Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Bradenton

If sports parents aren't crazy enough for you, go to Chuck E. Cheese

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If you have children in sports, or children of any sort, you probably already know about the hell that can be Chuck E. Cheese, where the ad tagline says it’s a place where a kid can be a kid, but leaves out that a parent can be a fucking maniac. Watching their kid at a ballgame can bring out the worst in some parents, but even close access to weaponry such as hockey sticks or baseball bats does not bring out the level of mayhem as close access to animatronic rodents and lousy pizza.

Like the executives at Chuck E. Cheese say, the vast majority of the time you can bring your children there and have a pleasant experience, especially if you give your children a Karen Silkwood-style disinfectant shower afterward. However, the presumed kid-friendly environment is a powder keg of subsumed violence ready to explode at any moment, such as if someone is taking too long at the photo machine.

That was the cause of a Feb. 15 fight in a Memphis location, which ended up with four people being arrested, and is part of the reason I’m reminded at this moment about the worst of Chuck E. Cheese.

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A few days later, in Indianapolis, a Chuck E. Cheese security camera showed a mom who used her 5-year-old to help her jack another patron’s purse.

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That Chuck E. Cheese is a place where your child can play grab-ass while you play punch-face is hardly a recent development. The Wall Street Journal two years ago had a great story about the chain’s criminal customer element that started thus: “In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese’s.”

Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese’s, since it is designed to be a haven for children. Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children’s birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.

The environment also brings out what security experts call the “mama-bear instinct.” A Chuck E. Cheese’s can take on some of the dynamics of the animal kingdom, where beasts rush to protect their young when they sense a threat.

Stepping in when a parent perceives that a child is being threatened “is part of protective parenting,” says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association. “It is part of the species — all species, in fact — in the animal kingdom,” he says. “We do it all of the time.”

That explains the Saturday night in a Bradenton, Fla., Chuck E. Cheese, when I looked up and saw my oldest, heretofore quiet, even-keeled son, then 4 years old, huffing and growling repeatedly, mama bear-like, at another boy in the rat tunnel. He was baring his teeth enough, I thought perhaps my son had turned into Way Pre-Teen Wolf. When he came down — I couldn’t physically get up there to extricate him — my son explained that the boy had pushed aside his 2-year-old sister, and that made him mad. As heartened as I was he was protecting his sister, it was clearly time to go.

The post-toddler growling was the climax of a night that featured what causes the tension at Chuck E. Cheese: parents of varying parental ability gathering in one spot to let their children run buck-wild because Chuck E. Cheese is a place where a kid can be a kid, and a parent doesn’t have to be a parent.

So why do we as parents keep going back? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question. My kids have generally had a good time there over the years, and after Brandentongate we learned to never go on a Friday or Saturday night again. But I must admit, entering a Chuck E. Cheese makes my adrenaline rush like a walk through an unknown bad neighborhood, part fear of what might come, and part excitement for a chance to witness mayhem and make my dull suburban life just a little more exciting.

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Written by rkcookjr

February 21, 2010 at 1:37 am

Jamie Moyer: crazy sports parent

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In the same Sports Illustrated featuring an excerpt of Mark Hyman’s youth-sports-are-maiming-our-children tome “Until It Hurts” and a profile of an ESPN high school national championship won by Findlay Prep, which is not in reality a high school, comes a profile of Jamie Moyer, an athlete who seems to be a living argument against overemphasizing your youth athlete  in a single sport as a means of getting to the majors.

Moyer, a Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, is best known for being old and good, winning 213 of his 247 games after age 30 (he’s 46) with a fastball your kid could outrun. The story, by Michael Bamberger, notes Moyer was passionate about baseball early, but that he spent his high school sporting life playing “golf in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. … In the summer he’d work and play American Legion baseball and pickup basketball and squeeze in nine holes at the public course in the fading light.”

A well-rounded sports childhood. Probably explains how well he can use his wits, and why he’s been able to pitch so long without hurting himself. Surely he would use that example for his own seven children to follow…

…oh wait.

[The Moyer family moved from Seattle] to Bradenton [Fla.] for Dillon, a 17-year-old shortstop. And for Hutton, a 15-year-old second baseman. The family moved to Bradenton to further the baseball educations of the two oldest boys. Dillon, a high school junior, and Hutton, a freshman, are enrolled in the baseball program at the IMG Academy. They are full-time students and full-time ballplayers. Dillon and Hutton will not be mowing bumpy municipal ball fields [as Jamie did] anytime soon, but they take ground balls all year long.

