Cup hoister Theoron Fleury recently reminded us of this when he said in his recent book that he was a molestation victim of junior hockey coach Graham James, who has already served time regarding his conduct toward former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and other children he coached. And we got another reminder with the continuing saga of the late Philip Foglietta and the trail of destruction he left in a long career as football coach at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

On Oct. 26, seven alumni filed a lawsuit against the school, saying it knew that Foglietta abused “dozens, if not hundreds of boys” during his tenure from 1966-91, and condoned his behavior because he was a successful football coach and raised a substantial amount of money for the private school. A 2005 lawsuit filed by an alumnus was dismissed because the victim did not file it within five years of turning 18. By suing based on a conspiracy, there are no statute of limitations issues.

If you read the victim testimonials on the site of the White Tower Healing Foundation, dedicated to serving the children Foglietta abused — and I would recommend a strong stomach if you do — you can see the coach was the classic molester. He picked out kids from troubled homes, or who were in a precarious situation with the school, or had self-esteem issues, or all those. He started with little touches here and there before graduating to more rank abuse. He sent the message — even if he didn’t have to say it — that any child who accused him of doing wrong would never be believed.

In short, it’s the sort of conduct that has the Catholic church and its members in knots, the classic tale of how an authority figure abused his power and influence to abuse children, destroying young lives in the process.

Why aren’t I hedging and saying that Foglietta was an alleged molester, given he was never convicted of a crime? Because the school in 2002 sent a letter to alumni acknowledging that “a former faculty member/coach” had likely molested children at the school. Also, because Foglietta died the year before that letter was written. The evidence is overwhelming against Foglietta, and there’s also no libeling the dead, you know.

According to the White Tower Healing Foundation, the school got its first complaint against Foglietta in 1972 — so it took 30 years for Poly Prep to cop to what was going on.

But, hey, who in 1972 would believe something like that? Especially in a time when a lot of schools made their kids take swimming lessons in the nude?

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times for two days, Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, has mined columns about this weird, weird practice, well-known, at least in Chicago, to anyone over the age of 50. At some schools, the boys had to strip naked to swim up until the early 1980s. Sheesh, it’s traumatic enough for most boys to have to change in front of each in the lockerroom. Who the hell thought having every single boy naked for an hour in a cold pool was a great idea?

Brown explains why people thought that was a great idea:

[Chicago radio host Garry] Meier said he and his classmates were given the explanation that school officials didn’t want them clogging up the pool with sand from their bathing trunks. As someone who didn’t frequent the beach, Meier found that to be one of many explanations he’s heard through the years that don’t hold water.

At Thornton High School in south suburban Harvey, former athletic director Ed Fredette said it was just a matter of not wanting to deal with the logistics and expense of providing clean swimsuits to every boy.

“It was a total embarrassment. It really was for years,” Fredette said, meaning for all concerned, not just the swimmers. Fredette said he finally got the school to provide boys with swimsuits, which had been the practice all along for girls.

Still, he said he never heard a complaint at the time from students or parents.

“You think we could do that today? No way, Dick Tracy,” said Fredette, now 73 and living in Alabama.

So while there are still plenty of coaches who get in trouble for abusing children, it’s not nearly as bad and strange as it was in the good old days. I think I see you all nodding your heads. You know the drill.

Written by rkcookjr

October 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Pop Warner fight: Everett Crimson Tide vs. East Lynn Homeless Beaters

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Above is the latest viral youth sports outrage — an Oct. 25 fight between 11- and 12-year-old Pop Warner players representing Everett and East Lynn, Mass. Yes, it’s awful and unfortunate, although it wasn’t knock-down, drag-out to the point of police having to show up. (Those sirens you hear in the background make you wonder how quick the authorities are in Everett, Mass., except they’re going by on their way elsewhere.)

So while it was bad, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It appears to be kids getting chippy at the end of a title game that the Everett Pop Warner president, in a beautiful Boston accent, informed the local Fox affiliate was for “all the mahbles.” (The game was called with East Lynn winning, 25-0.)

