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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.

Football fan hits ref with chair, pro-wrestling style (updated with arrest info)

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Vince McMahon might weep with joy at the above Alabama high school football fan’s ability to run and swing a chair with pinpoint accuracy. Then again, McMahon might also weep with disbelief at how three older, out-of-shape-looking referees turned around and whomped the guy, unscripted, after he hit one of their own across the back with said chair.

You might have seen this video elsewhere in the last few days — I caught it on Total Pro Sports. The incident happened after the final gun in a high school football game featuring two Alabama small-school powers, undefeated host Hackleburg and Lynn, which suffered its first loss when it fell to Hackleburg 20-14 in its homecoming game.

Hackleburg, located about two hours northwest of Birmingham, near the Mississippi border, is most famous as the hometown of country singer Sonny James, the Southern Gentleman. But it’s going to get a lot more famous for what that Southern Anti-Gentleman did with the chair. You can see at about 1:15 into the video (the action is paused so you can get a good look at the alleged assailant) that a fan tosses a folding chair over the fence surrounding the field. Once the game ends, he sprints through the crowd on the field and whaps a ref, before he gets set upon by the zebras and various fans.

I presume this would have to be a Lynn fan who was upset. But details about who this guy is, and what happened in the aftermath, are sorely lacking. I checked three different writeups of the game, and none mention the chair incident. I haven’t found any follow-up on the story, either, beyond snarky blog posts.

I called the Marion County (Ala.) Sheriff’s Department to see if this person was arrested. The very nice lady who answered the phone said any trouble would have been handled by Hackleburg police, so I would need to call police chief Kenny Hallmark when he’s back in the morning. So that’s what I’ll do. For what it’s worth, the current jail roster in Marion County doesn’t mention anyone brought in from Hackleburg. Given I’m writing this four days after the Oct. 2 incident, I presume someone would have come up with the guy’s bail money by now if he booked a suite in the ol’ Graybar Hotel.

I talked with Hackleburg police chief Kenny Hallmark, who identified the fan in the video as Don Cagle, 22, of Jasper, Ala. He was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and two Class C felonies: assault on a sports official and assault on a police officer. Class C is the least severe felony charge — assault in the third degree. Hallmark said that after the video ended, Cagle kicked an officer and spit in his face three times. Cagle bonded out of Marion County Jail, though no court date has yet been set. Hallmark said Cagle has no criminal record that he knows of. Hallmark said he couldn’t speak to a motive, though he noted Cagle was on the Lynn side of the field and was wearing Lynn colors.

By the way, Alabama is one of the many states that have strengthened their assault penalties when it comes to attacking a sports official, which gives you an idea how often this stuff happens, or at least happened before the laws were place. It’s telling that you can get the same penalty for assaulting a referee as you can a police officer. In Cagle’s case, he could face one to 10 years in jail and a $15,000 fine if gets convicted on one of the felony charges, double if he gets convicted on both. The guy who attacked the referee could face felony assault charges that would put him in prison for up to 20 years. We know who’ll be weeping if that happens, and it won’t be Vince McMahon.

Written by rkcookjr

October 6, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Death of a Wildcat

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A guy you never heard of, but who has likely affected the lives of your kids in sports, has died.

On Wednesday, John S. Grantham Sr. died in Fort Wayne, Ind., at age 74 of a Parkinson’s-related illness. Who was he? For 33 years (1971-2004) he was the president of Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League. He didn’t start the league. But Grantham kept it growing and helped make it a national model for how to run a youth sports league.

The Wildcat league is best known for its motto: “Everybody makes the team.” In a sense, you could argue that the Wildcat Baseball League, and the all attention it generated, including this 1988 Sports Illustrated piece, popularized the idea that youth sports could be an activity, not a competition.

After all, when 80-year-old soybean magnate Dale McMillen founded the league in 1960, it was a time when 80 percent of Fort Wayne’s boys who tried out for baseball got cut from their teams. (When I played Little League in 1981 in North Muskegon, Mich., players still risked getting cut.) The idea of a league where everyone plays was a radical idea. But that’s the kind of league McMillen ran, up until he died in 1971 at age 91. Kids paid for their T-shirts and caps, and the other expenses — including hiring paid coaches — came on McMillen’s dime. The emphasis was on instruction. Instead of razzing a kid for striking out or flubbing a grounder, a coach will take a second and show the child what he did wrong — and what he can do right. The emphasis was on practice, not games.

