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Archive for February 2010

Findlay Prep, a fake high school basketball team, is now more fake than ever

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Las Vegas’ Findlay College Prep, in its four seasons of existence, has been a faux high school basketball team, what with no actual high school called Findlay College Prep. But with the imminent closing of the high school the players actually attend, Findlay Prep is getting a little faker.

The Henderson International School, where Findlay Prep players matriculate when they’re not jetting around the country to play other schools also burning to be faux national champion, said Feb. 26 it is shutting down its high school division after the 2009-10 school year ends, citing financial difficulties. Basically, other than players being bankrolled by auto dealership magnate Cliff Findlay, a former UNLV center and longtime Rebels booster, few in the extremely lousy economy of Las Vegas could afford an annual tuition that ran to near $41,000, including room and board.

High school losses running more than $1 million a year wouldn’t do for the school, owned by Meritas LLC, a company backed by private equity firm Sterling Partners, meaning that eventually this school was supposed to be part of a publicly traded, profit-making machine.

The mercenary roots of Henderson International were a good fit for Findlay College Prep, whose college preparation focused on getting players ready for college basketball. True, its “students” reportedly have acquitted themselves decently in the actual classroom, but the program’s success is measured by its national prominence and the players it put on college rosters. Its website has a Hall of Fame — anyone who joined a major college program. (New Hampshire, being Division I, counts.)

Findlay Prep, which imports all its players from outside Nevada, is the most obvious manifestation of how professionalized high school basketball has become, in large part as a response to competition from AAU ball and other elite leagues. ESPN, for one, is a willing participant in blowing up the stature of the most craven high school programs, putting together its ESPN RISE Tournament of Champions high school “national championship,” which of course includes Findlay Prep.

(As an aside, one invitee to that tournament, St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J., is in litigation with authority that runs New Jersey high school athletics, which will not release the school to play. The NJSIAA also has banned St. Patrick from its New Jersey state championship tournament. It appears to be a power struggle between the putative authority on athletics in the state, and a school that, like Findlay, gets players far from its local area and plays a national schedule. Findlay Prep solves this problem by not being a member of its state high school athletic association.)

If it weren’t for college programs requiring some minimum academic achievements, Findlay Prep could say, screw it, and just field its all-star team. However, it will have to find some other private school to glom onto to keep itself alive. Is there another one in Las Vegas? In Nevada? Who cares where it is? As long as it isn’t in a state with a lot of basketball talent, so Findlay Prep doesn’t have to freeze those players out so as not to run afoul of any basketball authorities.

Is there a private school in Idaho that has some room?

Youth soccer's banned list

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While reading this story out of Arizona about two girls’ soccer coaches’ illegal use of hands, I found out about something I hadn’t realized existed. It’s U.S. Youth Soccer’s Disciplinary and Risk Action Report. That’s an official way of referring to the organization’s equivalent to — well, I’d say your local sex offender registry, except I don’t believe that everyone on youth soccer’s banned list committed a sex offense.

The list is not exactly clear in stating why someone is on it, but you must have done something pretty bad in someone’s eyes to make it there. The list is comprised of state-level associations’ reports of anyone suspended or otherwise facing a punishment that is three months or greater, whether it be a player, coach, administrator, referee, or whether you’re banned from being any of those. There also is a category called “adult,” which would presumably keep you from merely attending a game.

The list is updated monthly, with the latest additions bolded. Just in case you’re doing a little background checking.

Written by rkcookjr

February 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm

California softball star's suicide stuns her community

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Whenever I see stories of high-achieving people inexplicably killing themselves, I think of two people: Richard Cory, and Kathy Ormsby.

From the Orange County Register:

Nadia Brianne Matthews [known as “Bri”] had a glowing future.

The sophomore star softball pitcher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana had verbally committed to play for the University of Arizona, and had a sense of confidence, grace and warmth that went beyond her 16 years, friends say.

Her suicide Thursday at her Anaheim home has shocked and devastated relatives, friends and teachers and coaches who saw in her amazing talent and promise – a nice girl who could put a smile on anyone’s face. …

The coroner Friday afternoon ruled the manner of death suicide, “by ligature hanging.” …

[Nadia] Martinez said her daughter had a 4.0 GPA and had dreams of becoming a neonatologist.

