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Archive for October 2010

How to be an experienced youth sports parent

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Just so you know where the real writing talent lies in my household, you can check out this Chicago Parent article, written by one Jacqui Podzius Cook (wife of the proprietor of this here blog), titled “The challenges of being an older mom.”

I bring this up not as a way to note my wife’s birthday Nov. 1, which for 27 days will make me the baby adult of the household, but for the cogent points it makes about the realities of how parents freak out less, to everyone’s benefit most of the time, as they have more kids, and how you as the experienced parent can end up looking (and feeling) disengaged as a result.

I was thinking of this story at my 7-year-old son’s final soccer game of the fall. There were parents who, clearly on their first kid in sports, were cheering and coaching and waving and yelling. And then there were parents who, clearly not on their first kid in sports, were reading the newspaper, talking with each other or working toward being the mayor of Oak View Center on Foursquare. (I’m actively running for that post in the closest thing I have to a political career. I’m trying to figure out how I get Foursquare to run negative ads.)

From my wife:

The ritual of Kindergarten Parent Night: A room full of fresh-faced moms and dads, peppering the teacher with questions about snacks and flash cards as they carefully inspect every square inch of the room where their precious baby will begin his or her formal education.

But if you look a little closer at any given group of kindergarten parents, you are guaranteed to find at least one mom hovering near the back, half-listening to the presentation while she furiously composes a grocery list, texts her teenage daughter and tries to conceal the gray hair and laugh lines that tell the world she’s a decade or so removed from the majority of parents in the room.

Whether you call this last one your “caboose baby,” “bonus baby” or-as several of my friends refer to their third or fourth (or fifth) child-your “oops baby,” you’ve probably learned in the past few months that this school experience is just a little different. I certainly have as my final baby, Emily, gets settled into her kindergarten class, while my other kids are making their way through second, sixth and eighth grade.

Emily’s Friday folder? It usually gets emptied Sunday night instead of 3:30 Friday afternoon. School pictures? Let’s see what I can find the night before in that hand-me-down bag at the back of the closet. This began even before kindergarten when I had to program an Outlook calendar reminder for preschool show-and-tell.

This isn’t to say I value Emily’s school experience any less than the other kids’, but the cold, hard truth is being a parent of four kids at 41 is a whole lot different from having one in kindergarten and one in preschool at 33.

Jacqui’s article (I normally use last names on second reference, but I while I might call my wife many things, I don’t call her “Cook.” “Hey, Cook, how about a romantic dinner this weekend?”) talks about how more experienced parents can take steps to find ways in their busy lives to get more engaged with their younger child’s classroom experiences, with valuable techniques that do not include freeing up time by selling your older children into sharecropping.

As for sports, I would say that a more experienced parent did not feel compelled to be involved in every aspect of the athletics lives of his or her younger children. Your children might thank you for it. For me, the difference between my older son and daughter and my younger son and daughter is my own expectations.

With my younger kids, I’m not going into sports parenting with the expectation that this is the first step to a lucrative pro career and/or nervous because my baby is in someone else’s hands, the common reactions of the first-time sports parent. I’m sure enough of myself as a parent that whether my child is a jock or picking daisies, it is no reflection on my parenting skills.

I am concentrating on coaching my younger kids’ teams, because the others in any activity have passed my levels of knowledge and dedication, and also because I feel more at ease with the situation. I don’t have to think to myself to make sure I don’t do anything that seems like I am unfairly favoring my kids over others. I just coach everybody, and if parents think I am unfairly favoring my kids over others, then fuck ‘em.

That epithet brings up a reason for the experienced parent NOT to coach his or her youngest children. That would be the too-knowing, been-there-done-that attitude you can bring, having been there, and done that. When I coached my 7-year-old son’s baseball team last spring, I might have handled conflicts with parents better if I wasn’t such a know-it-all douchebag about youth sports, and this baseball league in particular. For example, I might not have said, with such swagger, to a mom who threatened to file a complaint with the league on me that, well, good luck, considering I’ve coached in this league for five years, and I know how desperate it is to find managers.