“I grew up blue-collar, my kids are growing up in a major league environment,” [Moyer] says. As baseball players I want Dillon and Hutton to have the best possible coaching. Access to experts in nutrition. Weight training. Good competition. Exposure. They’ve said they want to see how far they can get in baseball. I’m fortunate to have the means to help them.”

And with that, thousands of intense sports parents got instant justification for what they’re doing.

Live from one of America’s mortgage crisis epicenters

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I might not technically be writing about youth sports with this post, but I’ll bring it up somewhere to make sure I keep the theme.

I’m in Bradenton, Fla., packing up the condo my mother-in-law just sold. (Obviously, not packing at this very moment.)

She, I and my family are pretty sad over her selling. She’s had the place for 17 years. My wife and I used it as the base for our honeymoon. My 6-year-old son did his first crawling there. The oldest son, now 11, had his first tub (well, kitchen sink) bath there. We regret my 3-year-old daughter has only been there once. Lots and lots of great memories, and more than that the loss of a place that we knew we could use to escape from real life for a little while.

However, that feeling is balanced by the fact that we don’t get down here as much as we used to (whole family hasn’t been down since August 2006), and what I’m seeing down here now. Real life is hitting damn hard. (Note: I know this post is going to be text-heavy, but I’ll update later with a few pics, after I drive home.)

Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice’s median housing value is down 33 percent since September 2007, and half of that decline is just since August 2008, according to eppraisal.com. The Florida Association of Realtors puts the year-over-year (November 2007 to 2008 ) decline at 35 percent, with home sales down 13 percent. All sorts of places — restaurants, grocery stores, knick-knack shops, banks, whatever — that I remember thriving when I was last here are shuttered. The place I where rented the moving truck sells used cars. The owner told me business for him is good, unlike the boom times, when people refinanced their houses to buy new cars, boats and whatever else. Now, people are coming to his lot because they absolutely have to get a car, and they absolutely can not get credit anywhere else.

Jeb Bush’s school reforms, for whatever they were worth, are dying on the vine because education finances are getting killed ($480 million in state cuts to schools this year, for starters). Property-tax appraisals are annual, based on the average price of real estate the previous January — great if times are booming, apocalyptic if they are not. Sarasota County had to make $31 million in cuts to next year’s budget. In Manatee County, where I’m sitting, the district has decided to double its substitute-teacher pool rather than replace teachers who leave so they can more easily let go teachers if enrollment and funding decline.

All of this will get even worse when the January 2009 numbers come in. In Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), the $41 million in budget cuts this year are only half of what they will be next year — $82 million. In Hillsborough County (Tampa), the district will have to cut $86 million next year on top of the $57 million this year. My mother-in-law was fortunate she got an offer and that she is making money off the sale of her condo, because most people aren’t. One condo in her 50-unit building is in foreclosure, while another just down the hall from her has gotten its second notice, according to the condo association meeting minutes I saw by the elevator. People here are telling me all sorts of horror stories about how people who bought at the peak suddenly see themselves $200,000 under water, and that doesn’t even take into account that it’s not just the mortgages in these homes that are toxic, as this story about destructive Chinese drywall attests.

Tourism, one of the major underpinnings of the economy, has taken a huge hit as well, and on top of the that the state of Florida is talking about cutting its tourism marketing budget. I don’t know specific numbers, but I know driving around here is remarkably easier than it normally is over past winters. I guess I’ve contributed to the decline, not having been to Bradenton since 2006. Of course, it was a lot easier to go when plane fares were dirt-cheap. It cost me $100 for my one-way ticket from Chicago Midway to Sarasota, a lot less than last year’s high-gas-price sticker shock. But it used to be we could easily find deals to go for about $100 round-trip.

So what does this have to do with youth sports?

Certainly, at some point, if it hasn’t happened, schools, localities are going to have to hike fees and cut programs. Lincoln, Calif., a suburb of another mortgage meltdown epicenter (Sacramento), is proposing eliminating its youth sports program altogether to balance its budget. Here in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, there is talk of cutting coaches’ salaries (in most schools, coaches are paid a small stipend on top of their teaching pay) or having more of the subs handling those duties. That assumes the number of kids playing organized youth sports goes up or stays even, not a sure bet. The districts here in Southwest Florida, which for years had students in trailers because they couldn’t build schools fast enough (or get enough funding from the locals to build them as they were needed), are closing schools because of declining enrollment.

A lot of people say that youth sports is recession proof, that in fact it gets even more popular in tough economic times as people choose those activities over big-ticket items and vacations. I suspect Bradenton and Southwest Florida are going to show us whether such an assertion is true.

Written by rkcookjr

January 14, 2009 at 10:16 am