Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘athletics

You can use social media to get somebody else's kid kicked off the team!

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After a federal judge refused to overturn the school’s honor code, a 16-year-old Yarmouth (Maine) High lacrosse player decided not to fight her three-week suspension, and her school-mandated alcohol counseling, after the administration got its hands on Facebook pictures of her holding a can of Coors Light. (If you’re a beer snob like me, you might argue that Coors Light doesn’t count as beer, but for the sake of argument we’ll assume it does.)

You should be able to hold this whole truck’s contents in your hands and not violate an athletic honor code, because this truck contains no alcohol.

The question I haven’t seen answered is, how did the school get those pictures? Is the administration spending late nights, like creeps, searching its students’ Facebook profiles? Or, perhaps, would a campaign to besmirch the previously unsmirched be a little more orchestrated?

I’m not saying it happened in this case. But I am saying that in a social media age, if you’re a parent, or a player, wanting to attack some rival for getting more playing time/recognition/tail, what better way to eliminate your rival without the use of a hitman than to forward, surreptitiously, a Facebook photo of that rival doing something that violates the school’s athletic honor code, a document more sacrosanct than the U.S. Constitution?

This is not meant to cast aspersions on anyone involved in the Yarmouth case. After all, the 16-year-old had a beer, or something that had legal standing as beer, in her hand during the course of the lacrosse season in a clear violation of the school’s honor code, the law, and good taste. But if you want to fight evil with evil, it would be very, very easy to do.

In just about every high school since about forever ago, athletes and their parents have been required to sign honor codes that require action (suspension from the team, public apology, death by firing squad in the dean’s office) for various acts of moral turpitude and/or substance abuse (no tobacco, drinking, drugs, public sex with a farm animal) while the sports was in season. In my faint recollections of high school in the pre-Internet era, athletes (except for me, because I was a dork) engaged in all sorts of acts of dishonor, but the school never acted on anything unless something very public happened, like an arrest or sex with a farm animal in the parking lot of a Village Pantry.

The beauty of social media is the definition of “very public” has grown very much. Given the undiscriminating nature of teens’ party picture-taking, it would be fairly easy to pass around an incriminating photo of an athlete. For example, the two female athletes in Churubusco, Ind., who got put through the wringer, including having to explain themselves to an all-male panel, when someone got MySpace photos, off a private setting, of them licking phallus-shaped lollipops.

The ACLU took that case on, citing privacy issues, particularly the privacy in have private settings on stupid photos. So why didn’t it get involved in the Yarmouth case? I’ll surmise that the Indiana case was handled in a much more ham-handed way — the behavior happened over the summer, not during the season, and it didn’t necessarily appear to violate the school’s honor code. (Churubusco High cited a state athletic association rule as its reason for suspending the girls for a year for their Popsicle Twins imitation.) It’s harder to fight a case where the young athlete was caught doing something illegal during the course of the season.

In the Churubusco case, it was never established how the administration there got pictures that were supposed to be on a private MySpace site, for whatever that is worth. In this case and in the Yarmouth case, maybe there were concerned citizens fighting for the honor of the honor code who thought it was important their schools see what was happening.

But that seems a little weird to me. Not to defend any teenager doing something illegal or dangerous captured for posterity, but I have a hard time imagining somehow forwarding social media photos just because someone takes the honor code so seriously.

So if you’re a young athlete, I would recommend, for many reasons, you stay on the straight and narrow. And that if you don’t, make sure no one takes a picture of you. Because you don’t know whether your beer on Saturday ends up as an attachment in the principal’s email on Monday — especially if there’s someone out there who has a problem with you.

Written by rkcookjr

April 15, 2010 at 2:30 am

Will pay-to-play in school sports keep kids on the sidelines?

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It happened in 1991, it happened in 2002, and it’s really, really, really, really, really happening now. In recessionary times, public school districts begin charging fees for sports and other extracurricular activities. Except in Ohio’s sixth-largest school district, in southwest Columbus, which didn’t want its poorer children put in the position of being left out because of money, so it eliminated sports and activities for everyone.

But extreme equality — we treat you all like dogs — aside, scores of school districts are instituting fees for the first time, and they’re afraid that each dollar that has to come out of a parent’s pocket means one less student playing sports. In Loudon County, Va., one of the fastest-growing exurbs in the country during the housing boom, a $15 million budget gap means a $100-a-head fee per student, per sport. From the Loudon Times:

Park View football coach Andy Hill’s primary concern is that the fee might discourage athletes who think they are unlikely to see a lot of playing time.

“The starting varsity athletes will come up with a way to find the fee,” Hill said. “I think the big question is what about that second-tier player? What about that JV player?”