However, in the Fox report, the report on the brawl took a bit of a jarring turn one minutes and four seconds in, when report Frank Mallicoat informs the audience of “what makes this fight even more alarming to parents.” Before the season, six 11- to 14-year-olds, “all of which are affiliated with the East Lynn Pop Warner football program,” were arrested on charges, including attempted murder, related to the beating of a homeless man in a Lynn park, a man allegedly targeted because of his Guatemalan ancestry. (Homeless beatings seem like kind of a Lynn thing. It was the third such assault in a month.)

As Mallicoat said, three of those players, after the July attack, practiced with their Pop Warner program with an additional piece of equipment — an ankle monitor. However, all were thrown out of the program before games started. Still, the implication remains: there are at least some people in the East Lynn Pop Warner program who don’t rule out hate crime-related attempted murder as a standard for its players. I don’t know about East Lynn, but I believe it meets the standards of most leagues: if the check clears, they’re in.

Written by rkcookjr

October 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Muscle Shoals: Full of athletes, not musicians, seeking fame

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pronounced ‘leh-‘nin-‘grad ‘cow-‘boys.

Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, although the singles coming out of there these days have a lot more to do with Wilson Sporting Goods than Wilson Pickett.

From the Natchez, Miss., Democrat:

Muscle Shoals has turned into a youth sports Mecca thanks to an aggressive mayor, city council and parks and recreation department and quality recreation facilities built in the past 12 years. …

And one of the reasons the city is able to put so much money into recreation and offer so many different programs is the amount of money they bring in from hosting tournaments at their main facility, the Muscle Shoals Sportsplex.

The Sportsplex is four 300-foot baseball fields in a wheel shape with a press box in the middle. In addition to baseball games played there in the summer, the fields are also used for flag football and soccer games during the fall and winter.

The Sportsplex was built in 1997 at a cost of $1.4 million using a half-cent sales tax the city uses for what they call capital projects. … [The] tax wasn’t originally for building recreation facilities, but for storm drainage projects.

They’re not swimming in open sewage in Muscle Shoals — it turned out the city of 12,000 had extra money after repairing its drains.

[T]he Sportsplex will usually host 10-15 tournaments per year, with two of them usually being large tournaments.

This year, Muscle Shoals hosted the Dixie Youth State Tournament as well as the Super NIT for the USSSA travel team league, which featured 120 teams in town over a weekend. The city will be hosting that particular tournament for the next five years.

One reason the city has been so successful hosting multiple tournaments is because of the aggressive way they bid on them as well as the fine facilities.

[T]he city estimated this year’s Dixie Youth State Tournament brought in between $2 and $3 million into the city.

And this, folks, is why cities of all sizes nationwide — even as poorer families are choking on school athletic cuts and pay-to-play for activities — are falling all over themselves to try to build new, spectacular youth sports facilities. It’s a way for small cities that can’t build a stadium to attract an NFL team to get a share of the sports booty out there for the taking. Natchez cares about Muscle Shoals — lusts after what it has — because voters in the city and surrounding county on Nov. 3 will vote in a nonbinding referendum whether it should build its own tax-supported field of economic dreams.

At least with youth sports facilities, unlike a 75,000-seat stadium, if you don’t attract high-level competition, at least the locals can use them, thus somewhat justifying their expense. Still, you can’t help but think that in a few years there are going to be stories about municipalities choking on the expenses.

If you want a preview of how that works, look at a lot of the big high school gyms built in Indiana when it was in its industrial glory, and when people cared enough about high school basketball to fill a 6,000- to 9,000-seat gym night after night. Now, even the residents of Anderson, Ind. — as a decimated former GM company town, it often has been Flint without Michael Moore — question why the school district continues to support the 9,000-seat Wigwam when it could have used the money to not close schools.

In Muscle Shoals, woe be to the city council if the youth tournaments stop coming, and the city ever floods.

Written by rkcookjr

October 25, 2009 at 4:26 pm

A football soap opera at the School Jack Nicklaus Built

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WEB-SUPPORT-GalaNickThe Benjamin School is the craziest thing to happen to Florida high school football since the state athletic association tried to declare it a coed sport to defend a Title IX lawsuit.