As Cook’s article (I guess if I’m going to treat my kids like any other athlete when I coach them, I guess should treat my wife like any other writer when I cite her — right, honey?) notes, it is a boon to the youngest child’s education for the experienced parent to get involved in whatever way possible, even if he or she is busy with older siblings.

For sports parents, that’s a game-time decision. It might be beneficial for youngest children to have their experienced parent coach their team. But the experienced parent’s experience might be better used letting the kids be in the hands of someone else while he or she reads the newspaper, talks to other parents, or does oppo research on the mayor of the field on Foursquare (your reign of terror will end soon, I swear, Staci C.!)

Written by rkcookjr

October 31, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Sports-hating principal promises to hate sports a little less

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The bleachers are unbolted and the partition fixed at the Van Buren High School gym in Queens, as principal Marilyn Shevell responds to people who find her the Wicked Sports Witch of the East for her apparent stance that sports is getting in the way of kids graduating from her high school.

From the New York Daily News:

According to DOE spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, Shevell said the school’s athletics program will be able to practice and host games in the gym, and parents will be permitted to attend home games again. A recorded telephone message was sent out to convey that message to all parents and students at the Queens Village school, Feinberg added.

In other words, Shevell is promising that sports in Van Buren will run just fine.

Alas, not everyone believes her.

Now try telling that to the 50 students and parents who protested Shevell’s management of the sports program, carrying homemade signs outside the school on Thursday and demanding an improvement.

Shevell’s assurances sound good, they say, but they’ll believe them when they see it.

“She doesn’t want sports at the school,” said one school source who did not want to be identified but is connected to Van Buren’s administration and athletic program. “I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if none of those things happen. It’s all false promises.”

Written by rkcookjr

October 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm

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Take your gun to the ballgame in one of America’s foreclosure capitals

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In Florida, it’s against state law to bring a concealed weapon to a professional sporting events, even though at a Marlins game a string of automatic gunfire wouldn’t hit anybody.

However, the law doesn’t specify that you’re banned from bringing a gun to a youth sporting event, which is a bit more crowded. So the commissioners in Lee County, Fla., had no choice but to overturn such a ban, thus allowing fans to pack heat in the sort of emotional, hair-trigger environment that makes you think, “You know what this crowd needs? Armaments.” Especially in an area that’s a bit stressed out, what with its one-in-95 houses foreclosure rate being among the highest in the country, a place with a court notorious for its “rocket docket” of speeding through such foreclosures in 10 seconds or less, a place with an area, Lehigh Acres, that has become Exhibit A in how the foreclosure crisis has turned once-thriving exurbs into ghost towns.


“What was that call again, ump?”

One Lee County commissioner spoke about lobbying state legislators to change the law so youth sporting events were included in the gun ban. But, its legal hands tied, the commission voted unanimously to lift its own ban, and signs noting the ban are already coming down.

From the Naples (Fla.) News:

“I’m not against anyone’s right to bear arms nor to have a concealed weapons license, I just find it deplorable that it would be allowed at a youth sports event,” Mert Leeman, Florida’s district 9 Little League administrator.

Howard Gold, president of the South Fort Myers Little League, said the organization goes to great pains to ensure safety, such as doing background checks on coaches and safety checks on equipment.

And sometimes Gold has had to come between parents in heated arguments about calls on the field.

“I’m fortunate to say we have not had any serious situations in 10 years, but that possibility also exists,” Gold said.

No other commissioners commented on taking the issue to state legislators.

Deleting the ordinance language that restricted firearms is expected to settle a lawsuit filed by Amanda Buckley on Aug. 13.

The lawsuit was filed by Buckley’s attorney husband, who apparently had gotten tired of hearing his wife complain about the inconvenience of leaving the Glock behind when catching a kid’s ballgame. A hearing is scheduled Nov. 1 on the lawsuit, but it appears likely the case will be done now that permitted conceal-carry owners can take their gun to the ballgame. So in Lee County, Fla., you can pry houses from people’s warm, live hands, but not guns from their cold, dead ones.

