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When to let your kid quit

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New York Times’ Motherlode blog brings up a thorny question in the households of sports families — when is a child allowed to quit?9588687_b9cc351918_m

Believe it or not, it’s a question that’s never come up in my house. At least, not in terms of wanting to stomp off in the middle of a season. There’s been dabbling, particularly with my oldest children. My 12-year-old son has retired from soccer, baseball and wrestling, while my 10-year-old (as of tomorrow) daughter no longer needs her soccer gear. Then again, we’ve never pressured our children (as far as we know) into a certain sport because it’s good for them.

With four kids, I’m at the opposite end — talking them out of sports and activities they don’t appear to love with every fiber of my being. Especially hockey.  When my oldest son, who has played pickup games and taken hockey classes, said he might be interested in joining a league, I told him it was $1,500 and that he would be playing most every day. So, I ask you, son, do you love hockey, or do you kinda like it? “I kinda like it,” he said. “OK, then, no hockey,” I said. Turns out he much more enjoys putting on his in-line skates, popping some punk and metal on the iPod and zipping around the neighborhood to getting yelled at on the ice.

Back to quitting, I would say I’m hardly out of the mainstream in thinking that I would prefer if my child starts a season with a team, he or she should end it, and then quit. But I can see quitting under certain scenarios:

1. The coach and/or the other players are abusive. Not a little bit of teasing, or a coach who doesn’t worship the ground you walk on. I’m at most every game, anyway, and I coach, too. I know what abusive means.

2. The child clearly does not enjoy the sport. By that I mean you’re halfway through the season and the child prefers picking dandelions to kicking a soccer ball, or playing right field. That it’s a fight to get your child to every practice or game. You’ve already tried the “commit-through-the-season” speech, and it’s just not working. Some kids just don’t like certain activities. If it’s that bad, there’s no lesson your child is going to learn by sticking it out other than you’re unreasonable. Certainly, there will be other activities, sports or not, your child will enjoy, and you can always make finding another one a prerequisite for quitting. No sense making your life hell because your child is so unhappy.

3. Your work schedule changes, and you can’t get your child to practices or games. As a coach, I try to tell parents in this situation that we can make arrangements to have other parents help out. However, usually a child quits because of No. 3 when the indications of No. 2 are already in play.

Of course, some of you parents already know when you should not allow your child to quit under any circumstance. That’s when your child is on a travel team, has been for years, and your child quitting would shut you out from the exclusive, snotty social circle you’ve built with the other travel parents. Sometimes you have to let your children know it’s not always about themselves.

Jordan Hill smashes your child's future

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The New York Knicks’ No. 1 pick, the eighth overall, was Jordan Hill, a junior from Arizona who is the reason why all that money you spend to put your kid in basketball camps is a big, fat waste  (if you’re dreaming of an NBA career for your child).

Hill didn’t start playing organized basketball until the ninth grade. And he didn’t play at all his junior year of high school because of academic troubles. He didn’t start on the AAU circuit, where most of the best players to go get noticed, until before his senoir year of high school. And yet Hill got a scholarship offer to a major basketball power, and got picked in the top 10 of the NBA draft.

Clearly, Hill has worked very hard in a very short time to improve his game enough to get noticed by the NBA. Of course, it also helps a bit that he’s 6-foot-10.

Your child is not going to be 6-foot-10.

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That’s Jordan Hill, dunking on your dreams for your child.

No matter how many camps you send your child to, no matter how many leagues he dominates, once your child runs into competition that is 6-foot-10, he is sunk unless he is preternaturally talented or is also 6-foot-10. All the more reason to relax when you watch your kid’s games, never to push them to become the NBA players they are never going to be.

Ron Harper’s kid is going pro

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418282085_a1519c3a28_mNo, not that Ron Harper.

You might have heard lately about a wunderkind named Bryce Harper, a Las Vegas high school baseball player who already has scouts writing reports so breathless and glowing, Fabio should be on the cover. Speaking of covers, you might have seen Bryce “Baseball’s LeBron” Harper on the cover of Sports Illustrated, unless you live in the Midwest (we got the Detroit Red Wings), or you are so Internet-centered you have no idea what a “cover” or a “Sports Illustrated” is.

Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 basketball wonder from San Diego, raised some hackles when he announced he would leave high school after his junior year to play pro ball in Europe, and get his GED along the way. The Harper family is raising even more hackles, enough hackles to get farm subsidies for them, by announcing 16-year-old Bryce is leaving high school after his sophomore year to play in a community college and get his GED so he can enter the major-league baseball draft earlier. (Thus turning community college into the real-life punchline for the old joke about it being high school with ashtrays. Except that with smoking laws as they are, the ashtrays are gone. So what is the new punchline?)

The part of the news conference that interested me the most was a line from Ron Harper that was pulled by Youth Sports Parents:

“People question your parenting and what you’re doing. Honestly, we don’t think it’s that big a deal. He’s not leaving school to go work in a fast food restaurant. Bryce is a good kid. He’s smart and he’s going to get his education.”

Ron Harper is in a difficult position here. Sure, he pretty much since day one trained Bryce to be a pro baseball player, though he seems much more well-adjusted than your average Marv Marinovich. And clearly Bryce is a sureshot future No. 1 pick. The Sports Illustrated cover article’s comment about competition his own age makes it clear that Bryce is way, way ahead, to the point that it’s probably hurting his own development as a player.

Managing a prodigy is no easy task. Move ahead too quickly, and you risk turning your child into a nut job like Michael Jackson. More ahead too slowly, and you might squelch and squander your child’s talent. I know this to a very, very small extent.

When I had just turned five, my parents moved me out of my kindergarten class into a first-grade class at another school because I had what, in the mid-1970s in a small Michigan town, was considered a major problem: I knew how to read. Well, it was a particular problem for the teacher, who was ticked when I would read the kids the angry notes she wrote about them. From what I told, I was crying most every day coming home from school, so my parents were faced with a tough decision: keep me in kindergarten, where I was miserable, or move me up to a grade where I would be more academically challenged.

Their decision to move me up was not met with understanding. My dad tells story of having to, literally, throw people off of his front porch because of the angry arguments about. And believe you me, when I was 14 while everyone else in my class was getting their drivers’ license, or 19 when my friends were allowed to drink legally, I wasn’t sure about the wisdom about the decision. Being two years’ younger than my classmates often was tough socially, and it definitely was a disadvantage in sports, as well.

However, I have come to understand over time that as a parent, you have to make the best decision with the information you have at the time. And I’ve led a mostly happy, successful life. No $20 million or so signing bonsues are awaiting me, but by any measurement I’ve had things go pretty well.

Maybe someday Bryce Harper will look back and think that leaving high school early was a mistake. I’m sure Ron Harper’s stomach is churning. Maybe Bryce Harper will get a big signing bonus and crap out because his maturity is lacking. Or maybe moving ahead early will help his game and his maturity level. We just don’t know. And that’s the fun and pain of parenting: you make a decision, and you never know how you child will turn out as a result of it.

Ron Harper's kid is going pro

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418282085_a1519c3a28_mNo, not that Ron Harper.

You might have heard lately about a wunderkind named Bryce Harper, a Las Vegas high school baseball player who already has scouts writing reports so breathless and glowing, Fabio should be on the cover. Speaking of covers, you might have seen Bryce “Baseball’s LeBron” Harper on the cover of Sports Illustrated, unless you live in the Midwest (we got the Detroit Red Wings), or you are so Internet-centered you have no idea what a “cover” or a “Sports Illustrated” is.

Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 basketball wonder from San Diego, raised some hackles when he announced he would leave high school after his junior year to play pro ball in Europe, and get his GED along the way. The Harper family is raising even more hackles, enough hackles to get farm subsidies for them, by announcing 16-year-old Bryce is leaving high school after his sophomore year to play in a community college and get his GED so he can enter the major-league baseball draft earlier. (Thus turning community college into the real-life punchline for the old joke about it being high school with ashtrays. Except that with smoking laws as they are, the ashtrays are gone. So what is the new punchline?)

