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Needham soccer hazing, and why this douchebaggery keeps happening

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In March, I wrote a piece called “Why youth sports hazing happens: because adults say it can.” I’m delighted to report that my hard-hitting look at adult compliance in condoning and/or covering up hazing was a major factor in why, for example, prosecutors find it so difficult to convict or even file cases in the most egregious of examples, has had absolutely no effect, judging by the adults’ reaction when some Needham (Mass.) High School girls soccer players got suspended because of alleged hazing of teammates.

Four seniors and a freshman were suspended for activities that, news reports say, involved victims being led, blindfolded, on dog leashes, then hit in the face with pies. This happened after Needham clinched its conference title Oct. 29.

As hazing goes, this is certainly no broomstick-up-the-anus. But the school was right to take action. School administrators are often criticized for having zero tolerance for anything but zero tolerance, but it can’t condone hazing of any kind. In too many places, what started as an innocent ritual devolved into something far more sinister, sometimes including alcohol, sometimes including activities that could put perpetrators on the sex-offender list for life. If schools are going to take a hard line against bullying, then hazing is included. After all, in hazing, the victims are coerced or forced to participate, lest they be seen as bad teammates or stupid little pukes. Massachusetts since 1985 has had a state law that bars hazing in schools.

As you can imagine, many in the greater Needham community united in the face of such action — united so they could hire a lawyer to try to get an injunction overturning the suspensions, which happened right before the start of the state tournament. On Nov. 8, a judge refused to grant the injunction, saying students did not have an inherent right to participate in school sports, and that the plaintiffs failed to show they could win the case. On Nov. 9, Needham got smoked 7-1 by Brockton in the first round of the state tournament.

Hazing didn’t start at Needham this year. One of the most impassioned defenses of the soccer team was that hazing had gone on forever, but Principal Dickbag for some reason decided this was the year to ruin everybody’s life. Now, on some level, I can understand students — especially the players themselves — reacting this way. They are teenagers. Everything is a tragedy, and, yeah, it would suck to suddenly have your season taken away from you, especially if it’s something no one thought twice about for years.

But they are reasonable, dispassionate observers compared to some of the adults. Who do you think taught these kids to haze, and be outraged when they were told hazing wasn’t allowed?

I learned by watching you!

From the Boston Globe:

The mother of a junior on the Needham High School girls soccer team says that the suspensions of several players on the team for alleged hazing were too severe for what she called a “misguided attempt at team building.”

In an email to the Globe, Needham parent Sharon Lund said that the team was supporting both the players and the team’s coach, who also reportedly has been placed on leave. She said her daughter is a junior on the team who was not implicated in the incident.

“As the parent of an underclassman, I can safely say that the ENTIRE Needham Girl’s Soccer team and parents are UNANIMOUS in supporting each senior who has been placed on suspension and the coach who has been placed on administrative leave, and assert that the event in question in no way warrants the issuing of suspensions by Needham High School,” Lund said in the email. “In a nutshell, there was no intention to harm, nor was any harm perceived by team members, during a misguided attempt at team building.”

She continued:

“In my personal opinion, these girls have handled a serious mistake in a more mature fashion than either the NHS administration or the press has to date. This was an isolated intra-team issue that they resolved to everyone’s satisfaction amongst themselves with active support from the coach, and in the process strengthened the bonds amongst them. As some of the parents have so aptly pointed out, aren’t these the life skills that we want our daughters to have?”

Yes, not having that experience when I ran cross country and track in high school has always been a handicap for me when I got to the part of the job interview where I was blindfolded, led on a dog leash, and hit with pies.

More from the Globe:

In an interview, a 1988 graduate of Needham High School who said he was the godfather of one of the suspended students said he was shocked and disappointed that the girls were suspended.

“This is something that has been going on for years. It is nothing major, and everyone jumped to conclusions so quickly,” said Joshua Melia, a Needham resident. He said he was “angry and disappointed” on behalf of his goddaughter, a senior co-captain, and her teammates for “something so minor.”

“This was not bullying and it was not hazing, but that’s what they are calling it. To just label the kids in that way isn’t fair,” said Melia, who said he was a member of Needham High’s wrestling team, and recalled that minor-league teasing of freshmen team members was common in his day.

In an email to the Globe, Benji Eisenberg, who identified himself as a Needham High graduate, said “Hazing. What’s the big deal?”

“Hazing/initiation rites are one of the most important aspects of team building and bonding,” he said, adding that team “tryouts are almost a hazing experience in themselves.”