Written by rkcookjr

October 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Middle school cracks down on football players who don’t respect sanctity of dead squirrels

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Now if I found out my son was messing with a dead squirrel, once I was assured he wasn’t having sex with it, I would bring him to the doctor for whatever shots you get for messing with a dead squirrel. However, I would be a bit shocked if messing with a dead squirrel led to his dismissal from his favorite extracurricular activity (that didn’t involve messing with a dead squirrel).

North Branch (Mich.) Middle School, however, countenances no messing with a dead squirrel. From NBC25 in Clio, Mich. (outside of Flint, if you must know):

It all started last week.  Fourteen year old Gabe Wells says he and his teammates were walking back to the school building after football practice.  He saw a dead squirrel in the parking lot that he says had been there for some time.

“I told my coach, ‘Hey, my mom made you dinner,’” says Gabe.

He says his coach laughed and continued on his way.  Gabe says he and his team mates kept joking.

Gabe says he saw a Subway bag, tied it around the coach’s “dinner”, then used it to tie the squirrel to a nearby tree.  He then picked a cigarette butt up off the ground and put it in the squirrel’s mouth, saying, “That is what happens when you smoke, you die.”

That night he even made a post on facebook about it, telling facebook friends he wanted to send the message out, don’t smoke.  He even picked on his father for being a smoker.

The next day Gabe says he got a surprise, when the principal called him down to the office.  He says he spent most of the there, missing class and lunch, after being told he was in trouble for his incident with the squirrel.

The principal accused Gabe of gross misconduct, no pun intended. Gabe’s mother told NBC25 that she was told her son could be suspended from the team for this year, and next year, be suspended from school, and charged with animal abuse. You’d think Gabe had had sex with a live squirrel, for all the outrage. Does PETA protest for abuses to animals previously killed by natural causes and/or when they were run over in the parking lot?

Gabe’s parents knew what to do: alert the media. Gabe’s father dialed up Clio, Mich., and got NBC25 on the phone, and on the case.

NBC25 called the superintendent’s office.  Superintendent Tom English said he knew a dead squirrel had been tied in a tree, an inappropriate incident that other students had to witness, but he was not completely aware of the resulting discipline.

He called back a short time later and said the school had decided all ten students at first believed to be involved would not be in trouble.  Only four of them would face consequences for their actions with the squirrel, including Gabe Wells. They would not be suspended or face charges, but they would be missing the last football game of the season.

Justice is served. And so, apparently if Gabe is around, is squirrel.

Written by rkcookjr

October 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Suzy Kolber, I wanna kiss you for making this video

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…Though Joe Namath says he doesn’t care about the youth sports parents’ strug-a-lin’.

Kolber and ESPN Radio morning jock/sports parent Mike Golic are co-hosting a freshly produced video, put out by the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors, meant for coaches to use during parents’ meetings. It’s meant to show parents how not to be such fucking assholes.

The presence of the two ESPN personalities lends an air of authority and professionalism to a video that otherwise looks like it should have an intro from Troy McClure. But I’m stunned that Golic, the suddenly ubiquitous pitchman, didn’t break out some ad copy, or at least explain how he can get away with endorsing high-fat food and a workout plan at the same time.

Written by rkcookjr

October 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm

New York principal sabotages school sports

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There are plenty of schools around the country at which sports are being cut — regretfully — because of a lack of funds. By contrast, the New York Post on Oct. 24 highlighted a case of a high school principal who is cutting sports out of spite.

OK, maybe that’s not completely fair. Apparently Marilyn Shevell, principal of Martin Van Buren High in Queens, believes that chopping sports will go a long way toward improving the school’s 68.6 percent graduation rate, according to people who talked to the Post (Shevell not being among them.) However — and I am no educator here — I don’t get how giving students less of a reason to get excited about something at their school will actually make them more excited to stick around long enough to graduate.