The part of the news conference that interested me the most was a line from Ron Harper that was pulled by Youth Sports Parents:

“People question your parenting and what you’re doing. Honestly, we don’t think it’s that big a deal. He’s not leaving school to go work in a fast food restaurant. Bryce is a good kid. He’s smart and he’s going to get his education.”

Ron Harper is in a difficult position here. Sure, he pretty much since day one trained Bryce to be a pro baseball player, though he seems much more well-adjusted than your average Marv Marinovich. And clearly Bryce is a sureshot future No. 1 pick. The Sports Illustrated cover article’s comment about competition his own age makes it clear that Bryce is way, way ahead, to the point that it’s probably hurting his own development as a player.

Managing a prodigy is no easy task. Move ahead too quickly, and you risk turning your child into a nut job like Michael Jackson. More ahead too slowly, and you might squelch and squander your child’s talent. I know this to a very, very small extent.

When I had just turned five, my parents moved me out of my kindergarten class into a first-grade class at another school because I had what, in the mid-1970s in a small Michigan town, was considered a major problem: I knew how to read. Well, it was a particular problem for the teacher, who was ticked when I would read the kids the angry notes she wrote about them. From what I told, I was crying most every day coming home from school, so my parents were faced with a tough decision: keep me in kindergarten, where I was miserable, or move me up to a grade where I would be more academically challenged.

Their decision to move me up was not met with understanding. My dad tells story of having to, literally, throw people off of his front porch because of the angry arguments about. And believe you me, when I was 14 while everyone else in my class was getting their drivers’ license, or 19 when my friends were allowed to drink legally, I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of the decision. Being two years’ younger than my classmates often was tough socially, and it definitely was a disadvantage in sports, as well.

However, I have come to understand over time that as a parent, you have to make the best decision with the information you have at the time. And I’ve led a mostly happy, successful life. No $20 million or so signing bonuses are awaiting me, but by any measurement I’ve had things go pretty well.

Maybe someday Bryce Harper will look back and think that leaving high school early was a mistake. I’m sure Ron Harper’s stomach is churning. Maybe Bryce Harper will get a big signing bonus and crap out because his maturity is lacking. Or maybe moving ahead early will help his game and his maturity level. We just don’t know. And that’s the fun and pain of parenting: you make a decision, and you never know how you child will turn out as a result of it.

You and me, punk rock girl

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I saw members of the Dead Milkmen at a Dow Jones and the Industrials reunion show in 2003. Is that old fart punk enough for you?

I have a fellow blogger out there spreading the message that Your Kid’s Not Going Pro. She’s Laurie Ruettiman, and she runs a site called “Punk Rock HR.” Punk rock and human resources? Punks not dead, I know! Punks not dead, I know! Punks not dead… ah, fuck it, it must be if you can get away with calling yourself a punk rock human resources person. I look forward to a site called “Straight Up OG Actuary.”

Anyway, this anarchist of the applicant review set has a feature called F@%k It Friday  (how in the fuck do you pronounce that?) in which she muses about topics that have nothing to do with stage-diving in the conference room. The latest: kids and sports.

Some people think it’s important for kids to learn how to play sports and compete. I think sports are overrated. Too many parents get caught up in sports and act like a-holes. When I see kids on the field, they all look miserable.

Do your kids play sports? Do you go to the games? Do you dread the games? Do your kids have fun? Do they learn any lessons about life?

Here’s a lesson your kids should learn: you’ll never be a professional [insert here] player. Suck it up and learn some real skills like math and science. Encourage your kids to be civil engineers and nurses, and the world will be a better place.

Or learn science, AND be an actual punk rocker. Take us out, Greg Graffin, PhD.

You EA Sports NCAA Football 06 players might know this one.

Written by rkcookjr

June 13, 2009 at 1:20 am

Baring the teeth of the spring sports season

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Blogging has been a little sporadic lately, I know. The danger of posting as a youth sports coach and parent is that sometimes you get crunched by the responsibilities of being a youth sports coach and parent. Particularly when there has been a zillion rainouts, and you have two kids with softball/baseball teams (including the one you manage) playing four games a week (it seems) to make up all the missed games.