For the 2008-09 school year, the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations reported that participation in high school sports had risen for the 20th straight year — 55.2 percent of all boys and girls, up from 54.8 percent in 2007-08. But pay-for-play was just beginning to trickle into places it had never trickled before. Also in the Washington Post story reporting these numbers was this foreboding paragraph:

According to a source at Montgomery County (Md.) public schools, however, sports participation in Montgomery dropped in 2008-09, down nearly 20 percent from 2007-08. A noticeable drop-off occurred in the winter and spring, once the economic downturn was clearly not a quick blip in the market. Furthermore, the source said the number of students who received a waiver of the county’s $30 athletic participation fee tripled from the previous year. According to a source at Montgomery County public schools, however, sports participation in Montgomery dropped in 2008-09, down nearly 20 percent from 2007-08. A noticeable drop-off occurred in the winter and spring, once the economic downturn was clearly not a quick blip in the market. Furthermore, the source said the number of students who received a waiver of the county’s $30 athletic participation fee tripled from the previous year. (Note: Montgomery raised its fee from $20 to $30 in 2007.)

That’s not a good sign for schools going from zero to $100 or $300 if a $30 fee is pricing out a lot of families. If you want another ominous sign, one northern California district that tried to get families of players to contribute to their the athletic department is now threatening cancellation of sports or forfeiture of games by teams with uncollected fees, because it’s so far behind the budgetary eight-ball.

There’s an argument that children who participate in extracurricular activities should help pay the freight. However, what these fees do is make school sports and activities like park district or private or club activities — something that skews toward people with money, leaving struggling families out in the cold. It’s a shame that in a public school, a child could not participate because of a fee, on top of the taxes the family already pays. Of course, sometimes the problem isn’t just a declining real-estate market killing property tax collections — in this economy, many residents are less likely to vote for a tax referendum that they ever were.

Are pay-to-play fees for sports and other activities keeping your kids from participating? Have you noticed any participation problems in your area because of this?

Written by rkcookjr

September 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm

The myth of the "too good" athlete

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On Aug. 18, Deadspin posted an excellent, 3,000-word piece from writer Craig Fehrman coming back to Jericho Scott, the too-good-for-his-league 9-year-old pitcher who last year became a human Rohrschach test on what people thought of youth sports, America, and its possible pussification. It was not read by an Indianapolis television station which the very next day posted a too-good-for-his-league piece that made every error of judgement Fehrman said was endemic to Jericho’s ascendancy to nation victim/sainthood.

display.cgiThe hole in the middle kind of looks like home plate, don’t you think?

Jericho, as you might remember (and one point of Fehrman’s piece is that you probably don’t), was a cause celebre last year when he supposedly was kicked out of his New Haven, Conn., baseball league for pitching too fast. As usual when a youth sports issue suddenly rise to national prominence, the actual facts of Jericho’s case were tossed out as hand-wringers projected their view on Jericho, his family, his league, the other parents and anyone else who had crossed paths with the young pitcher since birth. Either Jericho represented an overly PC sports world so concerned about everybody getting a trophy that it couldn’t handle true greatness and competition, or, as a hot pitcher in a rec league, he was the embodiment of a win-at-all-costs attitude. Actually, in this case the former seemed to outweigh the latter by about 100-to-1.

As Fehrman writes, “He … became, in what is always a competitive category, the worst-covered sports story of the year.” Fehrman’s conclusive statement after seeing Jericho pitch in a PONY League tournament this summer:

It’s no surprise when sports parents behave badly (I won’t even waste our time on the call to the cops after Saturday’s game), but more than anything, more than a small youth league doing what small youth leagues always do, it was that blend of eccentricity and overcommitment that lay at the heart of Jericho’s saga. The story of a 9-year-old boy who was “too good” was in fact the story of adults — parents and journalists, alike — who were ultimately too childish.

As a youth coach, parents and chronicler of the scene, let me give a bravo and a hearty golf clap to you, Mr. Fehrman, for Getting It. Just about any local youth sports controversy that blows up nationally follows this pattern, and it can have real consequences. Just ask Micah Grimes, the Dallas high school girls basketball coach who got canned earlier this year after his school couldn’t stand the heat that came with an international blowup over a game his team won 100-0.

When a kid is deemed “too good,” there are ways to handle it without involving national media. Last season, another coach and I did just that in our fifth- and sixth-grade co-ed basketball league, working with a player, his family and the league to move him up to a higher level after it was clear after game one that his strong play and aggressive style was going to get other kids hurt and not make him any better. Fortunately, that was a situation where all parties trusted each other and worked to find a common solution that would benefit everyone.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. The problem is never the player. The spark is one, some or all of this group: the player’s parents, the other teams’ parents, the other team’s coaches, the player’s coaches and the league officials. The flame is fanned by well-meaning (or not) journalists, bloggers, local nosey nellies or anyone who either fails to account for all of the politicking involved, chooses a side or decides this is the time for a Big Statement on What’s Wrong With Youth Sports. (It’s too competitive! It’s not competitive enough!)