I was never in a fraternity, nor any organization where hazing was a rite of passage. Amazingly, I also have been part of organizations where team building and bonding happened, despite no one  having beer blasted up their rectums. So I don’t get this mindset that hazing is some necessary event to ensure team unity. Though the Stockholm Syndrome is, by nature, a unifying experience.

Especially if Yo La Tengo is involved.

At least in the Needham case, the school finally put its foot down, unlike in Bossier, La., where a middle school principal called hazing “tradition,” and in Carmel, Ind., where it took media and public pressure — and a call from child services — before high school administrators took seriously hazing accusations involving the boys basketball team that ended up with charges brought against four players.

So what’s going to stop adults from viewing hazing as anything more than unnecessary abuse? It’s a long train to that station.

When I’ve written about hazing, more often than not I’m writing about a fairly well-to-do community. That’s not to say that hazing doesn’t happen elsewhere, but well-to-do communities tend to have wealthier parents who, say, went through fraternity or sorority hazing rituals themselves (as victims and perpetrators), who are used to getting their way, who are ready to pull out all the stops for their kids as necessary no matter what monsters they might be, and who can pay for lawyers. In the communities, as well, there is pressure to sweep things under the rug so as not to mess up the unofficial idyllic status of their town, where kids aren’t just above average like they are in Lake Wobegon, but are fucking special and have big, important futures that, frankly, kids not from here will never have. Why would you ruin a good kid’s life over some innocent fun, hmmmmm? Needham fits the profile of that well-to-do community.

So, to continue waving my broad brush, the hazing will continue, no matter what school officials say, in these communities because they’re full of adult douchebags. To be fair, these communities also have plenty of adults who don’t support hazing. But enough of them do to ensure that hazing will remain a sad fact of life.

Written by rkcookjr

November 11, 2010 at 1:46 am

Soccer league back after stopping play over boy on girls' team

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In all the excitement over the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, I’m a little late with this update: The Port Angeles (Wash.) Youth Soccer Club under-14 girls league is back!

As you may or may not recall, the club dropped its under-14 boys spring league because not enough young males were signed up to make a viable league. The parents of Spencer May were not deterred, plopping their boy on a girls’ team until the league objected. The parents then apparently threatened to sue, claiming discrimination under Title IX (a law designed to get girls’ participation in sports up from near zero), and the club suspended the league until it could figure out what to do without getting litigated out of existence.

Here’s what the club figured out: it could tell Spencer May’s family to go pound sand. From the club’s web site:

“The Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club has resumed its Spring league after a two-week postponement. Following a careful review of all of the circumstances leading up to the suspension of play, the Club is reassured that it has not acted unlawfully or in a discriminatory manner in declining to offer co-ed play among older age groups and in refusing to allow a boy to play on an all girls team.”

Two weeks’ worth of Port Angeles youth soccer highlights (above).

Accordign to the Peninsula Daily News, the league also sent a separate notice to May’s parents, Andrew May and Carmen Czachor. From the March 30 edition:

At the same time, [club president Darin] Reidel sent a 15-sentence e-mail message to May and Czachor telling them of the club’s decision and the grievance procedures required of them if they had further concerns.

The parents are required to write to the club of their complaint, and the organization will forward their statement to the Olympic Youth Soccer Association, the state organization governing the sport.

“Your concerns will receive a timely review and response,” Reidel wrote in the e-mail.

Reidel probably wrote that because he was legally enjoined from writing, “Go fuck yourself.” More from the article:

The president also advised the couple not to attend any U14 girls practices and not to disrupt any Port Angeles Youth Soccer Club games.

Andrew May (who writes a gardening column for the Peninsula Daily News) and Carmen Czachor wouldn’t do that, would they? Even though in the article they are quoted as saying even though they technically never threatened to sue, they’re planning on taking their complaints to city and state officials? Really, the May parents will just do something reasonable, like accept that sometimes a league doesn’t fill up, and sign up Spencer in a league in a nearby city. Right?

The answer came in the March 31 Peninsula Daily News:

Call it the hunt for the missing girls soccer team.

Soccer parents Andrew May and Carmen Czachor split up in different cars during a rainy and cool Tuesday afternoon looking for an under-14 girls soccer team that was supposed to start practice at 4:30 p.m.

May and Czachor’s 13-year-old son, Spencer, had practiced with the girls’ team about three times and wanted to play for the group.

The team had practiced at Stevens Middle School, where Spencer is an eighth-grader.

But the squad was no where in sight at 4:30 p.m., and so the parents split up looking for it, assuming the team was practicing in secret.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. The parents split up on a hunt for a girls’ soccer practice to crash? It turns out the scheduled practice was postponed, and that Spencer May’s parents were told the league might start an “academy soccer” program — basically, practice. (The article said the league offered that option, then pulled it before offering the family a refund it refused.) That is, as long as enough boys sign up. So May and Czachor said they will graciously back off to see if that academy soccer thing happens.