One of the most awful things about suicide is it often comes with no warning. Bri’s family will probably never be able to answer the question, why?

The reason I think of Richard Cory is because he is the title character of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem about a beautiful, tragic figure. I remember reading this poem in grade school, and it hit me pretty hard and has always stuck with me, maybe it’s because it’s the first work that opened my eyes to the idea that you never quite knew what was going on inside the heads and hearts of those who seemed to be well. The last line, which comes out of nowhere, symbolizes the shock anyone feels when a loved one commits suicide — even for me, when I had a friend kill himself at 15, a friend who gave ample warning (what I considered ample — others did not ) of what he was going to do.

The poem, in its entirety:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

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You might recall Simon & Garfunkel’s rewrite of Richard Cory.

The reason I think of Kathy Ormsby because I was in attendance at the 1986 NCAA track and field championships in Indianapolis — the event where the North Carolina State 10,000-meter runner split from the track mid-race to jump off a bridge over the nearby White River in an attempt to kill herself.

Instead, she was left paralyzed from just above the waist down. A lot of coverage at the time focused on how Ormsby, a high school valedictorian and premed student, was extremely driven and put a ton of pressure on herself to succeed, with the implication that might somehow have been behind her suicide attempt. From the New York Times, circa 1986:

Mitch Shoffner, the head of the social studies department at the high school, taught her world history and coached her in volleyball in the 10th grade.

”I know that she’s always driven herself very, very hard,” he said. ”She’s not the type of person who can accept second best for herself. If there’s any pressure, Kathy was putting it on herself. She’s always been very much of a perfectionist.”

Later, Ormsby did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself.

”One time, I got on the volleyball team for not practicing hard enough, and she broke down and cried. Most of the girls just got mad. She was very, very serious about everything she did.”

Later, Ormsby indeed did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself, and in later interviews said she had a panic attack and never intended to kill herself. (Ormsby is now an occupational therapist in Wilmington, N.C. — I believe her photo is the top one on the blog post here.)

Do Richard Cory or Kathy Ormsby give any indication as to why Bri Matthews, who seemingly had the world at her feet, decided she could no longer live? No. But they’re all unfortunate examples that suicide, and whatever is behind it, can affect seemingly the most successful among us.

Carmel hazing case blows up on Senior Day

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Tonight (Feb. 26) was supposed to be a celebration for the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team, the seniors in particular, what with it being the final regular-season home game, and designated Senior Day. One problem: four out of the five seniors aren’t there because they are suspended as police investigate whether they committed any sexually related crimes related to hazing.

I’ve been updating the situation at my old high school on my original post, but events are moving so quickly, I figured I’d better start another one so the Feb. 25 post didn’t grow to 10,000 words. Only a few hours before Senior Day activities were set to tip off, the Carmel Police Department, with the local TV news stations breathing down its neck, released its second police report related to misdeeds that might involve athletes.

That report is investigating possible criminal deviate conduct, sexual battery with threat of force and criminal confinement related to a Jan. 8 attack in a Carmel locker room. What exactly is alleged isn’t known — the report is heavily redacted. But it has to be pretty serious to have police thinking about three felonies, the first two of which, individually, would put you in the state’s sex offender registry.

Police filed report on the alleged attack Feb. 22 while interviewing an alleged victim of three senior basketball players. They were suspended from school for a Jan. 22 “bullying” (what the school is calling it) incident on a 100-mile bus ride back from a game in Terre Haute. In among the few areas of the police report that weren’t Dick Cheneyed, the officer noted that he was informed by a victim of the bus incident (a victim who had to go to the hospital for his injuries) there were “ongoing issues that were occurring in the locker rooms at Carmel High School.” The Jan. 8 incident is the only one, as of yet, that police are investigating beyond the bus incident, which also is looking into whether felonies occurred, including sex crimes. The players, already acknowledged by the school as being suspended, are Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Scott Laskowski, the latter the son of former Indiana University player and current television announcer John Laskowski.