So has anyone learned from Fehrman’s reporting? Or even, um, this blog, if I may be so self-aggrandizing?

Not yet.

From WRTV in Indianapolis on Aug. 19 comes the story of a 13-year-old sixth-grader kicked out of a suburban football league for, you know it, being “too good.”

Some parents contend that a 13-year-old youth football player was kicked off his team because he’s too good of a player. Chris Mickel, a sixth-grader, said he loved playing football with his teammates in the Greenwood Bantam Football League. Some parents on an opposing team wanted Mickel kicked off his team. They got their way, based on the boy’s age. He’s 12 days too old to play on a 6th grade team, 6News’ Rick Hightower reported.

Parents of children on Mickel’s team said his age became an issue because of a hard hit he put on an opposing player during a game on Saturday.”They’re saying he’s hitting too hard, he’s too big and he’s too talented,” said Shane Wright, parent of another player. “The team loses 20 to nothing. The other coach gets a little bent out of shape. Some of the parents get a little bent out of shape. They start ranting and raving in the audience … cursing.”Mickel can’t play football in junior high school because he’s not in seventh grade, which is the reason the league signed him up, Hightower reported.

Parents of players whose team lost to Mickel’s team on Saturday met with league officials Tuesday night, which led to the boy being kicked off the team. 6News’ cameras were not allowed in the meeting.”All the coaches teach the kids to go out and … give it 110 percent,” said John Mickel, Chris’ father. “He does that and is good at it and they want him to back off.”The father of a 67-pound boy who gets hit in practice by Mickel, who weights 150 pounds, said football is a contact sport that will result in children hitting each other — something he contends all parents should realize before they sign children up for football.

First, I want to congratulate WRTV for using the “Hightower reported” attirbution like he just opened up the box that had the fucking Pentagon Papers. Second, perhaps if “Hightower reported” something other than a few parents bitching, he might have gotten a more accurate read of the situation. The 217 comments (as of this writing) underneath the story have information, if it’s too be believed, about how the league officials ignored their own rules on age limits in assigning the kid to sign up, more details about the opposing players’ complaints, and notes that a few players in the league are more than 200 pounds. (In a fifth- and sixth-grade league? Are they being fed cheeseburgers or HGH?)

So instead of looking at all the ins and outs of the situation, and perhaps having an even better story on the politics in youth sports (which you can get into without taking sides on the politics themselves), instead “Hightower reported” the easy story — Chris Mickel is out because he’s too good! So in those 217 comments, you can guess the number that are arguments about whether Mickel represents youth sports idiocy or athletics’ takeover by Big Pussy. (Most of them.)

Maybe in a year Fehrman can write about Mickel. That way, the lesson of what’s really behind the “too good” stories will sink in. Eh, probably not.

Written by rkcookjr

August 20, 2009 at 1:06 am

SI's top high school sports programs: an exercise in money

with 2 comments recently released its list of the top high school sports programs in each state. They were based on results in the 2008-09 academic years, as well as interviews with athletic directors and weighing the school’s propensity to produce star athletes and nationally ranked teams. Given the financial support of the schools on the list, the results are as surprising as seeing the Yankees and Red Sox on top of the American League East.

Just like in academics, money and community support are huge in determining what is an elite athletic school, and what is not. At the scholastic level, sports is not an equalizer. It reflects the same gaps between school districts you would notice looking at standardized test scores.

Six out of the top 10 overall — including No. 1 Punahou School of Honolulu (you might have heard of one its former basketball players) — are private schools. The other four are suburban.

[youtubevid id=”vYCEnVmNkpE”]

Sarah Palin ain’t the only politician working who can work in a basketball metaphor. Wait, I forgot, she’s not working.

The list is broken down by top program in each state, as well as the District and Columbia. The breakdown, by category of school:

Private schools: 20. Eighteen of those were Catholic or Jesuit. The exceptions are Punahou (an indpendent private school) and John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La. No wonder public schools are constantly lobbying their state high school athletic associations to put some sort of multiplier on private schools so they have to move up to a larger class designation.

Suburban schools: 16. There are more than you’d might think, given the addresses such as Millard West in Omaha, Neb., Union in Tulsa, Okla., and Ben Davis in Indianapolis. But all are in suburban districts, not part of the center city schools.

Small towns schools: 6. One of them, Camden Hills Regional in Rockport, Maine, has gotten approval to become a quasi-private school, accepting foreign students at $35,000 a pop just like some of the private schools in the state.

College town schools: 2. Fayetteville, Ark. (University of Arkansas), and Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University).