Not that score is never kept in Wildcat Baseball — it is. There are championship trophies, and everyone doesn’t get one. But the perfect attendance trophies are just as large, and just as coveted.

Grantham started working with Wildcat baseball in 1963, and he succeeded McMillen as league president. He kept up the Wildcat instructional traditions, and kept up the endowment so now, as then, all kids pay for is the T-shirt and cap while the league pays the coaches. Grantham also continued McMillen’s work of getting major-leaguers to come by to visit (Jackie Robinson once showed), and organizing bus trips to take thousands of Fort Wayne kids to Detroit or Chicago for Major League games.

Grantham also, according to fellow Wildcatters quoted in Fort Wayne papers, was instrumental in getting national publicity for the league, including the SI article and an NBC Nightly News piece. Parade Magazine had just left town after reporting a piece on the program right before Grantham’s death. It might be too much to say that the fact many leagues don’t cut kids anymore (at least not for house leagues) or make a big deal stating they’re all about instruction over winning has something directly to do with McMillen, Grantham and Wildcat Baseball. But it probably does, at least because Wildcat Baseball did it before a lot of others and has done it better.

Over the years, about 200,000 Fort Wayne boys (and girls now, too) have gone through the Wildcat program. Some have gone to further success (though no big major-leaguers), but that’s not the point. Often, a family, especially in an urban area, has to choose between a competitive program that’s expensive or no program at all — the latter of which might happen because the money isn’t available to fund a decent youth sports league. Fortunately for the kids of Fort Wayne, the work of McMillen and Grantham means their parents have another, better option.

Written by rkcookjr

July 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Amid downturn, a rally to save youth sports

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Self-promotion alert! A piece I wrote for MSNBC.com’s “The Elkhart Project” about youth sports and the recession is up (with the headline I nicked).

We’re at an interesting point in youth sports. On the one hand, any program, particularly one affiliated with a school, that draws from a truly downtrodden area, particularly an urban area, is dying on the vine. Meanwhile, as I mentioned in the story, cities across the country are blowing out their budgets to build new youth sports facilities not only for their own local pleasure, but as an economic engine because of all the tournaments it could hold, and the money they bring in from parents who are spending more and more to get their kids into bigger and bigger leagues.

This video on the Abilene News-Reporter site has Jon Smith, director of the Abilene Youth Sports Authority, this week explaining why taxpayers should love to kick in to build a $40 million facility in the central Texas city of 120,000. Last year, the people of Abilene told the youth sports authority to stay out of their wallets. Geez, people, the Authority itself was founded, in its own words, “on Christian principles” — how much more of a sign from God do you need?

Anyway, it’s not surprising that those who have the money to spend, spend it, and those who can’t, don’t. What’s interesting is cases like Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate went from 5 percent to 18 percent in about six months (Elkhart is more reliant on manufacturing jobs, as a percentage of employment, than any metro area in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — something like 40 percent). I understand why the parents want to keep their kids in activities, despite the economy. As they say in the MSBNC.com article, it’s fun, it’s relatively inexpensive (as entertainment and socializing for the adults, too), it gets kids up and moving around, and, hey, it’s not the kids’ fault the RV plants shut down.

However, one thing I began to suspect after I wrote the article, and especially in wondering how long people in Elkhart can keep up youth sports spending (in the most devastated parts of the city, they aren’t), is the importance of youth sports in staying middle class. After all, if you’re in between jobs, you can suck it up, sign up your kids and maintain your social standing. If you’re having to pull your kids out of stuff, that’s not only disappointing to your children, but it’s also a signal to your family and the world that something has fundamentally changed. You’re not a middle-class person who happened to run into a rut. You’re a poor person.