In what may or may not related, a fourth senior basketball player, Oscar Faludon, was suspended from school for allegedly attacking another student in the boys’ locker room. Police have not said whether there is a link, or not, between that case and the newest police report.

It is extremely unfortunate for the one senior, Alex Payne, who has so far kept his head above the fray, that his special night has been ruined. (Me not living in Carmel anymore, I’m still trying to find out whether Senior Day was canceled or otherwise scaled back.) But it hasn’t been ruined just by teammates who apparently were on a serious power trip… heck, I don’t know WHAT their problem was.

Senior Day also has been ruined by all the adults involved, or better yet not involved.

The coaches who didn’t pay attention to what was going on behind them on the bus.

The coaches who let seniors onto the freshman bus against policy in the first place.

The head basketball coach, who in his own statements has made clear he’s much more concerned about how this affects his won-loss record than the children involved.

The coaches who failed to monitor what was happening in their own locker rooms.

The administrators who tried to bury their heads in the sand about this and had an investigation forced upon them. Listen to the principal in the clip below, and prepare to be appalled:

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The police who, allegedly in the name of children’s privacy, perhaps illegally refused to release documents until the Indiana’s state public access watchdog was sicced on them.

An adult culture that made the school bus victim(s) so fearful, the kids themselves were afraid to step up and say anything — this conduct came to light only because a parent overheard it while at the school, and because the hospital had to inform the Department of Child Services about the circumstances and nature of the school bus victim’s injuries.

One bit of kudos I have to give is to much-maligned local television news. Indianapolis’ four major TV news operations have been all over this case, and it’s notable that the reports police have released are emailed straight to them — and not to any print media. Ouch. In fact, local TV news has broken every bit of significant information on the story.

POSTGAME FOLLOW-UP: Carmel beat Brebeuf Jesuit Prep, for those keeping score. However, Indiana blogger Kent Sterling reports that lone senior standing Alex Payne got a nice round of applause when he was introduced with the starting lineup — and that Brebeuf’s rooting section didn’t, as the kids say, go there on Carmel’s problems. The only incident, such as it were, was when the crowd spotted one television reporter who has been particularly aggressive on the hazing stories:

The only borderline moment was when Fox-59’s Kim King walked into the gym.  [Your Kid’s Not Going Pro editor’s note: this being Indiana, a 4,000-seat facility is called a “gym.”] I didn’t see her until she was in front of the scorer’s table.  You have to love this woman, unless you’re a Carmel student as you’ll read in a minute.  She is aggressively pursuing a story that is not going to lead to a pretty end for the high school in whose gym she is walking, but she doesn’t slip in the back door.  Nope, Kim walks right down to the floor during halftime and crosses in front of the scorer’s table and then the Carmel bench.  She stands in the corner with a person I’m guessing is her producer, and the crowd became a little quiet and started pointing.  Then there was a bit of huddling, followed by the chant “Go home, Kim!  Go home, Kim!”  Some of the parents laughed, which I thought was absurd because it was neither clever nor funny.  If Carmel is a school filled with as many smart kids as they claim, they should have come up with something witty.

Local YMCA bans spectators from youth basketball playoffs

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You can’t watch your kids play at the YYYYYY, M, C, A!

Like high schools that have banned fans because of suspected gang activity or threat of violence in the crowd, the Tri-Community YMCA in Southbridge, Mass., has closed its Feb. 27 fifth-grade-and-up basketball championships to all but players, coaches and officials because of some other unruly mob — the players’ parents.

From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:

An e-mail sent out to the parents cites “unsportsmanlike behavior from some parents” during the last couple of weeks.

The e-mail says a few people have become “belligerent” in the stands, even after being spoken to, and have been “setting a bad example for children.”

“All must know that this is inappropriate behavior that will not be tolerated.”

YMCA Director Edward Keefe and YMCA Recreation Director Susan Casine agree it was a very tough decision to make.

“There was a lot of discussion. We didn’t make the decision lightly,” Mr. Keefe said. “This is the last game. This is the last week. We want the kids to have fun, have a positive experience and close out the season on a positive high.

“We don’t want to affect the parents who go to every game and behave themselves and cheer on their kids,” Ms. Casine said. “But we need to make sure that unsportsmanlike behavior from parents doesn’t get out of hand.”