Not quite small town, not quite urban, not quite suburban: 3. I’m reserving this category for Billings (Montana) West, Pocatello (Idaho) Highland and Sioux Falls (S.D.) Lincoln. They’re in cities with more than one high school, so they’re not totally small town. But they aren’t exactly gritty urban settings. But they’re their own cities, not suburbs. So I made up this category.

That leaves four schools that could qualify as urban schools: La Cueva in Albuquerque, Hillsboro in Nashville, Dimond in Anchorage, Alaska, and Muskegon, Mich.

However, La Cueva is essentially a suburban school in a city district, with its location on the northeast edge of Albuquerque, the wealthiest portion of a city with few suburbs. Hillsboro is an urban school, but it also is home to one of Nashville’s International Baccalaureate programs, making it a regular in Newsweek’s annual top 1,500 high schools list. Dimond, on its Wikipedia page, has someone bragging it has the greatest alumni support of any high school in Alaska.

So it’s not that those schools are not urban. It’s just that each has circumstances that give it financial and community support beyond what most urban schools receive.

That leaves Muskegon, Mich.

Muskegon doesn’t seem like much of an urban area, not with a population of 39,ooo (and falling). However, as one of the many examples of Michigan manufacturing centers whose jobs have gone elsewhere, the city’s demographics mirror those of many urban schools: a 40 percent minority population, and about 30 percent of its children below the poverty line.

So how do its programs stand out while other urban schools suffer? Well, it probably helps that it’s the only high school in the city, so it can receive all of the community’s focus. It also helps that Muskegon, since the 1920s, has been a consistent football power in Michigan, so there is a standard to uphold for sports. Some might also argue that the sports can remain strong because all you need to do to play is pass, barely, two-thirds of your classes.

Still, Muskegon might be the best model worth studying for anyone trying to keep urban school sports thriving. If’s list is indicative, it’s the only model out there.

Written by rkcookjr

July 9, 2009 at 12:14 am

Florida uses the nuclear option

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Maine couldn’t bring itself to cut high school sports at a statewide level. But Florida could — and did.

On Monday night, the Florida High School Athletic Association voted 9-6 to chop varsity sports games by 20 percent and JV and freshman games by 40 percent for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Varsity football, a big moneymaker, is unaffected. Competitive cheerleading is unaffected as well. Wait, is that a big moneymaker, too? New FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing in March put forth this proposal, saying the only other option was eliminating sports.

As you can imagine, this isn’t going over well with athletic directors.

From the Miami Herald, which notes that a lot of high-powered basketball programs who hosted or traveled to tournaments now can’t do so with a 20-game limit:

”I was a student in this county, and now I’ve been coaching in this county for 20-some years,” said Larry Brown, athletic director at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. “I have never seen anything like this, cuts so drastic.”

Added Roger Harriott, AD at Davie’s University School: “It sends the wrong message to the kids, considering they’re the whole reason we have a job.”

In Miami, these games cuts were made five years ago. But the county school district says it still might have to eliminate multiple conference tournaments.

The problem in Florida is this: the state’s property taxes are refigured on an annual basis, and they’re based on the average sale prices for January, the busiest home-selling month in the state. (In my state, Illinois, your property gets reassessed every three years, based on an average price for the previous three years. So my schools are doing OK, because the last assessment caught the last three years of the real estate peak.)

The Florida system was great during the real estate boom times. Now, it’s sending school budgets cratering. Here was my report from January 2009, when I was visiting mortgage-scarred Bradenton.

Individual schools across the country are cutting sports budgets, but I haven’t heard of another state athletic association putting the hammer down on everyone. Will it be the last? I’m going to go out on a limb and say: probably not.


A Florida High School Athletic Association board member at work.

EDIT: Boy, I am behind. New York and Mississippi already have enacted similar cuts statewide, with New York (unlike Mississippi) even cutting football. Oklahoma earlier this decade cut sports schedules to save money, though that was before the current recession. Idaho’s state high school athletic association in April voted down an across-the-board 10 percent event cut, but it might revisit the issue in May, as well as looking at other cost-saving moves.

No salary cap for Maine athletics

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Another belated update: a committee of the Maine Principals’ Association voted last week not to go through with a proposal to make across-the-board cuts in state high school sports, excepting reductions in the number of teams allowed in postseason play and a few other trims here and there. There had been talk of cutting games out of the regular season, restricting travel and other means to reduce the growing athletics cost burden. Instead, the local schools have to make their own cuts, thus showing the buck-passing skills principals are noted for.

However, on the flip side the New York Yankees of Maine school districts do maintain the right to buy a $35,000 commode on legs if they so wish.

And, no, “$35,000 commode on legs” is not a euphemism for a crappy football coach.

Written by rkcookjr

February 5, 2009 at 4:40 pm