Here is what is going on, according to the Post:

Last week, Shevell stormed out of a PTA meeting in the Queens school’s auditorium after announcing the girls and boys basketball teams could play no games at home this fall. Last year, she slashed home games to one for the girls and three for the boys.

Shevell also barred classmates and their parents from attending last year’s games to cheer for their “Vee Bees.” And just in case any specta tors showed up, she had the bleachers bolted to the gym wall so they could not be used.

She has also limited practice for all sports teams to three days a week, instead of the six other schools allow. “It seems like she just doesn’t want to sup port sports at all,” said Toni Gooden, a senior on the girls basket ball team, which made the playoffs 13 years in a row before last year.

Parents and students packed last Monday’s PTA meeting, where Shevell ousted a Post reporter.

The New York Daily News in January 2010 wrote a story about how Van Buren was playing all its basketball games on the road because of a broken partition in the gym. In that story, an assistant coach accused Shevell of intentionally refusing to fix the partition as a means of sabotaging sports programs. Even when Van Buren had played at home, only parents of players were allowed to attend because, Shevell had said, of a fight that had broken out in the stands.

However, the New York Post story reported that those explanations weren’t being accepted so easily.

Parents say Shevell has used various “excuses” for the cutbacks — including a broken gym divider, asbestos in the gym ceiling and fights at prior games.

But when questioned by The Post, city Department of Education officials said the wall had been fixed a month ago, there is no asbestos problem, and there have been no melees — or even any home games — this year.

“There will be home games. The bleachers will be unbolted,” DOE spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said in response to Post queries.

I don’t know of this principal, so I can’t speak to Shevell’s motives. I mean, clearly she has a bug up her ass about school sports for some reason. I realize there are a lot of excesses that come with school sports — the jock culture at some places can be oppressive, and often the excitement over The Team seems to overshadow the importance of academics.

However, I know my kids — who are all academic achieves, thank you very much — kick their asses out of bed for school not for the learning part, but for the extras. We all the learning part is important. But it’s the extras that can help students feel like their school is an important place, and not a prison in which they’re chained to a desk to solve quadratic equations all day.

My 13-year-old son, in particular, feels a very deep connection to his junior high school because he’s participating in choir, band, the school musical, setup for afterschool events, recycling club, strategy club, science club, and stuff I’m probably leaving out. He probably would do OK in school without that stuff, but that’s what makes him excited to be a part of the school, and I’m sure makes some of the most unbearable tedium more bearable. Even if he never goes to a basketball game (which he hasn’t).

Even if Martin Van Buren High School is a difficult environment, the principal has pressure on her to raise the graduation rate, I can’t see how cutting out activities that at least some students get excited about is a way to also get them excited about the other stuff.

One other thing: if the New York Department of Education is putting so much of a focus on a bottom-line number — one that can be difficult to control depending on the home lives of the students who feed into that school — and is doing so without giving principals any support or assistance, it’s a wonder more principals haven’t bolted the bleachers to the wall, or done something else nutty in the name of “education.”

Marilyn Sevell is expected to write a letter to the New York Post in response.

Carmel hazing update — if one player pleads guilty, does he sing?

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The legally convoluted Carmel (Ind.) High School basketball hazing case(s) has its lasted twist and turn — one of the players is apparently ready to plead guilty to charges related to bullying a fellow player in the locker room. Scott Laskowski, 20, son of former Indiana University player and announcer John Laskowki, has a plea hearing scheduled for Nov. 4 in Hamilton County (Ind.) Court, which various legal experts contacted by local Indianapolis media say is where Laskowski and his attorneys would be expected to put forward a plea agreement.

If you want all the down-and-dirty details to one of the more infamous hazing cases of 2010, go to the search bar on the right for “Carmel,” and you should get everything.