Speaking of which, that resulted in a situation on Saturday where I barked like one of my yappy Maltese dogs because an 11- and 12-year-old team refused to get off the field (on orders from its league vp) even though my T-ball team had the field for a regularly scheduled game, and they were there for a rainout. This was on our league’s one major field (we use neighborhood park fields otherwise). What upset me was not that someone made a mistake in scheduling, but that we were brushed aside because we only had little kids. I can’t say I was proud of how snippy I got, but the overall league president stepped in and order the bigger-kids team off the field (rightly so), and we got to play. Plus, some of the parents who got their kids up early (it was a 9 a.m. game) were pretty cranky themselves at the thought they dragged everyone’s butt out of bed only to be told to turn around and go home and get out of the big kids’ way.

I’m over it now. Really!

Ed Kranepool, inspirer of youth

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Hilarious blog post by a guy who sees Ed Kranepool first the guy is a kid and the soon-to-be-retired New York Met is speaking to his Little League banquet (after the guy, and Kranepool, have had shitty seasons), and then sees him again when the guy grows up to be a youth coach. After this, I’m going to book Kranepool for every youth sports ceremony I’ll ever be involved in.

…The All Stars got their marble-based trophies with the golden-like statue of God as a 12-year-old batter swinging oh-so-sweetly atop.

The rest of us got nothing to wash down our lukewarm helping of baked ziti but a couple of pints of envy and self-loathing.

If that wasn’t motivation enough to make you either give up or hit the batting cages, amid all the evening’s glorious ode to excellence and victory was the night’s speaker: Ed Kranepool.

Ed had just finished his 18th and final year with the New York Mets. This dated from the team’s comically inept 1962 inaugural (featuring a still record worst 120 losses out of 160 games) to its 1969 World Series-winning “Miracle Mets” then right back down to the pitifully ugly cellar dwellers of 1979. His nickname “Steady Eddie” came about not so much for his prowess as a pinch hitter but because he continued to show up despite the regular beatings.

That night, Ed discussed how crappy the Mets were and how awful it was playing on a consistently bad team. A strange talk to give a group of baseball-crazed, gung-ho kids but damned if I ever wanted to be Ed Kranepool after that — miserable and mediocre.

I enjoyed several good-to-great seasons of  baseball after that. Then I discovered girls, rock music and under-age drinking and my priorities changed, which is neither here nor there. But I still felt I owed Ed Kranepool his due.

A few months ago, more than 30 years after that fateful night, I again came face-to-face with Steady Eddie. He was at the Mets’ new ballpark, propped up against a waist-high table, pretty much alone. I walked up, introduced myself and asked for an autograph. As he signed, I told him about that Little League banquet.

“Did I hand you a trophy?” he asked.

“No. But you did make a speech. Mostly about how awful the Mets were that season.”

“Well,” he said, “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Enjoy the game.”

Now that’s wisdom worth passing on to beleaguered youth sports coaches and players alike.2897724666_658ae5bb87_m

“Hello, folks! Thanks for coming out! Remember, you can’t make chicken salad out of J.J. Putz!

Dad Jekyll, Coach Hyde

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The latest question posed to the Positive Coaching Alliance: “Why is my husband such an asshole when he coaches?”

My husband is coaching our son’s 9 year old Little League Team. There are 2 other assistant coaches, each with a child (1 boy, 1 girl) on the team. The coaches are trying to teach sound fundamentals to all the kids, and, as is often the case they are all type-A sports-loving men.

All 3 coach’s [sic] kids have a lot of talent. All 3 are struggling with performance anxiety, especially in a game situation. All 3 are practically paralyzed each time they are up to bat. All 3 can hit at practice, but not in the game. All 3 want desperately to do well for their team and for their Dad. All 3 are scrutinized by their Dads when they bat because Dad wants desperately for them to overcome their anxiety and perform.