Spencer, let me pull you aside for a minute. Whatever you end up doing this spring, your parents have taught you a not-very-valuable lesson: if you don’t get your way, just scream and yell and pitch a fit. Let me ask you, Spencer: did you get away with that kind of behavior as a toddler? Or worse yet, are they doing this because you’re the one kicking and screaming about not being able to play spring soccer in Port Angeles?

Spencer, I don’t know why Port Angeles split its formerly coed under-14 league into separate boys and girls, but it did, and the fact not enough boys signed up means not that the club is discriminating against you, but that not enough boys and their families care. The junior high coed basketball league my 12-year-old played in last year didn’t play this year because not enough kids signed up. I guess I should have made a big stink, if I were a good parent. True, it wasn’t like the girls played while the boys didn’t, but I also once tried to sign up that same son for a boys’ volleyball league that ended up not getting enough boys while a girls’ league played on. It happens.

There are true injustices in the world to raise a stink about, but a league being canceled because not enough kids were signed up is not one of them.

So, please, tell your parents to back off. I’d tell them myself, but I get the feeling they don’t listen to others’ advice.

Elizabeth Lambert, you're not alone: R.I. girls' soccer championship ends in brawl

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To hear the coverage of infamous New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert, you’d think that except for her, female soccer players are sugar and spice and everything nice.

Well, there is plenty of spice, at least, as witnessed Nov. 8 near the end of the MetLife Soccer Classic Girls Division IV Championship in Providence, R.I.

The game was called with about a minute left, with Woonsocket up 5-0 over Tolman, after a fight between two players escalated into a brawl that cleared both benches. Budding soccer goons representing both sides started fighting in the stands during the post-game awards ceremony.

Under Rhode Island Interscholastic League rules, any player involved in a fight must sit out five games. If the player is a senior, she must sit out the first five games of the next sport she players. If she’s an underclassmen, she sits out the first five games of the next season. The league is investigating to determine whom to punish.

You see the fight start here:

[youtubevid id=”SLzA1lom4rY”]

And here you can see Woonsocket’s coach, Kathy Fagnan, all hepped up, not exactly apologize for what happened. “We’re both physical teams … at some point someone snapped … I don’t know what really happened, I wasn’t on the field … Not to put a blame on anybody, it could be us, too, we were going back and forth … I don’t know, we had the advantage, we had good spirit — you know, I’m not gonna take the fall for that.”

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About that study that says sports doesn’t cause white girls to fight? That researcher might want to double-check her notes.

Mark Abboud paves the road to hell

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A Minnesota soccer coach, on his blog, says he was clear from last fall on: if his 12-and-under girls’ soccer somehow pulled off the miracle of looking like it would beat an affiliated, elite 13-and-under team in tournament competition, he would, in his words, “probably find a way for the 13s to go through over our team.”

And, by god, that’s exactly what happened. And now Mark Abboud, a former pro player, is out of a job as technical director of the elite Minnesota Thunder Academy program and is busy working as the latest youth sports morality play.

The academy, which runs recreational and elite programs, tossed out Abboud, fined him $600 (to be paid to charity) and only kept him on as a 12s coach for the rest of the season by the grace of the girls, for an incident May 17.

Abboud slowly and painfully recounts the day in his season blog, giving both the reader and Abboud himself the imagery of seeing a car wreck before it happens, yet not being able to avoid it.

Abboud’s team of 12s, as he recounts, was basically in a state cup tournament for the experience. In past years, Abboud had seen a predecessor team to the Thunder, a team he coached, lose to a younger squad, then get smacked in the state tournament. He didn’t feel it was valuable to younger girls to get clobbered, nor did he believe it was best for the program for that to happen. No one objected when he put that idea forth — after all, what are the odds?

So game day comes when Abboud’s team faces the Thunder’s elite 13-year-olds, and he tells his girls to go out and play hard. He even switches up his offensive and defensive set to improve his girls’ chances. In a tribute to Abboud’s skills, it works — too well. “My thoughts were a-whirl,” Abboud wrote May 18. “The 13s are a better team overall than we were. They would do our club proud at Regionals if they got past either the White team or EP (game was to be played after ours). It would be better for the club and for MN to have them represent the state at the Midwest Region Championships. We were here for the experience. I was silently cheering for the 13s to score a goal.”

The game is tied at 1 at the end of regulation. And at the end of two overtimes. Time for penalty kicks.