In the comments section — always the most fun read in these stories — one self-identified parent sounds a little, well, belligerent over the decision. From a martyr going by the handle “Innocent yet punished:”

I am a parents with several children who have been participating in the program for several years. I heard about my punishment on the news last night. Interesting that no one bothered to email, write or call. My children have not caused problems and neither have my husband and I. Now we are all being punished to send a message to the poorly behaved parents. What message is being sent to my family? You have to pay for the sins of others. Bring your children up right and teach them to do what’s right and then teach them that behaving has no benefit because they will be punished for something they didn’t do. Do you think I want my children alone in the gym with the same children that swear like their parents and have no problem causing problems? Do you think I want my children left alone without me to witness the adults in charge not having enough courage to eject misbehaving parents and children? I don’t think so. Let me ask the question again of the adults in charge, what message are you sending to my family? Those same misbehaing parents and children will be back next season, how many of the well behaved parents and children will be back? I don’t want my children and I to receive more punishment next season for something we don’t do.

Hey, Jesus had to pay for the sins of others, too, Innocent yet punished, and you didn’t hear him complaining. (OK, maybe a little.)

Other commenters suggested that the Y have the local police or extra security to take care of belligerent parents, which sounds reasonable, except when you ask yourself, the YMCA needs cops to handle a fifth-grade basketball game? In the Star & Telegram article, the Y officials pointed out that they, and the referees, have tried to eject unruly adults or get them to moderate their behavior, but with no success. Apparently they subscribe to the common American fan credo that if you pay your money ($52, or $35 if you’re a Y member), you get to do or say anything you damn well please.

The martyred parent does bring up a good point, though, about whether the “good” parents will bring their kids back for next season if they face the probability of not watching their children play and other people’s children swear. This is why the Y and other leagues are always in such a quandary about what to do about problem adults, because no matter how they do it, they upset their revenue base.

Written by rkcookjr

February 26, 2010 at 10:11 am

Why athletes haze: because they can

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In the case of alleged criminal hazing (including sexually related crimes) perpetrated by members of the Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball team, you might wonder — why didn’t anybody start doing anything about it until a month after it happened on a bus home from a ballgame Jan. 22? And why didn’t the alleged victims themselves speak up, leaving it to a parent who happened to overhear something in the hall to start the investigative ball rolling?

The answer, like in any case of a child who is physically and sexually abused, is fear: fear that no one will believe them, or that if anybody does, in the end those who abused won’t end up paying the ol’ piper for what they’ve done.

For example, concurrent to the Carmel case under way, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 24 Kent County prosecutor William Forsyth announced he would not file any criminal charges related to among the members of the West Catholic High School boys’ cross country team for activity awful enough for the school to disband the varsity. For another, the parents of a Franklinville, N.Y., wrestler suspended in a hazing incident — like the one in Carmel, taking place on a school bus on Jan. 22 — dismissing it as “boys will be boys.”

First, Grand Rapids. In a news release, Forsyth outlined the various troublesome activity by team members: poking teammates (clothed) in the “butt crack,” poking teammates in the area between the scrotum and the buttocks (“gobbling”), slapping teammates on the bare behind hard enough to leave a mark (“five starring’), teammates holding teammates down so they could be “gobbled” and “humped” by the others (the parts in quotes are real terms the prosecutor used in his release). Forsyth also said a team member, no pun intended, whizzed on another player’s leg (no word on whether he also told him it was raining). Forsyth said a dozen players were involved as perpetrators.

The conduct was severe enough that West Catholic High canned the cross country coach and reduced the team from varsity to club status so it could learn how to run together and keep their hands to themselves at the same time.

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It was so bad that Forsyth, who said he has seen his share of locker room “horseplay,” declared to the Grand Rapids Press that “someone needed to step in here.”

That someone, however, is not Forsyth. From his release:

After reviewing this matter, I have concluded, for a variety of reasons, that no criminal charges will be filed. At the outset, it is important to note that all of the students involved in these incidents were juveniles [under the age of 17] and that the administration of West Catholic High School has already taken action to address the allegations outlined in this complaint.