The tony, private high school (excuse me, UPPER school) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has an annual sticker price is $21,625. The Upper School exists mainly because impediment-to-Tiger-Woods-as-greatest-golfer-of-all-time Jack Nicklaus and wife Barbara (right) supplied it with large-scale fundraising and grandkids as students. And yet, it is providing the kind of lower-class, off-the-field excitement once the domain of another presumably tony private school, the University of Miami.

Here is a timeline of recent events for the football team at Benjamin:

Sept. 30: Head coach Ron Ream, in his 30th season, apparently “put his hands” on a player in practice. Ream later says he grabbed the player’s jersey with both hands and pulled him upright while trying to discipline him.

Oct. 9: During a game against King’s Academy, the player who Ream grabbed in practice is taken out of the game in the third quarter. According to police report (that’s foreshadowing), when volunteer assistant coach Tom Flynn, a former teammate of Joe Montana at Notre Dame, tried to grab the player’s jersey to get his attention, the player popped him in the face, breaking Flynn’s nose. Flynn resigns, the player is suspended.

Oct. 15: The school sends an email to staff saying that Ream has resigned as football coach, though he would stay on as athletic director. The school gives no reason for Ream’s sudden resignation, though sources start telling local media outlets it might be related to the previous weeks’ scuffles. Immediately, outraged alumni and supporters start an effort to get Ream his job back. Among the stunned players: freshman wide receiver Charlie Nicklaus, one of Jack’s 21 grandchildren.

Oct. 16: Under new coach, former assistant Ryan Smith, Benjamin beats Pope John Paul II 58-23.

Oct. 19: Smith is back to being an assistant. The Benjamin board reinstates Ream as head coach. As with his resignation, it gave no reason.

Oct. 21: The player who Ream grabbed, and who popped Flynn in the schnozz, is arrested. Sam Faria, a 5-foot-9, 155-pounder running back/cornerback, is arrested on aggravated battery charges. When police asked Faria why they arrested him, he said, “for assaulting my coach.” It is confirmed by local media that Ream lost his job because of his earlier incident with Faria.

Oct. 22: Faria is bailed out of jail — by Ream. Did even the Miami coaches bail out their own players? Ream told local media why he did it: “People make mistakes, and we all are human.” Faria is still suspended from the football team, though not from school.

Oct. 23: Ream is back on the field for Benjamin’s homecoming game.

What the hell is going on here?

The allegations are that Faria’s mother demanded Ream’s resignation or else she would sue (a charge Faria’s grandmother denied on her behalf), and that Ream was reinstated because powerful alumni intervened (something that has not been confirmed). Basically, that in a tony private school with a big price-tag, the board was doing what it was supposed to do — sniffing in the direction of the most money.

That still doesn’t explain Ream, and why he would bail out Faria. Maybe he just likes the guy. Maybe this is some sort of behind-the-scenes pressure so everyone gets to save face, and Benjamin is all one happy family. Who knows? All I know is, it’s something you, um, don’t see every day.

By the way, the school’s most powerful backer, Nicklaus, hasn’t said anything related to the Ream-Flynn-Faria controversy. Then again, he has his own troubles with Benjamin. Namely, that another of his grandsons is going to be called to testify in the criminal trial of a former student who partied with him and other students on Nicklaus’ boat, and then, driving drunk, crashed and killed another driver.

Written by rkcookjr

October 23, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Youth sports needs its own economic stimulus package

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When President Obama put together his stimulus package earlier this year, any money that went to schools came with one caveat — that it not be used for anything that is primarily used for sports. Perhaps it’s time to rethink that position.

Up2Us, a coalition of school- and community-based youth sports, released a report on Oct. 21 that noted last year sports programs were cut collectively by $2 billion nationwide. It met in Washington during that time to discuss the implications of these cuts, and how to get Washington and other lawmakers to pay attention to what havoc they might wreak. “The ‘ripple effect’ of these budget cuts will extend far beyond the playing fields, and represents a loss for children and youth physically, emotionally, and academically,” said Paul Caccamo, executive director of Up2Us, in a written statement. “Sports participation isn’t just about improving your serve or throwing a touchdown pass, but about instilling lifelong, positive character traits like strength, commitment, and dedication.”