Only 1 child on the team (not one of the coaches’ children) consistently hits the ball. I hear some encouragement from the coaches but they are frustrated and I’m hearing a lot of comments from the coaches like: come on be a hitter, you’ve got to swing at that, swing the bat, be aggressive, etc.

I have tried talking to my husband, the head coach. He doesn’t seem to be able to change his approach.

Do you have any suggestions? These kids aren’t having fun and I fear they will lose their love for the game. Help!!
– Janet

Janet, dammit, I suggest you read an excellent, well-informed post from this here blog about coaching your own child. It tells you how your husband (and the assistants) should interact with his child (and their children) as a coach (coaches). It also tells you how easy it is to fuck that up. Save up for some therapy bills, Janet.

Specifically for coaching your kid in baseball, I would recommend this:

– Your husband, and your child, should realize that baseball is a game of failure. As the old saying goes, you’re considered a star if you get a hit 30 percent of the time (except by sabermetricians who criticize you for not walking enough). So he, and your child, should relax and not worry about failure because of the nature of the game. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Inderal.

– When you go to games (and Janet, I know you do), you should get all sarcastic when the coaches say stupid shit like “come on be a hitter,” especially if they’re saying it in the form of a run-on sentence. When they say, “come on be a hitter,” you say, “That’s right son! Bash that ball like a baby seal!” Or “So NOW you get around to telling him what that aluminum stick is for?” Or “Brilliant fuckin’ advice, Lasorda.”

– Because talking reasonably to your husband failed, withhold sex and block his online porn until he gets the message.

You’re welcome.

Jodi Scheffler, meet Phillip Sandford

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In writing the other day about Jodi Scheffler, the Kirkland, Wash., mom facing criminal charges for allegedly attacking a 12-year-old Little League player she said was taunting her son, I gave the unsolicited advice that you never, never, never, never, never, ever, ever, ever as a parent/adult take conflicts between kids into your own hands. Give or take a never or ever.

Alas, that advice came way too late for Phillip Sandford. In 2007, the 46-year-old rec league wrestling coach from Old Bridge, N.J., decided he had to step in after seeing an opposing wrestler throw a punch at his charge, who also happened to be Sandford’s son.

Here is a video of the incident, shot by the opposing team from Sayreville, N.J.

The tape shows the wrestlers falling outside the circle, the referee blowing the whistle, and Sandford appearing out of nowhere to tackle the opposing wrestler.

Except that Sandford claims he wasn’t tackling — he tripped and fell. And he ran out there because the opposing wrestler was throwing punches. You can’t see that on the video, though the wrestlers are out of camera range when the alleged punches were thrown.

Unlike Scheffler, Sandford was a coach — I say was because he wasn’t anymore after that tackle/trip-and-fall. So he had some right to be there. But, again, while it’s admirable Sandford wants to protect his son, any father, coach or not, should let the referee handle things. That’s what he’s there for. If the referee isn’t handling things to your satisfaction, you’re better to take it up with a league or tournament official after a cooling-off period rather than racing across the wrestling mat, ready to strike.

Like Scheffler, Sandford was hit with a criminal charge. Here’s NJ.com, reporting from Sandford’s trial last week.

Sandford was charged under a relatively new law that elevates a simple assault, normally a disorderly persons offense, to aggravated assault, an indictable offense, if it occurs at a community or sporting event attended by children younger than 16. The charge is a fourth-degree offense.

The jury had to decide whether Sandford meant to hurt Patrick Ronan of Sayreville, who was then 16, when he ran over and grabbed the Ronan, who was wrestling Sandford’s 14-year-old son.

Last Thursday, a jury in New Brunswick, N.J., couldn’t agree on that question, so the judge declared a mistrial. The parties are due back in court May 29.

Stuff like this makes you wonder whether there should be some partition between parents, coaches and players, like the one my 6-year-old son/, his friend/T-ball teammate and I had to stand behind to see the naked mole rats at Brookfield Zoo Friday so we didn’t disturb their newborns.

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I don’t even want to think what search string is going to end up disappointing the perverts out there.

Political science

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This post will be about politics in sports, but I came up with the headline  as an excuse to post Randy Newman doing “Political Science.”