This is amateur sociology on my part. I didn’t ask the people of Elkhart if that’s how they felt. I’m not sure how many have given it that much thought, and I’m not a budding Marxist trying to show how capitalism crushes the workers’ spirits. But as a parent, I know that if  I had to start saying no to my kids about signing up for their favorite activities, it would be a profound change in mindset about who we are and where we stand as a family.

By the way, when you talk to the people in Elkhart, you can’t help but root for them. Not to say that people in other areas hard-hit by the recession aren’t worthy of support. But in Elkhart I found people who carried a real and genuinely positive attitude that somehow, things were going to get better, and they were going to make things better the best they could. I hope they succeed.

Minnesota declares a week without sports…

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…and I’m sure it’ll be just as effective as TV Turnoff Week.

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

…[t]he Minnesota State High School League [approved] a no-contact period for coaches and student-athletes effective July 1-7, 2010. The amendment, which the MSHSL representative assembly passed by a 43-2 vote, calls for an Independence Week of sorts, a small piece of summer reserved for athletes and their families.

“The kids need breaks,” MSHSL executive director Dave Stead said. “They are not collegians connected through a scholarship to play a sport. The good coaches know that, and they’ll make the adjustments.”

Metro-area coaches, while acknowledging a seven-day moratorium is not a big deal — Apple Valley wrestling coach Jim Jackson called it “trivial” — question two principal implications. Girls’ basketball coaches Faith Patterson of Minneapolis North and Ray Finley of Providence Academy wondered what message is being sent when only high school coaches — not AAU basketball coaches — are asked to provide time for kids to be kids.

And Blaine boys’ hockey coach Dave Aus and Spring Lake Park boys’ basketball coach Grant Guzy are concerned that the MSHSL might decide to expand the no-contact period. If that happened, Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson worries that athletes choosing to invest in private instruction might not get a worthwhile return.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association established a similar summer no-contact period in 2007. Associate director Tom Rashid said schools can choose their own seven-day break to be completed by Aug. 1, and about 95 percent do so over the Fourth of July. Adjusting to the new rule, Rashid said, took time.

“We probably had 100 phone calls that first summer, maybe more, from coaches asking, ‘I can’t do this? I can’t do that?’ Rashid said. “The amount of agony in the first year of the program to find 168 hours of no high school sports led me to believe that we absolutely needed something to pull the reins back.”

Bless their bleeding hearts and good intentions, but here are the problems for any high school athletic association mandating a week without sports.

The elite athletes, as noted above, are going to keep playing AAU and club sports, so all this rule does is give athletes and their parents one more reason to find school-affiliated sports lacking in comparison.

As for the comments that athletes investing in instruction might not get a worthwhile return — it sounds crazy that one week mandating no practices or games might make that much of a difference. But I’m sure every hockey and basketball coach (and every other coach in every sport but football) in Minnesota (and the nation) sweats whether the best players are going to keep playing high school sports, knowing college recruiters are paying a lot more attention to the more elite club level.

Meanwhile, the middling high school athletes, trying to keep up, will still end up in private sessions, worthwhile return or not. So it’s not like they’re actually taking a week off — nor are their parents.

I know we’re all trying to figure out ways to de-emphasize sports so kids aren’t getting mentally or physically burned out. But Minnesota’s rule rests on an assumption that kids at the high school level are burning out. That’s not necessarily so. Most surveys talk about 75 percent of youth athletes quitting by age 13. However, one Canadian study, looking at registration data, posits the idea that the decline in youth sports participation into the teenage years not a matter of kids quitting en masse in the tween years– it’s that fewer new players join a sport as the years go on. That makes sense, given the early age so many kids start in sports, and the self-selection either in discovering one’s talent or realizing one is a long way back from the kids who have played for a while.

There are players quoted in the Star-Tribune story saying they feel like the week without sports is ridiculous. After all, if you’re dedicated to some activity at the high school level, you’re probably good at it and passionate about it. Heck, my 6-year-old son, whose T-ball closing ceremony is tonight, is upset he can’t start next year’s league tomorrow.