But the short version is that Laskowski is one of four now-graduated players facing various misdemeanor charges on what have been called hazing attacks, or bullying attacks, or just plain attacks on team members (or one team member) on a bus back from a game in Terre Haute, 100 miles from the north Indianapolis suburb, and in the Carmel locker room. The case became particularly infamous, at least locally and among the readership that spiked when I posted about it, because school officials at first seemed more than happy to accept the team’s explanation that nothing big really happened — until state child protection reported that the assaults could be considered sexual in nature and resulted in injury to one of the victims.

Four Carmel players — Laskowski, Robert Kitzinger, Brandon Hoge and Oscar Faludon — face misdemeanor charges in Hamilton County for the locker room incident, a decision by the county prosecutor that itself caused a lot of controversy locally because there was a feeling the charges were light compared to the alleged offense. An investigation is still under way by the prosecutor in Hendricks County, in west suburban Indianapolis, where the bus assault was alleged to have taken place.

As I’ve written about before — and put “hazing” into that search bar on the right if you want more details — hazing cases are hard to win, because the defendants tend to circle the wagons, and because there is still a boys-will-be-boys mentality among schools and prosecutors that prevents them from cracking down on athletes, and because there is a fear at schools in well-heeled communities (which is where a lot of these cases seem to take place — such as Carmel) of a hit to their image and to “ruining” the future of “good” kids.

The most interesting part about Laskowski’s apparent interest in a plea deal is that, as experts, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, point out, in cases involving multiple defendants, one part of a plea deal is that the person then testifies against the others. Leerkamp doesn’t acknowledge that this is the case with Laskowski

But it would interesting if self-preservation is starting to take hold. After all, Laskowski is a “good” kid from a prominent family, and even though to some (such as the victim’s lawyer) the misdemeanor charges don’t go far enough, one wonders (OK, that one is me) if the calculation is being made that the longer this case lasts, the more Laskowski’s bright future starts to dim. If Laskowski does testify against his former teammates, at the least it would be a rare case of the wall breaking down when athletes get in trouble for hazing, bullying, or whatever the hell you want to call it.

Star athletes: Wear purple for the bullied in your school

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It might be a little late to pick out outfits for the next day, but maybe you’ve heard of the effort to have people wear purple on Oct. 20. No, not in solidarity with Brett Favre and his dong, but as a way to speak out against the bullying of LGBT kids, a few of whom, as you might have heard, have been killing themselves as an endgame to the abuse they’ve taken from peers (and probably others). I’ll be wearing my purple underwear, the only purple I have that’s office-worthy, as long as I wear pants over it.

I don’t have the cache of Neil Patrick Harris, nor do I have a video in the first place. I don’t have a solution to bullying, not when the history of humankind is rife with those tearing the shit out a perceived other with ruthless efficiency. (Such as the ruthless efficiency bullies display in picking the most vulnerable victims.) I can tell you, based on what I’ve seen in my own schooling experience and that of my children and others around me (I’ll just leave it at that) that anyone holding out a simple solution — like the radio jagoff I heard locally who talked about self-defense classes as the be-all end-all to ending bullying — is wrong.

However, I can identify one powerful group of influence that could help, if at least not stopping the bullies, making bullying of any kind seem totally uncool. That would be the school jocks.

I don’t mean the track team — I can tell you as a former high school track athlete how little influence we wield. I mean the star quarterback, the top basketball player, the kinds of athletes that are the center of the popular crowd at every school, the kind that set the agenda (intentionally or unintentionally) for manhood, and womanhood’s relationship with it.

A lot of kids at school know bullying isn’t cool, and that the bullied and the bullies are two groups of profoundly unhappy people. But most are afraid to say anything, lest they become a target. However, the star athletes have established their place as school leaders, in that the school isn’t shutting down for a pep rally for the debate team. The jocks don’t have to like the bullied — and the bullies — or invite them to the cool parties, or ask them if they would like to be set up to shag a cheerleader (or the athlete himself).