It would seem like losing sports seems like a small price to pay if academic programs are otherwise saved. And as far as the $2 billion in cuts, the organization doesn’t note its overall starting base, nor how the cuts compare to paring of academic programs. Certainly, Up2Us, given its membership, has a vested interest in spreading the word that things are dire. And, hey, if things are so bad, why are so many communities still making grand plans for youth sports complexes?

The problem is this: while there are plenty of parents still willing to fork out whatever is necessary to make sure Tad and Muffy get a place on the travel for that elusive college scholarship, there are also plenty of children whose access to youth sports is economically limited to school or community programs. If those get cut, more at-risk children are suddenly left with nothing but time on their hands. We’re going to go back to the 19th century, when participation in sports had more to do with your upper-crust standing than your athletic talent or desire.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune in March did a good series that looked at falling sports participation rates and looked at a lack of opportunity in many schools — both for intramural and varsity sports — as a big factor. Public schools under budget strains are being forced to consider either making major cuts in sports or levying pay-to-play fees on athletes, both of which have the effect of weeding out potential athletes who are stuck in a sports-less district or whose families can’t come up with the money for sports.

I’m a big believer in youth sports. Maybe not that they’re the sole way to prevent obesity and turn delinquents into contributing members of society, but I think they do have a purpose beyond concussion distribution. Still, I would be hard-pressed to tell a school district it should cut teachers in favor of new artificial turf, or that federal stimulus money should pay to gas up the basketball team’s bus for an out-of-state tournament.

Instead, I think there’s a strong case to be made for some sort of stimulus for community sports programs and intramurals. Yes, I coach in a community sports league, so maybe I have a bias. But if the goal is to save sports and get as many children involved as possible, it’s not varsity athletics that needs our attention. Why not, for example, give grants to communities so they can reduce the price of children’s athletic programs, or so they can expand their offerings? What about a tax break for eligible youth sports expenses? (By that I mean sign-up fees and equipment for publicly run programs, not writing off the thousands you spent on your daughter’s personal softball pitching coach.)

And why not make funding available to schools, from kindergarten upward, to finance and develop intramural programs? Hey, I have a bias there, too. My two oldest children transferred from a Catholic school with organized sports to a public elementary school that didn’t have them — but had intramurals. They love them. Everybody who shows up gets to play, and it’s more about the activity then investing your time and energy in some future pro dream. Plus, the only time parents are there is after it’s over, to pick up their kids. I only wish my oldest son’s junior high had intramurals, because if you get cut from a school team, you have no other athletic options. Plus, with intramurals, you don’t have to pay to gas up the team bus.

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Dan Hawkins, I’m right there with you, brother.

Written by rkcookjr

October 22, 2009 at 1:36 am

An angry football mom's sign of trouble

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There is a pattern to how little misunderstandings involving youth sports turn into the raging contretemps that end up in blogs such as this.

First a child and parent are blithely going along in the course of a season. Then a team representative announces, clumsily, a sudden change in the arrangement that should have been handled earlier. Then the parent and/or child goes batshit crazy whether or not the team digs in its heels. And then smart-alecks like me write it up.

That’s the pattern playing out in Berlin Heights, Ohio. Eighth-grader Keegan O’Brien started football place at Berlin-Milan Middle School. The school comes back and says, oh by the way, Keegan shouldn’t be on the team because his poor seventh-grade marks made him ineligible. His mother, Amy Ortner, responds by demanding a refund from the school for the $70 she spent on a physical and football shoes, which she said was a lot for someone out of work such as herself. Then, in the coup de crazy, she put a marquee in her front yard that reads “Berlin Football– Shame Shame– We Dont Play Those Kind of Games.” (I presume the letters she got for the sign didn’t come with apostrophes.)

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Joe South feels you, Amy.

According to the Sandusky Register, this sign has been up for about a month, and it doesn’t appear to be coming down any time soon — not with a school levy vote coming up in November.

For about a month, a marquee in Amy Ortner’s front yard has displayed messages critical of the football program. It has drawn the attention of people traveling this busy stretch of highway and an offer of money to take it down, which Ortner characterized as a bribe.

Mark Suhanic, who made the offer, said he was just trying to give Ortner what she wanted and acting not as a school board member but on behalf of a friend. [The friend is the operator of a nearby orchard who thought her sign was bad for his business.]