In regard to the so-called “gobbling” and “five starring” incidents, it appears that with varying degrees of culpability approximately twelve of the runners engaged in this type of activity. While some may have felt uncomfortable and others may have been taken advantage of, it is nonetheless apparent that, regardless of their motivation for having done so, nearly a dozen athletes participated. Determining who was involved and to what extent, however, has been hindered by the fact that at least two of the team members have refused to be interviewed and several others have been something less than forthcoming about what happened. While such unwanted “touching” is technically an assault and battery, this type of behavior [absent heretofore undisclosed information] does not merit criminal prosecution; particularly when, depending upon the incident, each of the participants could potentially be both a victim and a defendant. …

While [the activity was] inappropriate, offensive and admittedly criminal in nature, given the age of the offenders, their lack of criminal record and the isolated nature of the behavior [i.e. in the context of their participation on the cross country team], any punishment is best left to the administration of West Catholic High School.

On one level, it’s disgusting that Forsyth didn’t throw his prosecutorial weight around for this case. The line about the lack of criminal record seems a bit of a cop-out — hey, every offender has to start somewhere. The line about “the context of their participation on the cross country team” is especially galling. So when I ran cross country in high school, if I had “gobbled” someone or pissed on their leg, that would have been OK. However, I would suspect if I did the same outside my local Jewel-Osco to a retiree trying to grab a cart, in that context, I would have my ass thrown in jail.

However, Forsyth couldn’t do too much if the cross country team was dummying up on him, or if victims and perpetrators are in the same fetid pool. “It is a situation a prosecutor doesn’t even want to go near,” Forsyth told the Grand Rapids Press. ” The school can handle something like this better.”

It’s disappointing that no criminal charges are coming from criminal activity among the West Catholic boys’ cross country team, and no doubt it will have some kids thinking twice about speaking up if similar activity happens again. Forsyth has given the green light to “gobbling” and “five starring” to any team in Kent County, Mich.

At least prosecutors saw fit in Franklinville, N.Y., to charge a 19-year-old with second-degree harassment, and a 16-year-old (as a juvenile) with forcible touching and harassment for an incident in which a wrestling teammate was bound with a belt. And Franklinville Central High also suspended the head wrestling coach and two assistants.

But the attitude of parents of another wrestler suspended by the school (but not charged criminally) gives you an idea of the community resistance anyone speaking out about hazing will receive. Brian and Kelly Childs told the Olean Times-Herald they accept their son’s punishment. But…

“It wasn’t an act of viciousness. It was boys being boys. They were goofing off,” Kelly Childs said. “The boys weren’t doing anything to be mean.”

Oh, then let’s forget the whole thing, eh?

One would think that communities priding themselves on protecting their children would react swiftly and justly to any hazing, especially when it becomes criminal. But one would be wrong. And even when communities and schools try to do the right thing, there are always people wondering why they aren’t laughing along.

Hopefully, the hazing victims will have this explained to them in their future therapy.

Written by rkcookjr

February 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Sports hazing scandal brewing at my old high school

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My old high school and hometown, Carmel, Ind., has long cultivated for themselves an image of wealth, class, intelligence and sophistication, despite my type mingling with the hoi polloi, and despite the presence of new resident/former Hef spittle-cup holder Kendra Wilkinson Baskett. So for me, it’s hard to watch the linked video of the school superintendent, the high school principal and the police chief talking about a “bullying” incident involving Carmel basketball players — an incident that is being widely reported as a probable sexual assault — without imagining thought bubbles over their head that say, “Oh, shit.”

It’s not that the city’s reputation will be completely ruined by a police investigation into exactly what three senior players did to two freshman teammates on a 100-mile bus trip back from a game in Terre Haute. The preceding paragraph, however, does indicate the enormous schadenfreude being felt throughout the Indianapolis area over what could be an extremely revolting, disturbing incident — even the school has acknowledged something untoward happened, and now it’s a matter of finding out how untoward it was. (It appears to be untoward enough that one freshman had to go to the hospital, which prompted state child services to get involved.) And the feeling among many of those same people that Carmel, in its insistence that the investigation into the incident will take weeks, is trying to hide something to protect its image.