Minnesota’s move for a week without sports comes from lofty ideals, and I’m sure there are parents who hope that really means they’re on break for a week. However, I doubt it’s going to change the athletic landscape in the state, except to tip a few more of the top athletes away from high school sports.

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.

It's a liberal media conspiracy against home-school football!

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No, not the New York Times’ straight-on story about the Glory for Christ Football League, largely populated by teams of home-schooled children who are not allowed, under state law, to play at their local public schools. (You can read more here about so-called Tim Tebow bills, named for the two-time Heisman-winning Florida quarterback who was home-educated but played on the local high school football team thanks to that state legislature’s 1996, first-of-its-kind law to allow such arrangements.)

What is going to get some in a lather (or in hysterics), I suspect, is the first photo the Times posted on its slide show accompanying the piece. I won’t post it because of copyright, but let’s just say it doesn’t speak well of the people doing the home schooling. Next on Hannity: Why is the New York Times making evangelical Christians look stupid by ignoring all of their correctly spelled signs?

Then again, I can’t judge too harshly, not with so many signs with misspelled words, misplaced apostrophes and general awfulness that makes it seem that while English is not a dead language, its speakers are actively trying to kill it.

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Written by rkcookjr

June 26, 2009 at 5:45 pm

How well-intentioned parents cause future head cases

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Nell Minow smartens up the vast wasteland of the Internet with a Beliefnet.com Q&A with Richard Weissbourd, author of the book, “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Parents Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development.”

I haven’t read the book — in fact, I just heard of it by looking at this interview — but the title conforms with my own hypothesis (hardly unique) that most of the problems with sports parenting are caused by parents who care way, way too much. (For a hilarious look at how that plays out, I highly recommend you get the first season of the Canadian television series “The Tournament,” which focuses on the foibles of the parents of a traveling hockey team of 10-year-olds. Not the second season, though. That is as awful as the first season is spectacular.)

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The portion from 2:52-3:17 is about the most brilliant distillation of youth sports ever in a work of fiction.

Here is the exchange in Minow’s interview with Weissbourd regarding sports parents. Inside his answers are two irrefutable truths about sports parenting. One, that when someone first becomes a sports parent, you go a little crazy inside watching your child having to fight on his or her own right in front of you — and you can’t step in. Two, that it’s very easy to wrap up your self-worth, and the worth of other parents, in how well your child or their child performs, especially if a social circle builds with the parents of the “good” kids — and you’re not in it.

You write about the “morally mature” sports parent. Why do you think many parents are immature, and what can be done about it?

While a great deal of media attention has been trained on reckless parents and coaches at children’s sporting events, many of us as parents and coaches, if we are honest with ourselves, get far too wrapped up in these events and fail to model for children a basic respect and responsibility for others. I remember realizing that whether my child’s hit slipped by the shortstop or was caught might affect my mood for days, and being furious at a perfectly innocent eight-year-old child who kept striking out my son and his teammates. Sports consultant Greg Dale coaches parents to be alert to other classic signs of their overinvestment, such as saying “we” won or lost the game, regularly occupying dinner conversations with talk about children’s sports or planning family vacations around sports events. Some of us get bent out of shape at these games, of course, because we are looking to our kids to fulfill our fantasies, or because of our competitive feelings toward other parents. But there are many other reasons.

Children’s sports can stir up old childhood wounds and yank us back to old childhood battles–peer and sibling rivalries, difficulties with authority, painful experiences of unfairness and mistreatment, struggles with shyness and self-assertion. For some adults who experience their lives as monotonous, children’s sports can provide an eventful, compelling plot, with their own child as a central character.

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.

Why I don't like everybody-gets-a-trophy leagues

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It’s not because they ruin our youth and our society.

It’s not because they devalue true excellence.

It’s not because they are responsible for bailouts to the auto industry.

It’s not because they lead to killing sprees.

It’s because they take up a lot of space.

Even before my youngest gets in sports, I have bedrooms and drawers cluttered with sports participation trophies (with one more coming for my 6-year-old son’s T-ball closing ceremony next week). I’ve got a lot of sports parenting years to go — where am I going to put all this stuff?

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Written by rkcookjr

June 25, 2009 at 3:58 pm

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