And Abboud makes good on his vow. He instructs his girls to kick slowly to the 13s goalie. Apparently the 12s didn’t get the message, because they reportedly were sobbing at the news. (I understand — I worked at a magazine where we were told by the publisher no matter how well we did, the focus always would be on making the sister magazine we spun out thrive, with us left to die. I found a new job not too long after that inspiring pep talk.)

Abboud, in his own words, immediately regretted his presumably well-reasoned, well-thought out decision.

What did I just do? I took the decision out of the girls’ hands and dictated a controllable ending to a match against the spirit of competition and of the game itself. Albeit I still stand behind the rationale used in this case, I’m thinking again it was not the right way to deal with the situation. It would have been helpful to have a club coach or director around to bounce this idea off of prior to acting it out.

The look of disappointment and betrayal that some of them held in their eyes was crushing to me. I was so frustrated with the whole thing that I accidentally said “Some of you are going to be poutty and b-i-t-c-h-y to me because of this, but I hope you understand my thought process.” I’ve never used that language with a youth team before, though I’m sure they’ve heard far worse. The b-word broke the ice, eliciting chuckles from almost every girl, but I still regretted the slip. And regret was already building about other things.

Though many other MTA coaches and directors were supportive later that afternoon to my face, we’ll see what the next days bring. I thought it was the right decision to make at the time (and for the entire last year), I take full responsibility for any repercussions, and through this writing that is always insightful and constructive to me, I’m starting to regret the choice.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune did a story on Abboud’s Sophie’s Choice that didn’t shy away from what Abboud did, but was pretty sympathetic, though the 132 reader comments (as of this writing) are, uh, not.

I’ll say this first: Abboud must be pretty well-liked for his 12s to accept him after being shafted, so much so that they begged the Thunder to let him stay on as coach. But not to pile on to Abboud’s self-flagellation, that was a dumb decision. Especially dumb because he had so much time to think about it. He decided last fall this would happen? Did he run this by his board of directors? Maybe the parents or others didn’t object, because they probably didn’t think anything of it — until it became reality.

It’s funny that while the usual complaints about youth sports is coach’s win-at-all-costs attitude, Abboud gets slammed for losing on purpose. But the idea is to try. If the 13s can’t beat the 12s, that’s their problem. You can’t decide they would do better later, that they’re having an off day, so you have to game the results for them. Abboud was trying to help, but like my wife says when I throw her delicates in the dryer, you’re not helping.

I know, from reading his blog, that Abboud knows all that. However, I would lose my license as a sports pundit if I didn’t same something. (And Coach Abboud, feel free to contact me if you wish to speak further about this.)

By the way, the Thunder isn’t the only one handing out punishment over this. Inside Minnesota Soccer reported June 1 that the Minnesota Youth Soccer Youth Association not only banned Abboud from coaching in state cup competition through 2010, but they handed the same sanction to the 13s coach, Andy Kassa, as well. (Apparently there was evidence Abboud tipped off Kassa to what he was doing.) The 13s also were booted out of state competition — so much for getting the better team ahead.

Abboud wrote in his blog — not updated since May 21 — that he figured some punishment would be coming down. After all, it doesn’t matter if you’re shaving points because you’re in cahoots with gamblers or shaving points because you think you’re helping your club — even in no-score leagues, people don’t take kindly to coaches who tell their players to stop trying.

One of the good ones is taken

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Contrary to public belief, or the feeling you might get reading this blog, not every coach is a nutjob or is under siege from parents. Hugo Bustamante was one of the good ones. Unfortunately, outside his immediate circle, no one knew that until tragedy struck.

Bustamante, 46, and a co-worker died Thursday when they were shot to death by a fellow co-worker at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital pharmacy in California. The attacker then shot and killed himself. Police don’t know his motive, and they think they might never know.

Bustamante was married with a young daughter and son. According to this story from the Orange County Register, Bustamente helped out with his daughter’s softball team but spent most of his coaching time with soccer. He was, to say the least, not a yeller. From the Register:

When he was volunteered to help coach his daughter’s AYSO soccer team, the Cypress Cyclones, the former college soccer player smiled and helped coach them to compete in a Southern California championship game.

At the start of the season, Bustamante’s gentle demeanor had some parents wondering whether he could push the kids hard enough, but he made believers of them, team mom Melissa Tan-Torres said.

“He had that soft, gentle voice, but he could get the kids to do what he wanted,” Tan-Torres said.

“He was exactly everything right about youth sports. He never pushed them,” said Glenn Morikawa, whose daughter played on the Cyclones.