From an open letter from Fox 59 in Indianapolis, explaining why it’s been filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get information on the investigation. Emphasis is mine:

To be clear, this alleged incident happened more than a month ago — Friday, January 22nd. Despite four adults being on the school bus at the time, the school district maintains it did not know about the allegations until Tuesday, February 16th. We are now more than a week later — February 24th — and the school and police still maintain they can’t give basic, public information about what they are investigating happened on that school bus. Clearly, by the large response to FOX59 by phone and email, many of you are appalled by these explanations, and we are as well. We also understand your concerns about whether the correct course is really being followed by both the school district and police, considering several of the students involved are reportedly tied to prominent families in the community. I assure you that FOX59 News is taking a close look at every action the district and police are taking to make sure justice is served.

That local media are having to take a legal crowbar to get a copy of the mere police report sends a signal, true or not, that somebody has something to hide.

“Oh, shit.”

According to Fox 59, the alleged victims themselves did not initially report what happened on the bus. Instead, the station said, “a Carmel parent overheard rumors in the hallway.” (This sort of shame and fear of reporting is very common in hazing cases.)

The three basketball players — Scott Laskowski (son of former Indiana University player and announcer John Laskowski), Robert Kitzinger and Brandon Hoge — were suspended from school for five days for the bus incident — but not until Feb. 19. How do I know this, as well as their names? Because the Indianapolis Star noted that in a game story posted before the incident became a press conference-able police investigation.

Actually, a few days before that story, another Indianapolis television station, WISH, quoted principal John Williams as saying he heard of the incident around Feb. 10, and that he was satisifed everything was handled properly. Head basketball coach Mark Galloway issued his own statement to the station: “We talk about adversity throughout the season and this is a challenge. This is an opportunity for some kids and we have to keep our team goals in front of us.” Translation: under no circumstances am I going to let whatever happened fuck up our season.

“Oh, shit.”

Unfortunately for Galloway, not only is this incident already fucking up his season, but it’s going to fuck up his life, the lives of whatever coaches were on that bus, the lives of the coaches who allow seniors onto a freshman bus, the life of the principal who might end being seen as not riding herd enough on those coaches, the superintendent who… you get the idea. Meanwhile, the police department, in its obliqueness, is proving that in Carmel being roundabout is more than just existing as a circle at an intersection. All in all, the adults are looking a little too much like they’re hiding something.

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I’ll be the rouuuuuundabout.

What the adults don’t get, in their rush to protect the image of their fair town and boys, is that something happened on that bus, something that was not supposed to happen. Even if it was a few overdone noogies, any sort of hazing should not be tolerated and/or ignored by people who presumably should know better. Sheesh, coaches, what did you think was going on in the back of that bus, anyway? Didn’t you hear anything? Did the idea of checking to see what was going on enter into any of your minds?

And if it was in the realm of sexual assault, then a lot of people have a lot to answer for — and they’ll have a lot of people cheering for them to be exposed as more concerned about protecting Carmel’s image than its children.

“Oh, shit.”

FEB. 25 UPDATE: The city of Carmel released a heavily redacted police report, removing names of victims and reported perpetrators, and the exact nature of the reported assault. But there was a list of the offenses: battery/no minor injury, criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement.  I can’t find in the Indiana code what “battery/no minor injury” means. But depending on the serious, battery can be upgraded from misdemeanor to felony. Criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement are felonies no matter how you cut them. A conviction for criminal deviate conduct, a sex crime, gets you onto the Indiana sex offender registry.

FEB. 26 UPDATE: Fox59 is reporting that a fourth Carmel senior (there are five on the basketball team) is suspended for five days for attacking an underclassman in the boys’ locker room, and that he will miss tonight’s game along with the three other seniors caught up in the Jan. 22 incident. There also are reports that Carmel police have just launched an investigation into an alleged attack on a 17-year-old at the school Jan. 8. It is not known whether the two actions are related.

Oh, and tonight’s game is (was?) Senior Day. This should be awkward.

What keeps kids from signing up for baseball? Hint: not video games

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The article I’m going to react to has been out for more than week, but I needed time for my slow burn to transition to full-blown foaming at the mouth.