“I just wanted it to go away. I guess you could look at it as a bribe, paying her off, but she was very adamant that she wanted the money,” Suhanic said. “She wanted the money, and there was a guy willing to pay the money.”

She didn’t take the money.

…Ortner said Suhanic told her he was concerned her sign — which she borrowed from a friend — made the schools look bad in advance of a levy vote next month.

“I’m mad that the only reason they’re worried is because of the levy,” she said. “They’re not worried about the justice of taking a kid off of a team after he’s been part of it for two months.”

Suhanic said rules are rules, and the levy isn’t the only reason he wanted the sign taken down.

“Any bad publicity isn’t good any time. It happens we do have a levy going on,” he said, “but most people don’t understand what this has been about, and she hasn’t been forthcoming in explaining to people.”

It appears the school screwed up in two ways. The first was not following Ohio High School Athletic Association rules about informing players and parents about the ineligibility rules. According to the OHSAA guidelines:

3-1-4 Within two weeks of the beginning of each sports season, the principal, through his/her athletic
administrator, coaches and such other personnel as deemed advisable by said principal,
shall conduct a mandatory, preseason program with all student-athletes who wish to
participate in the upcoming sports seasons, their parents and booster club officers. The
meeting shall consist of (a) a review of the student-eligibility bulletin and key essential eligibility
requirements; (b) a review of the school’s Athletic Code of Conduct; and (c) a
sportsmanship, ethics and integrity component.

The second mistake was the administration’s, ham-handed handling once it realized it had made an oopsie. Maybe the school could have refunded the money. Or it could have come up with a way to let Keegan play while not sacrificing the school’s academic integrity. For example, it could have set up an arrangement that might have given Keegan a clean slate for this year, but giving strict guidelines about the minimum grade-point average he would need to keep his place on the team.

Of course, with the month-long sign tirade she has under way, Amy Ortner doesn’t sound like the most reasonable parent in the world to deal with. Yes, she did get wronged by the school. But you can’t help but think if she put this much effort toward in school in figuring out how to raise her son’s grades, he might be far better off. And whether he would be allowed to play football wouldn’t even be an issue.

But then I wouldn’t have anything to write about, would I?

Written by rkcookjr

October 22, 2009 at 12:43 am

Youth football coach enforces team rules by punching player's father in the face

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As a youth sports coach myself, I can certainly relate to the Pop Warner coach in Wilmington, Mass., who was frustrated that a parent dropped off his child 10 minutes late to practice. It’s highly disruptive, because your limited practice time goes out of whack when everyone isn’t there on time.

However, I’ve never slugged anybody over it. But maybe that’s because I’m slender.

From the Boston Herald:

A Wilmington Pop Warner football coach has been charged with viciously beating the parent of one of his players after being called a “fat bastard” for making a kid run a lap.

William D. Reynolds, 43, was charged with aggravated assault and battery in Friday’s attack on Michael VonKahle, 48, according to a complaint filed by Wilmington police [Monday] at Woburn District Court.

VonKahle suffered broken bones in his face, according to police. Reynolds, who could not be reached for comment, will be arraigned Nov. 17.

VonKahle told police he joked to Reynolds, “If anybody needs to run laps it should be you, you fat bastard,” according to a report.

Ten minutes later, Reynolds asked if they could talk, then led VonKahle to some nearby woods, where he repeatedly punched a stunned VonKahle in the face, police report.

Reynolds told cops VonKahle “had fighting on his mind” and threw the first punch.


Maybe the dad meant to say, “If anybody needs something to make gums flap, it’s this, Fat Bastard.”

The league has suspended Reynolds pending the police investigation. More on that, and a picture of VonKahle’s face (he suffered eye socket and facial injuries, including broken bones and missing teeth), are in this Boston Globe article, which concludes thusly: “In a telephone interview yesterday, local Pop Warner board member and the board’s football director, Mark Ferreira, said: ‘Any youth program is supposed to set examples, but there were no examples set by anyone out there.’ ”

Sure there were. The other parents learned the consequences of bringing your kid to practice late, and calling the coach a name. Next time someone does that with me, I’m going to pull the father aside and… and… well, probably get myself beat up. I’m slender.

Written by rkcookjr

October 20, 2009 at 2:07 pm