Greg Sellnow of the Rochester (Minn.) Post-Bulletin isn’t a sportswriter by trade, but he’s been a sports parent and coach for a long while. So it makes sense he used his bully pulpit to preach on about the complaints regarding youth sports, and whether they are grounded in any reality.

I won’t go through all of them, but I will highlight two that struck me as most interesting.

Complaint: Youth sports are too “political.” The top traveling teams are picked by a few rich and powerful parents who control the selection process.

Reality: Sure, there are some coaches and youth sports board members who are listened to more than others. And it’s time that some of these folks give it up and allow some “new blood” to get involved.

But, by and large, the people who serve in these influential positions are there because they’re willing to donate a ton of time and effort to the kids. It’s been my experience that many of the parents who complain the loudest about youth sports being “political” are those who are least willing to volunteer to get involved.

Politics is politics, whether it’s the President of the United States or the president of the 9-year-old girls softball travel team. The ones in power are most influenced by anyone who gets their ear, which is why there are people who dedicate their lives to getting the ear of either president. Or finding a way to get themselves involved in the political system so the president has to listen to them.

The parents who put in the time to help run leagues are often doing yeoman’s work, a thankless job that’s noticed only if someone is pissed off. If that gets their kid a little bump ahead, what the heck? At least everyone knows that kid’s parents is helping to keep things moving.

On the other hand, mee-ow, Greg. Space constraints might have explained why you left it as the bitching parents being those “least willing” to get involved. They might have a legitimate reason not to get involved — job conflict, taking care of a sick mother, taking care of multiple kids, etc. I’m sure you and anyone else in sports have gotten crap from parents who just seem to like to complain, or don’t find out why something happened before yelling about the injustice. But it’s a disservice to all involved if the people involved in running youth sports believe those who aren’t at their meetings are people who don’t give a shit.

On the third hand, if you’re a parent who is upset at how something went down, it wouldn’t hurt to find out how the whole process works. In most cases, the decision-making is far less diabolical than you would believe.

Here is the other nugget from Greg Sellnow’s column I wanted to point out:

Complaint: Kids are encouraged to become one-sport athletes at an early age.

Reality: There’s a lot of truth to this. When my son was in middle school, an assistant youth football coach berated me in front of my child for picking him up early from football practice so he could attend hockey practice. I thought my son showed his dedication to both teams by wanting to fit in half of each practice, rather than skip one altogether. The assistant coach didn’t see it that way.

I’ve always thought kids should be encouraged to participate in multiple sports and a variety of other after-school activities, especially elementary and middle school students.

After all, very few of these kids are going to go on to play competitive sports in college. Many of them won’t even play varsity high school sports. Why not allow them the benefit of a little variety when they’re in elementary and middle school?

I must admit — I’ve been the dickish coach who Sellnow describes.

When I coached my son’s basketball team in fourth grade, I had a kid who also had hockey practice the same night as our practice. No problem. I worked it out with his parents that he alternate between hockey and basketball. I was assured the hockey coach would sign on.

Presumably, he did not. Because this kid probably went to only one or two basketball practices all year.

I was, to say the least, peeved. I had a rule that a kid who missed a practice without letting me know had to sit out the first half, and the parents of the hockey kid didn’t care for that. But the other parents were ticked that this kid never showed up to practice and yet was playing at all. I ended up dropping the rule — that was a bit hard-core for fourth-grade. But also, I was angry at the parents for never following up as to why their kid wasn’t showing up to practices.

What I learned from that was, hey, douchebag, you’re a fourth-grade coach, not Phil Jackson. I probably made the situation bigger than it should have been because I was all, “You must be at practice! This is serious!” What I also learned was that parents and coaches need to communicate with each other in a double-sport situation.

Looking back, the issue wasn’t that the kid wasn’t at my practices. The issue was that the parents said he would be at certain practices, and didn’t bring him. I suspect the hockey coach didn’t agree, and that’s why he didn’t show. But it would have been nice to have been told. If you’re going to have your kid in multiple sports at one time, you owe to your child and your coach to be upfront and make arrangements.

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