The article is about a perceived decline in the number of children in stick-and-ball sports, and it comes from the Daily Herald, the official chronicler of Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs. I found it thanks to True/Slant’s resident Suburbanista, Hilary Shenfeld. Something stuck in my craw, which I think is near my cockles, right from the start:

Suburban youth baseball and softball coaches can expect to find fewer players on the ball fields this summer, according to many league directors.

And while the finger can be pointed at everything from the recession to competition from other sports, experts increasingly are blaming children’s habitual video game playing as a key reason why droves are ignoring America’s No. 1 pastime.

And the better children get at video games and more used to the fast-paced action they get, the less likely they’ll give them up to play the real game, experts say.

“Instead of going out to play sandlot baseball, kids today are content to sit in front of a computer to play a video game,” said Rich Honack, a professor at Kellogg School of Management.

Studying generations, he says his data shows the computer is the reason for the decrease in kids playing competitive sports.

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So this is how we’re going to do it — again. It’s video games’ fault. It’s always video games’ fault. Video games sexualize children, make them fat, and make them drive too fast. Video games are sure to be blamed for bank bailouts, the Toyota recall and CPAC.

But that’s a facile, knee-jerk argument. I emailed Honack (technically, a senior lecturer, not a professor — an actual professor would be quick to point that out) to ask where the research is proving his point, but I never heard back. I certainly couldn’t find it.

Some northwest Chicago suburban recreational leagues are reporting 20-plus percent drops over the last five years, accelerating during the last two, and particularly acute in the 10-to-14-year-old age group. But video games weren’t just invented five years ago. A lot of factors are contributing to the decline of baseball in that area and others, such as:

— Increased specialization in a single sport.

— The increase in travel and elite leagues. Note that recreational leagues are noticing a drop. It’s possible (not down 20 percent possible) that at least a little bit of the drop comes from parents signing up their kids for travel leagues instead of recreational-level ball.

— The large number of kids who drop out of organized sports by the dawn of teenager-hood. It’s practically an article of faith in youth sports that there is a huge dropoff in participation by age 13, as kids who aren’t interested or aren’t pursuing a scholarship or pro career drop out in favor of other activities. I would not be surprised if a lot of that dropoff comes as early as age 10. I know in my area, the line of demarcation between when baseball and softball are fun, and when it’s time to get serious, comes at age 9.

— And, of course, money. One league in the Daily Herald’s area is reported to charge a $325 entry fee. I hope everyone gets their own steroids for that. Even if the fees aren’t much, the economy is dictating choices. Kids, you can’t do everything anymore. It’s like how I told my oldest son, who had an interest in hockey and loved to skate, whether he kinda liked the sport or whether he LOOOOVVVVVED it. “I kinda like it,” he said. So I didn’t sign him up. I wasn’t going to spend $1,200 in league fees for something he kinda liked. I imagine even in some of the posher suburbs of northwest Chicago, parents are making similar decisions. (Two years ago, the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about the same area saying just that.) After all, why waste time and money signing your kid up for something he or she doesn’t want to do? Plus, the foreclosure crisis isn’t leaving your tonier suburbs unscathed. The money just isn’t there for everything.

If video games play any role, it’s only as a time-killer for kids who decide (or have it decided for them) not to play baseball or softball. I’ve never known a kid to quit to play video games, although I do remember my oldest son getting pissed, at age 7, when his third baseman wasn’t paying attention when he tried to get him the ball on a force play. “He was probably thinking about video games,” my son said.

If kids aren’t interested in sports, they’ll fill it with whatever they’re interested in — theater, music, jerking off or, yes, video games. If kids explicitly choose video games over sports — and parents allow them to do so — I would bet that also has something to do with not wanting to spend hours upon hours in stupid practices getting yelled at by the knuckle-dragging coach for the right to ride the bench all game. Hey, if you’re going to sit, why not in the comfort of your home, with no one barking at you?

Written by rkcookjr

February 24, 2010 at 1:04 am

Canadian kids don't care their hockey team lost

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With all the alleged gnashing of teeth and rending of sweaters in Canada over its Olympic hockey team’s 5-3 loss to the United States on home ice in Vancouver Sunday night, I would like to take you back to a post of mine from August 2009 about a study showing that Canadian kids care less and less about the presumed national sport.