Being right about youth sports also gained Bustamante a measure of fame in the Los Angeles area.

When Bustamante’s U-10-year-old girls qualified for the state finals by default because the team that beat them could not afford the trip, the Cyclones tried to raise the money for their opponents so they could play in the championship game instead of going themselves.

The team only ended up raising $300, but one of the fundraising e-mails was sent to KIIS-FM D.J. Ryan Seacrest, who paid for a charter bus and hotel rooms for the Huntington Park team and gave the kids spending money for the trip, Tan-Torres said.

On the way back, the girls from the Huntington Park and Cypress teams got to be special guests of the Los Angeles Sol and go out on the field at halftime of one of their games.

The team was to be honored at Saturday’s Los Angeles Dodgers game, but decided to cancel after Bustamante’s death.

RIP, coach. And let’s remember there are more of him out there than you’d think.

I think the Scots are laughing at us

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From the Herald, a Scottish newspaper:

In America, a soccer coach has been misbehaving. Mike Kinahan told parents of the six-year-old girls in his team that he expected the kids to “kick ass” and to “bleed” for the cause.

In an e-mail to parents last week, Kinahan declared his team would be known as “the Green Death”, the girls should be fed red meat and that “while blood doping and HGH use is frowned upon, there is no testing policy.”

Kinahan had to resign.

He argued his e-mail was “meant as a satire of those who take youth sports too seriously for the wrong reasons” but, frankly, the notion that Americans would not understand irony is far too implausible for us.

I understand irony! It’s 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife!

1420683079_9291f872dbA little too ironic?

Green Death soccer coach — not an asshole

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So say parents ticked that one Massachusetts soccer coach’s attempt at satire has made him a national laughingstock, and not because his email portraying himself as Sgt. Hartman for 6- and 7-year-old girls (“Some say soccer at this age is about fun and I completely agree. However, I believe winning is fun and losing is for losers.”) was up there with the collected works of Oscar Wilde.

From Wicked Local — Wicked Local? Who named this, Jimmy Fallon? —  the site of the Quincy Patriot-Ledger and Scituate Mariner:

Mike Kinahan, the Scituate Youth Soccer coach who resigned after writing a controversial “Green Death” e-mail, is nothing like the over-competitive person depicted in news, radio and television stories, according to people who know him.

Terry Murphy, who has been Kinahan’s co-coach for the past few years, said the issue has become “completely overblown.” Shannon Tobin, whose daughter played on Kinahan’s team in the past, compared the controversy to “a witch hunt.”

I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you, don’t youuuuuuuuu…

Apparently the “sweat-xedo-wearing yuppies who sit on the sidelines in their LL Bean chairs sipping mocha-latte-half-calf-chinos while discussing reality TV and home decorating with other feeble-minded folks” in the past were quite the fans of Kinahan’s work. Here, Edward Delano, who has had three kids play for Kinahan, gives his own thumbs-up. It’s funnier if you read his comments, and the comments of other parents, in a Boston accent. (Easy for me, because my dad is from Concord, Mass. Wicked Cahn-cud.)
“He does them periodically,” Delano said. “It’s just in jest, in fun. They’re usually very comical.”

When Delano first saw the now-controversial e-mail, he said he thought, “It’s the same old shtick. It’s the same Mike.”

Jennifer Masuret’s daughter and son both played for Kinahan’s teams. She said the goal of his e-mails has always been “to help parents laugh during the hectic grind of spring soccer.”

Masuret said that as a coach, Kinahan succeeded in getting his players excited to play.

“He’s just enthusiastic,” she said. “He’s not yelling, ‘Losing is for losers’ out on the field. My daughter’s never been so enthusiastic. My daughter came off the field fired up for next week’s game.”

If it’s any consolation to Kinahan, he’s not the first master of satire to have an unfamiliar audience react violently to his work. There are probably still people who believe Jonathan Swift wanted to eat Irish children, that Randy Newman don’t want no short people round here, or that people bow down in worship to a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Also, losing a volunteer gig coaching in the Scituate Soccer Club is a very small price to pay for a budding satirist. Lenny Bruce was jailed and succumbed to heroin addiction. Waleed Hassan was killed on the streets of Baghdad, and Jaime Garzon was gunned down on the streets of Bogota. Wilde died penniless and broken after the Marquis of Queensberry orchestrated criminal charges against him, following an unsuccessful attempt to toss turnips (huh?) at Wilde during the premiere of  “The Importance of Beign Ernest,” because Wilde had taken up with son.

Then again, none of them had something snarky written about them on Deadspin. So maybe Kinahan has earned his satirist hairshirt after all.