All I ask is that jocks be — nice. I mean, if you’re the bully, stop. If you see a bully, pull him (or her) aside and make clear that’s not cool. If you see the bullied, ask if they’re OK, and let them know you have their back. If you want to stand up during a pep rally and declare you don’t care who sticks what part in what hole of another person, that’s great, too. The purple on Oct. 20 is being pushed with LGBT bullying victims in mind, but there’s no reason you can’t also stand up for whatever other Other is the target of ridicule.

Of course, I know this is easier said than done. Athletes are notorious for not wanting to make waves. (Michael Jordan: “Republicans buy shoes, too.”) And I’m going to guess that a lot of jocks have parents who would be pissed beyond belief for Johnny Quarterback to be standing up for the weak.

I don’t think having jocks speak up for bullies solves everything. But if anybody can make a bullying culture go away, it’s them.

Thanks to Wall of Paul for reminding me of a great song that talks about “manhood” and sports in school, from a guy whose parents sent him to electroshock therapy to get rid of his homosexual tendencies.

Written by rkcookjr

October 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Calgary tells hockey parents: learn respect, or your kid doesn’t play

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How do you weed out the jerkbag parents that make life hell for their kids, your kids, their coaches, yourself, the vending machine filler, the skate sharpener, the old lady who has trouble opening the arena door, and the Zamboni driver? Hockey Calgary, which runs youth hockey in Calgary (just in case you thought it was Edmonton), figures it’s found a way: force parents to sit through a class on how not to be jerkbags. If they don’t do it, their kid doesn’t get to play — at any level from Timbits to Junior B.

Waiting for their parents to finish the course so they can get on the ice.

I am totally for this program. It should seem bloody obvious how not to be a jerkbag, and it might seem unfair to good parents that they have to sit through the hour-long online course.

However, I think setting up a mandatory class in respect communicates to parents sends the signal that you’re not going to take any shit. At the least, it sets clear rules and boundaries for behavior, and the consequences for not following them. With a mandatory program, no parents can say they weren’t warned.

Not that it should discourage parents from speaking up, but the point of the exercise appears to be making sure that when conflicts do come, they are handled in a respectful manner. And if somebody in the stands who may or may have taken the course (uncles, friends, future posse members aren’t required to do so), parents have cover to tell them to, respectfully, shut the fuck up.

Hockey Calgary president Perry Cavanagh said 11,190 hockey players had at least one parent complete the Respect in Sports course by the Oct. 15 deadline, while another 230 players had no parent do so. Cavanagh isn’t being draconian about it. He told the Globe in Mail in Toronto that in some cases there were “communication issues,” such as Junior B players living away from home who needed their distant parents to sign off. (Junior B is for 16-year-olds and up, and often means living away from home to play with the right team.)

From the Globe and Mail:

“Have I had calls from people saying they weren’t going to take the program? Yes, in words I won’t repeat,” Cavanagh said. “It’s a small number and we don’t have a goal to change that 1 per cent. Our goal is not to tolerate them any more. [The RIS program] is not a panacea, but it is a first step to change a societal trend that goes against the values we feel are important.”

In other words, go pound sand, jerkbags. And Cavanagh means that most respectfully.

Written by rkcookjr

October 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Mother uses stun gun to zap son’s football coach

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From the Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla:

A Pop Warner football coach was zapped with a stun gun Tuesday night during an argument with a parent at Sandalwood High School, Jacksonville police said.

Now 43-year-old Roxine Cornela Cobb of the 700 block of Oaks Plantation Drive in Arlington has been arrested on charges of battery and discharging a weapon on school grounds, according to the police report.

Robert Medley II told police he had argued with the woman and her son who plays on his football team Monday night. The confrontation resumed about 6:15 p.m. the next day when the woman walked up to Medley and zapped him in the chest with the stun gun, the arrest report said.

Medley, 41, said he slapped the stun gun out of her hand and the argument ended as police arrived. Cobb told police she didn’t think she actually zapped him.

Two witnesses confirmed the coach’s account, police said.

Pressed for further comment about how he felt about this turn of events, the coach said: “Shocked.”

Written by rkcookjr

October 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm

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