To be so self-referential I’m going to get inside my own mind like John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich,” here is what I wrote earlier about Canadian youth and their relationship with hockey. The survey, by University of Lethbridge (Alberta) sociology professor Reginald Bibby, was done in the context of the possibility of southern Ontario becoming the seventh Canadian market for the National Hockey League.

According to Bibby’s survey of 5,500 Canadian teens, the interest in the NHL fell to 35 percent in 2008 from 45 percent in 1992. The decline in Ontario was 40 to 28, with only 20 percent of Toronto teens following the league. …  Of those teens whose parents, and themselves, were born in Canada, 40 percent followed the NHL. Of those teens who were born (and whose parents were born) outside of Canada, only 20 percent were interested in the NHL. Those non-native born teens were mostly likely to follow the NBA (31 percent) and soccer (30 percent).

Blake Lambert of the Faster Times cited Bibby’s research in creating his own reaction to Canada’s Olympic loss: “Canada Loses in Hockey. So What?”

In my corner of downtown Toronto, which is home to immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, I have yet to see a single child play street hockey. At the middle school up the street, basketball and soccer are fashionable; cricket is even a summertime pursuit at a park northeast of my home.

In the Toronto area — not just the city, but the suburbs, too — 45.7 percent of all residents are foreign-born as of the 2007 Canadian census, up from 43.7 percent five years previously. In Vancouver, where fans are presumably feeling the pain a little more because the last American goal was scored by Vancouver Canuck Ryan Kesler, 39.6 percent of all residents are foreign-born. English is the primary household language of 54.1 percent of Canadians, while the other official language, French, is at only 1.2 percent. Outdistancing the francophones are Chinese (all dialects), 8.1 percent, Italian, 3.7 percent, and Punjabi, 2.6 percent.

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A Punjabi sports show, based in Vancouver.

In the whole of Canada, 20 percent — one out of five — residents was born somewhere other than under the Maple Leaf flag. The government itself says Canada’s growth is almost wholly reliant on immigration. By comparison, the United States has a foreign-born population of 12.6 percent.

Certainly it would be ridiculous to dismiss out-of-hand the agony many Canadians feel over their loss to the United States. However, by the numbers, it looks like hockey in Canada is going to evolve culturally like basketball in my native Indiana.

The sport will always be a strong part of the culture. But as time goes on, as the population changes, and as children are given more choices for sports and activities than their forebears, the intensity of the pain of having a loser in “our” game will be lesser for youth than it is for middle-agers, who remember the glory days when a single sport was everything.

Written by rkcookjr

February 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Malaysia requires its nerdy schoolkids to sign up for sports

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While in the United States, budget cuts force the reduction or elimination of school sports (more on that later), Malaysia is going the opposite way. It’s going to require students to pick a sport and play it, no matter how big a nerdlinger the kid is.

Actually, reducing nerdlingerness appears to be the motivating factor behind the policy.

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From The Star, a Malaysian English-language newspaper:

Sports activities will be made compulsory in 10,000 schools nationwide starting next year and each student will be required to select a game of his or her choice.

Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said this meant that sports would have a separate syllabus and would no longer be part of the co-curriculum activity as is the current practice.

“Schools will be provided with more sports teachers while allocations will be increased to improve the infrastructure as part of efforts to bring glory back to sports,” he told reporters after closing the Pahang Umno convention here yesterday.

He said a committee has been set up to look into the revamp besides looking into ways to credit those who were active in sports.

“By giving additional marks to them, it would help to encourage them to excel both in sports as well as academically,” he added.

Stating that sports were good for mental as well as physical health besides inculcating leadership qualities, Muhyiddin noted that parents nowadays stressed too much on academic achievement.

In comments recorded by another English-language newspaper, the New Straits Times, the deputy prime minister describes a world that sounds like bizarro United States:

“Right now, sports events are held only for several months, usually in the first two or three months of the school year. There are times when parents themselves are unaware that the school sports has been held,” he said.

It’s safe to say that not knowing when school sports are held is not a problem for American parents.

Written by rkcookjr

February 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm