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Crazy basketball buzzer-beater becomes all-time standard by which this high schooler’s life will be measured

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Myra Fleener: You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god, er, uh, how can he ever find out what he can really do? I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.
Coach Norman Dale: You know, most people would kill… to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.

If I were Austin Groff, I would bore people until the end of my days about the few moments when I became a god by hitting this crazy, ass-backward, buzzer-beating shot during a recent high school holiday basketball tournament in Ohio.

(Hat tip: Off the Bench, nbcsports.com.)

New York principal sabotages school sports

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There are plenty of schools around the country at which sports are being cut — regretfully — because of a lack of funds. By contrast, the New York Post on Oct. 24 highlighted a case of a high school principal who is cutting sports out of spite.

OK, maybe that’s not completely fair. Apparently Marilyn Shevell, principal of Martin Van Buren High in Queens, believes that chopping sports will go a long way toward improving the school’s 68.6 percent graduation rate, according to people who talked to the Post (Shevell not being among them.) However — and I am no educator here — I don’t get how giving students less of a reason to get excited about something at their school will actually make them more excited to stick around long enough to graduate.

Here is what is going on, according to the Post:

Last week, Shevell stormed out of a PTA meeting in the Queens school’s auditorium after announcing the girls and boys basketball teams could play no games at home this fall. Last year, she slashed home games to one for the girls and three for the boys.

Shevell also barred classmates and their parents from attending last year’s games to cheer for their “Vee Bees.” And just in case any specta tors showed up, she had the bleachers bolted to the gym wall so they could not be used.

She has also limited practice for all sports teams to three days a week, instead of the six other schools allow. “It seems like she just doesn’t want to sup port sports at all,” said Toni Gooden, a senior on the girls basket ball team, which made the playoffs 13 years in a row before last year.

Parents and students packed last Monday’s PTA meeting, where Shevell ousted a Post reporter.

The New York Daily News in January 2010 wrote a story about how Van Buren was playing all its basketball games on the road because of a broken partition in the gym. In that story, an assistant coach accused Shevell of intentionally refusing to fix the partition as a means of sabotaging sports programs. Even when Van Buren had played at home, only parents of players were allowed to attend because, Shevell had said, of a fight that had broken out in the stands.

However, the New York Post story reported that those explanations weren’t being accepted so easily.

Parents say Shevell has used various “excuses” for the cutbacks — including a broken gym divider, asbestos in the gym ceiling and fights at prior games.

But when questioned by The Post, city Department of Education officials said the wall had been fixed a month ago, there is no asbestos problem, and there have been no melees — or even any home games — this year.

“There will be home games. The bleachers will be unbolted,” DOE spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said in response to Post queries.

I don’t know of this principal, so I can’t speak to Shevell’s motives. I mean, clearly she has a bug up her ass about school sports for some reason. I realize there are a lot of excesses that come with school sports — the jock culture at some places can be oppressive, and often the excitement over The Team seems to overshadow the importance of academics.

However, I know my kids — who are all academic achieves, thank you very much — kick their asses out of bed for school not for the learning part, but for the extras. We all the learning part is important. But it’s the extras that can help students feel like their school is an important place, and not a prison in which they’re chained to a desk to solve quadratic equations all day.

My 13-year-old son, in particular, feels a very deep connection to his junior high school because he’s participating in choir, band, the school musical, setup for afterschool events, recycling club, strategy club, science club, and stuff I’m probably leaving out. He probably would do OK in school without that stuff, but that’s what makes him excited to be a part of the school, and I’m sure makes some of the most unbearable tedium more bearable. Even if he never goes to a basketball game (which he hasn’t).

Even if Martin Van Buren High School is a difficult environment, the principal has pressure on her to raise the graduation rate, I can’t see how cutting out activities that at least some students get excited about is a way to also get them excited about the other stuff.

One other thing: if the New York Department of Education is putting so much of a focus on a bottom-line number — one that can be difficult to control depending on the home lives of the students who feed into that school — and is doing so without giving principals any support or assistance, it’s a wonder more principals haven’t bolted the bleachers to the wall, or done something else nutty in the name of “education.”

Marilyn Sevell is expected to write a letter to the New York Post in response.

Star athletes: Wear purple for the bullied in your school

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It might be a little late to pick out outfits for the next day, but maybe you’ve heard of the effort to have people wear purple on Oct. 20. No, not in solidarity with Brett Favre and his dong, but as a way to speak out against the bullying of LGBT kids, a few of whom, as you might have heard, have been killing themselves as an endgame to the abuse they’ve taken from peers (and probably others). I’ll be wearing my purple underwear, the only purple I have that’s office-worthy, as long as I wear pants over it.

I don’t have the cache of Neil Patrick Harris, nor do I have a video in the first place. I don’t have a solution to bullying, not when the history of humankind is rife with those tearing the shit out a perceived other with ruthless efficiency. (Such as the ruthless efficiency bullies display in picking the most vulnerable victims.) I can tell you, based on what I’ve seen in my own schooling experience and that of my children and others around me (I’ll just leave it at that) that anyone holding out a simple solution — like the radio jagoff I heard locally who talked about self-defense classes as the be-all end-all to ending bullying — is wrong.

However, I can identify one powerful group of influence that could help, if at least not stopping the bullies, making bullying of any kind seem totally uncool. That would be the school jocks.

I don’t mean the track team — I can tell you as a former high school track athlete how little influence we wield. I mean the star quarterback, the top basketball player, the kinds of athletes that are the center of the popular crowd at every school, the kind that set the agenda (intentionally or unintentionally) for manhood, and womanhood’s relationship with it.

A lot of kids at school know bullying isn’t cool, and that the bullied and the bullies are two groups of profoundly unhappy people. But most are afraid to say anything, lest they become a target. However, the star athletes have established their place as school leaders, in that the school isn’t shutting down for a pep rally for the debate team. The jocks don’t have to like the bullied — and the bullies — or invite them to the cool parties, or ask them if they would like to be set up to shag a cheerleader (or the athlete himself).

All I ask is that jocks be — nice. I mean, if you’re the bully, stop. If you see a bully, pull him (or her) aside and make clear that’s not cool. If you see the bullied, ask if they’re OK, and let them know you have their back. If you want to stand up during a pep rally and declare you don’t care who sticks what part in what hole of another person, that’s great, too. The purple on Oct. 20 is being pushed with LGBT bullying victims in mind, but there’s no reason you can’t also stand up for whatever other Other is the target of ridicule.

Of course, I know this is easier said than done. Athletes are notorious for not wanting to make waves. (Michael Jordan: “Republicans buy shoes, too.”) And I’m going to guess that a lot of jocks have parents who would be pissed beyond belief for Johnny Quarterback to be standing up for the weak.

I don’t think having jocks speak up for bullies solves everything. But if anybody can make a bullying culture go away, it’s them.

Thanks to Wall of Paul for reminding me of a great song that talks about “manhood” and sports in school, from a guy whose parents sent him to electroshock therapy to get rid of his homosexual tendencies.

Written by rkcookjr

October 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Powerball winner funds prep softball field, undermines hard-work message

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Coaches (such as myself) like to teach that hard work is the key to success, that luck is only the sudden opportunity to take advantage of all the time and focus a player has brought to the game. However, what we fail to accept is that sometimes chance and dumb luck happens, whether we like it or not.

At Enka High School in Candler, N.C., outside of Asheville, members of the Sugar Jets (great nickname, isn’t it?) softball team will get a reminder about how hard work knuckles under to the whims of chance whenever they step onto their first-ever home field — funded and named after the Sugar Jet Daddy who just won a metric assload of money in the Powerball lottery.

From the Asheville Citizen Times:

Enka expects to break ground next month on the $700,000 Griffin Field at Sugar Jet Park facility along Enka Lake Road. Its amenities will include seatback chairs, a press box, locker rooms, a laundry room and space for video study.

Most of the money for the project is coming from [family spokesman Kevin] Griffin’s family — his daughter is junior Chelsea Griffin and her grandfather, Frank, won a $141.4 million Powerball lottery jackpot in February.

I’m imagining Chelsea Griffin is being recruited by every club in the school right now. “Hey, Chelsea — wanna join the French Club and bring $100,000 with you?”

Talk about dumb luck: Frank Griffin, a retired Asheville firefighter, bought his winning ticket one day when he had $5 left after pumping gas and figured, what the hell, why not play the lottery. He let the computer pick the numbers. He didn’t know there was a $141 million drawing the night he bought the tickets, Feb. 6, 2010. So, to summarize, Griffin did not participate in a weekly pool, where he carefully plotted what numbers he thought had the best odds. He just decided to piss away $5 for fun, and ended up taking $69 million in a lump-sum payment, or $47 million after taxes. (By the way, do people still complain that winning the lottery is great, but for the damn taxes? I’m guessing Frank is pretty happy to clear $47 million, no matter what the IRS share.)

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Frank Griffin’s lottery-winning message to the guy who told him not to buy tickets: “Fuck you, Larry.”

The school isn’t totally relying on Frank Griffin’s lucky break-fueled generosity. It’s selling naming rights for the individual seats. Still, it’s not like Enka High had to sweat to woo Griffin. It was the lucky school that had his granddaughter on the roster.

You know how in a lot of sports stadiums or locker rooms, there’s an inspirational quote to fire up the team as it hits the field? At Griffin Field at Sugar Jet Park (I’ll buy a T-shirt with that logo), the quote should come from one of Eddie Murphy’s early skits on Saturday Night Live:

…Life is luck. If you’re not lucky, you’re a bum. So go ahead, drop out of school. Get each other pregnant and play Space Invaders.

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Go ahead, play it.

Your kid's not going Bryce Harper

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In the least surprising Major League Baseball draft since way back last year, the Washington Nationals picked Bryce Harper No. 1 overall. By comparison to Harper, last year’s top pick, the highly hyped, soon-to-debut Stephen Strasburg, was an under-the-radar late bloomer. When the 17-year-old Harper appeared on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” to discuss his status, he mentioned at least four times that he had dreamed since the age of 7 of being the No. 1 pick — and I believe him.

The by-now-familiar story of Harper is that he has been a baseball machine practically since birth, getting his GED so he could leave after his sophomore high school season to play a season of junior college so he could be eligible for the 2010 draft. And so he was.

Harper has worked long and hard for his status, even if he is only 17. However, just because all that hard work paid off for him does not mean it will for your child. Here is why your child won’t be reaching Harper-ish status:

1. Your child will not be wayyyy better than his peers at age 7. Not a little better. Not kinda letter. Not even a lot better. Incredibly, superbly, undeniably better. Even if you consider his family had to tell him what an MLB draft is, a kid can’t even think of it seriously, or be taken seriously thinking about it, unless he shows unusual talent early.

2. Your child will not be willing to submit to the drudgery and boredom of learning anything, much less something as full of drudgery and boredom as baseball, at such an early age. This is sort of 1a. You can tell your child about the hours they would have to put in, but few will actually jump in to do it — enthusiastically.

3. Your child will burn out by his teenage years after a Harper-like schedule — or merely decide he’d rather be a “normal” high schooler. As former Mets manager Bobby Valentine noted, not necessarily with an approving tone, on “Baseball Tonight,” Harper was playing 175 games per year by age 12. Valentine also noted he basically never had a normal high school experience. “People talk about 10,000 hours,” Valentine said, referring to the Malcolm Gladwell-popularized timeline for becoming genius-like at a certain skill,”But what Harper missed it those two million seconds of high school.” I’m not sure whether high school lasts two million seconds exactly, although it always seemed like the last five minutes of algebra lasted that long. Anyway, a lot of kids, even if they’re great at a sport, will break down mentally or physically with a Harper-like schedule. The temptations, as it were, of hanging out with friends will win out over one more lonely night at the batting cage.

I remember reading stories of Indiana-bred basketball sharpshooter Rick Mount, the first high schooler to appear on Sports Illustrated’s cover (in 1966), who skipped social events aplenty to practice his jump shots, or would have his girlfriend rebound before prom until he finished his workout. That kind of dedication seems practically nutty — but that sort of self-motivation is often necessary to play at higher levels.

4.Your child is not going to grow as large and strong as Harper, who is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The story of Michael Jordan failing to make varsity as sophomore (no, he didn’t get cut from the team) is an apocryphal tale of a superstar coming out of humble beginnings. However, if Michael Jordan is 5-foot-10 instead of 6-foot-6, he would be just another guy who never made varsity. Plus, most players don’t make full varsity until junior year, anyway.

5. Your child won’t have superagent Scott Boras coming on as an “adviser” at age 13 to help your child negotiate the sports-industrial complex. That’s because your child won’t need him. They’re, for better or worse, stuck with you as a parent to figure out how to handle any pro career, or more likely, how to handle the nicotine-stained mustache who won’t play him every day in the youth league.

6. Your child will likely have an interest in exploring interests beyond one thing. My oldest son, age 12, has played baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer, performed in plays, participated in a school reading club and attended robotics camp. My oldest daughter, age 10, has played softball, basketball and soccer, performed in plays, was a part of a competitive reading team, attended zoo camp and is attending nature camp this summer. My oldest son, age 7, has the most defined sports goal of any of my children — he dreams of leading Dwyane Wade High to bowling glory. But he also plays baseball and soccer, and he hasn’t demanded we hire Pete Weber as coach and put him on the worldwide kid bowling circuit. Nor would we. It’s not that my kids are so brilliant they have to do many things. It’s that part of their childhood, and most people’s childhoods, is trying different things to discover their interests.

7. You wouldn’t dream of putting your kid through the insane, one-sport schedule Bryce Harper worked growing up. Also, you don’t have the money to pay for all those travel teams and high-level camps.

This is not to say Harper’s parents are lousy. It appears they’ve handled handling a very driven prodigy with love, care and career development as well as anyone can. My point in all of this is to alert parents that your child is not that prodigy. Let’s start with this point: if your large-built, extraordinarily-talented child is not bugging you all day, every day, to do a certain, activity, then you’re not raising a Bryce Harper. So don’t try to make your child one.

And even if you do, don’t expect that a Hall of Fame pro career is guaranteed — even if your kid is Bryce Harper. Rick Mount flopped as a pro, and the downside of all that youthful dedication to basketball is that it took him decades to figure out how to get over all that work for almost nothing. and become a human being instead of a one-sport machine.

Will Arizona kill school sports — and itself?

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Arizona’s developing quite a reputation for being a state by and for scaredy-cat old white people feeling the hot breath of becoming the minority (which the Census Bureau expects will happen by 2015). The infamous SB1070, another law banning the teaching of ethnic studies, and  a bill coming through that would make schools count illegals and tally up their “cost” — I guess that’s what happens when a real estate market collapses, and white people can no longer sell their houses to flee, um, whatever they call those who are not white people.

It didn’t take a Sarah Palin-assailed girls high school basketball boycott for the state to set up a “hey-weren’t-not-so-bad-commission” to burnish its image as something more than Crazy Coot Cracker Central. It took multiple boycotts by multiple organizations.

Even with all that, the worst hit to Arizona’s image may be yet to come. That will happen if the state’s voters on May 18 turn down Proposition 100, which adds another percentage point to the Arizona sales tax, with most of the money going to schools, as well as health care, and police and fire services. It won’t be interpreted nationwide as an attack on illegal immigrants only. It’ll be interpreted a sign Arizona is closing up shop to pretty much everybody except scared old white people — and even they’re going to be hit if the day comes that budget cuts make an ambulance a lot slower in coming.

How do I know this? Because the of the list of supporters. Among them: pretty much every state and local division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Education Association, the Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Gila River Indian Community, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, the Arizona Medical Association, US Airways and the Arizona Cardinals. Basically, a mishmosh of large and powerful and not-so-large and not-so-powerful that rarely stand on the same side of the same issue. Oh, and also the majority of Arizona state House and Senate, and Gov. Jan Brewer, who had to approve of the ballot measure.

Their fear is this: if Prop 100 — which would raise taxes only through 2013, when the provision sunsets — doesn’t pass, the state immediately cuts $900 million from a state budget already collapsing from a housing and tourism bust, including $450 million in cuts from education. This isn’t a threat or a hypothetical. The Arizona state legislature already has a contingency budget passed in case the tax increase is rejected. (The Cardinals also might feel a little guilty for youth sports funding being slashed because tax revenue generated around its new stadium wasn’t up to par.)

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And more than the budget cut is the signal the rejection sends: that the old white people of Arizona are dying, and they’re taking the state with them. Even for business types who get a cold sweat at every mention of a tax, such a loud and public signal of disinvestment in education, public safety and health (the beneficiaries of the tax increase) would let the world know Arizona isn’t willing to step up to invest in its future. I know every state is cutting, and the backers know every state is cutting. But they also know that at least the signal needs to be sent that they feel a little bad about it.

So what does this have to do with youth sports? Plenty. Many Arizona schools already have certain sports, particularly nonrevenue sports and programs for those who are not on the high school varsity — at the ready to get chopped by their budgetary guillotines. From MaxPreps.com:

“If it fails, the announcement has come from our district office that the possibility of eliminating athletics across the board in our district is real,” said Herman House, director of interscholatics for the Tucson Unified School District. House doesn’t think it will come to that. He believes revenue-producing varsity sports such as football, basketball, baseball and softball will survive, but the reality is, if Prop. 100 fails, Tucson will have to shave about $45 million from its annual budget.

“Athletic directors are a resilient bunch and we always seem to find a way,” said Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen, whose district is the largest in the state. “At the same time, there are fiscal realities you can’t ignore. Sometimes, that has bad consequences for the kids.”

Hogen said Mesa was already discussing a pay-for-play fee for all student-athletes. But if Prop. 100 does not pass, that fee will likely rise by 50 percent, putting a hardship on a district with many lower-income families. House said if Proposition 100 fails, his district is also considering restrictions on travel and a reliance upon fundraisers to pay coaches’ salaries and keep sports self-sufficient.

Not to mention, a Prop 100 passage might speed up or intensify a plan by Arizona’s state high school sports authority to cut athletic divisions and tournaments, and set limits on travel, all in the name of saving money.

If Arizona wants a preview of how this would work, it can look at New Jersey, where school districts across the state are slashing sports — and, of course, lots of other, more curricular parts of education — when locals rejected higher school taxes on top of state budget cuts. Or just about anywhere else nationwide, really. Having your funding tied in a big way to property taxes and state government receipts is great when housing prices are flying upward, not so when they’re crashing. Just go to Google News and search “school sports budget cuts,” and you’ll get the feeling in many places this recession means the end of days for school-sponsored sports.

Or look at the past coverage of tax rejections at the Grove City Schools in Ohio, which became national news precisely because the district eliminated sports entirely as a result — but were brought back when voters finally passed a hike. Maybe you don’t notice when the math department cuts a teacher, but everyone notices when the football team isn’t playing on Fridays.

So why does Arizona get the pressure of having its image tarnished by rejecting an education tax hike? Well, there’s the matter of all the other legislative nuttiness in the state. But there’s also the matter of Arizona’s taxes being relatively low to start with. The sales tax hike would go to 6.6 percent. Not bad at all, especially to someone such as myself in Chicago, where the sales tax can go more than 11 percent. That’s not to say Arizonans deserve to get soaked as much as I do. It’s more like the feeling I have when I would hear my parents in Carmel, Ind., carp about their property taxes, and I’d find out they were paying about one-quarter as much for a house that wasn’t worth that much less than mine. It’s just hard to work up sympathy. And least New Jersey’s rejections were understandable, with the state’s extremely-high-in-the-nation property taxes.

However, the main issue is that Arizona’s populace knows exactly what it will get if the tax doesn’t pass. The gun is loaded and at your head — and yet you might still decide to pull the trigger.

If most polls are to believed, about half of the state’s voters are suicidal, with passage of Prop 100 as a tossup. While the supporters are well-funded, the opponents have some politicians on their side, as well as the always more popular stance of not raising taxes.

Maybe what supporters need more than money is 7-year-old Logan Wade. He is the young fan Glendale (Ariz.) City Council member Phil Lieberman credits with convincing him to join the majority vote May 11 for a $25 million guarantee for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, which play in a taxpayer-funded arena in a taxpayer-financed entertainment district that threatens to go down the tubes if the Coyotes, as is very possible, move back to their ancestral of Winnipeg. This vote, which would come if the NHL-owned, bankrupt team can’t find a buyer, comes despite the city budget deficit of $15 million. But how can you turn down a little kid? From the Arizona Republic:

Councilman Phil Lieberman, who had asked tough questions of staffers, said he was persuaded by Logan Wade, a 7-year-old fan.

“‘Will you vote for this resolution tonight?’” Lieberman said the Glendale boy asked.

“I can’t turn him down,” the councilman added.

What Prop 100 supporters should do is spend their money on jetting Logan Wade around the state on the May 18 election day, and have him wear a jersey for a local high school, asking voters, “Will you vote for Prop 100 today?” Even scared old white people can’t turn him down!

Hazing in sports has a news explosion

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Lest one thinks Carmel, Ind., is the only place where youth sports-related hazing occurs, based on my breathless coverage of its boys’ basketball team’s situation, I bring you updates from just the past few days regarding other cases. Although Carmel is back in the news, too.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — According to KOAT-TV, a plea agreement is on hold regarding a 2008 hazing case in which six now-former Robertson (N.M.) Las Vegas High football players were accused of sodomizing teammates with a broomstick during football camp. A judge is examining the guilty plea of Steven Garcia, one of those players. On March 30 he pleaded guilty to rape and other charges, but in such a way that he can maintain his innocence even while being technically found guilty, and that he can be treated as a juvenile. Some parents shouted “no deal,” but a special prosecutor said others want it so they can put the incident behind them.

BREWER, Maine – A former Brewer High softball coach who sued the school over her firing has dropped her case March 31. According to the Bangor Daily News, Kelly Jo Cookson claimed she was fired in 2006 because she is a lesbian. However, the school said the firing was because of hazing. For example, according to the Daily News, the school said Cookson “had allowed student athletes to walk barefoot through sheep manure during a team picnic … .” Cookson dropped the case after the school refused to settle on the eve of a trial after two courts had supported the school’s contention that she condoned and supervised hazing.

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Basha High School announced on March 31 that it had hired a new football coach, Bernie Busken, who had led Mesa Mountain View to an 82-9 record and three Class 5A state championships in seven seasons.  However, that was from 1995-2001. Busken had been in exile, coaching small college football, since spring 2002, when he resigned, as Maxpreps.com put it, “amid allegations of verbally abusing players, allowing hazing rituals and excessive athlete-on-athlete contact after being warned to desist by the school district.” At the time, Busken was defiant, blaming his departure on a parental and media witch hunt. Now, he’s more contrite, those this statement to Maxpreps.com sounds more like the classic sorry-you-were-offended apology:  “I have never done anything where I meant to hurt someone physically, mentally or anything else. I just tried to prepare them for their one shot to do well. All I can do now is apologize. If I was kidding around and I crossed a line; for those things I was wrong and I am sorry.”

COOPERSVILLE, Mich. — An Ottawa County, Mich., judge, considering a FOIA request by the Grand Rapids Press, on March 31 forced the Coopersville schools to reveal how much was paid to two victims of 2007 junior varsity baseball hazing that resulted in four team members being expelled from school and receiving juvenile sentences for gross indecency. The two victims had sued the district, claiming it looked the other way while coaches encouraged or ignored hazing. One student received $95,000, and another received $55,000. The school did not have to admit guilt. Not only that, the school was pretty pissed off the settlements were made public. The superintendent told the Press that, fuck you very much, you’re now peeling the hazing scab off itty-bitty Coopersville. “They have been through a lot. They don’t need any more trouble from their neighbors or the community,” O’Neill said. It appears he meant the perpetrators as well as the victims.

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Trinity High School baseball coach Nick Fratalonie resigned April 1 after the school confirmed a hazing incident the previous month involving his team. The school would not confirm exactly what happened and to whom, except that it was “not sexual in nature” and that team members received “disciplinary consequences.” Fratalonie told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he didn’t resign because of hazing. It was for “personal and family reasons.”

And last, but certainly not least:

CARMEL, Ind. – One of the two freshman boys basketball players allegedly assaulted by three senior teammates on a bus ride back from a game in Terre Haute has hired a lawyer. Robert Turner said the bus incident was not the first time his client, no longer a student at Carmel High, had been victimized, and there were other incidents with other victims. “In a school context of so-called hazing, bullying, as this has been characterized, this was much more than that,” he said to WRTV-TV in Indianapolis on March 31. “It’s the worst case I’ve seen … ever.” A prosecutor is considering whether to file charges against the players for the bus incident, which had police investigating possible battery and criminal deviate conduct, a sex crime. Turner said the victim’s family hasn’t decided whether to sue. Uh-huh.

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Inspired by his Hoosier forebear Booth Tarkington, Robert Turner is getting ready to go all Penrod and Sam on Carmel High.

Written by rkcookjr

April 3, 2010 at 12:30 am

Why youth sports hazing happens: because adults say it can

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Sometimes a message board is like listening a roomful of drunks. They’re incoherent, belligerent, funny and rude, and they’re all talking over and around each other. But sometimes, in their uninhibited state, they speak their most closely held feelings that they might otherwise not reveal in polite company.

That’s how I look at the threads on Illinois Matmen, a message board focusing on wrestling, that are devoted to the Prairie Ridge High School hazing scandal. For those of you thinking the only hazing I care about happens in Carmel, Ind., on March 5 Crystal Lake, Ill., police arrested five wrestlers as juveniles on misdemeanor counts of simple battery relating to hazing, which they did without benefit of a 1970s goalie mask. (I bet Crystal Lake people get tired of those “Friday the 13th” jokes in a hurry.)

Specifically, the wrestlers are accused of slapping fellow wrestlers and groping their privates through their clothes.

An attorney for the wrestlers has categorized the conduct as “innocent, adolescent horseplay.” That’s to be expected; he’s on the payroll. But the adults (and other high school students) condoning the wrestlers’ behavior — heck, practically giving them high fives for it — can be found on Illinois Matmen, which I discovered thanks to this recent Northwest Herald article on the school’s take toward investigating the scandal.

I’ll preface this by saying that if it seems like wrestling shows up a lot in hazing news, then some of the posters on Illinois Matmen will confirm your beliefs that there is something about the sport — which already has plenty of groping, intentional or not, of other people’s privates — that invites a hazing culture.

There are three threads devoted to the hazing scandal — well, some would say the scandal is that the school and police made such a big deal about a little necessary rite of passage, or as it’s often called on the site, a right of passage. (Like drunks, as I said.) The threads are here and here and here. There is a lot of discussion about pink bellies: repeated, open-handed slaps to the stomach meant to leave a pink mark (though if done repeatedly and hard enough, an act that can leave red welts).

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The 2007 John W. North High School (Riverside, Calif.) boys cross country team gives us a demonstration of the pink belly.

Now to some highlights, which alternate between extreme tough-assedness and the Stockholm Syndrome:

“This is ridiculous. These kids are going on trial for assault for giving pink bellies. This isn’t chess,it’s wrestling” — BigHeadTodd

“This is complete garbage. This was nothing more than what goes on in every wrestling room and locker room in the Country. This same stuff that happened here has probably happened to your kid Cubs84 as it has happened to almost every kid at sometime in the wrestling room. It looks like this was done late in the day on Friday. I’ll find out more when I get to the Courthouse Monday.” — Radical

“I agree, unless things get out of hand, like hitting as hard as can, it’s just kids being kids. When I was a senior captain on my team, a couple of other seniors taped me up and threw dogde balls at me. it was all in good fun, and the coaches thought it was funny too. It may sound like they didn’t respect me, but they did, and it was just for fun.” — jimbob

“It’s sad that it’s called hazing anymore. It was always a right of passage thing. A way of earning respect and showing loyalty.
I have been given and have given pink bellies that turned into welted red bruised bellies that lasted for days. Those who didn’t get these “badges” were never highly regarded. Showing your team you can take it and not whine or cry about it is part of becoming a man. As long as it doesn’t leave a lifetime scar emotional or physical it’s free range.” –uniteordie

“My wrestling team in high school gave pink bellies to wrestlers on their birthdays. That was the coach’s rule.” — Mr. White

“haha well I forget which team, but they pick a freshman that is on the varsity team and make him kneel in the middle of the mats to where everyone can see. he puts his hands behind his back and an older teammate hits him as hard as he could in the face… everyone laughs and cheers!! it’s really funny, even the freshman laugh” — USAwrestlingDAD189, describing an apparently annual event at an Illinois wrestling tourney

“Pink Bellies are part of a tradition that has been going on for decades. When I think back years ago when I was a Freshman in Highschool they used to line us all on the floor and in a room we call the cave and turn the lights off. Each Senior would go down the roll slapping us in the stomach. When I was a Senior we did the same thing. The intent was not to hurt the other person but to see who can take it. During Football this would happen the whole Homecoming week.” — maddog81

Am I cherry-picking responses from the posters at Illinois Matmen? I sure am! To be fair, there were people who did say they thought that any hazing, even pink bellies, was unacceptable, and that the Crystal Lake police were well within their rights to do what they did. But I’m not sure a lot of young athletes hear those voices. Instead, they hear the voice of the coach who encourages the behavior, or hears the implicit voice of the coach who never discourages it.

Other posters worried about how the Prairie Ridge case would affect the sport of wrestling. One made an interesting point about why perhaps so many on Illinois Matmen don’t have a problem with hazing:

“Most of us on this website are wrestling enthusiasts and have very positive feelings toward the sport. That means that we survived or even enjoyed the initiation or hazing that we (or our kids) participated in. And I agree that most of it is pretty harmless with teenagers just goofing off and having fun. However, the kids who had the worst experiences and were bullied or seriously embarrassed probably are not on this forum to share their thoughts, because they are no longer involved in the sport.” — MatsDad

California softball star's suicide stuns her community

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Whenever I see stories of high-achieving people inexplicably killing themselves, I think of two people: Richard Cory, and Kathy Ormsby.

From the Orange County Register:

Nadia Brianne Matthews [known as "Bri"] had a glowing future.

The sophomore star softball pitcher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana had verbally committed to play for the University of Arizona, and had a sense of confidence, grace and warmth that went beyond her 16 years, friends say.

Her suicide Thursday at her Anaheim home has shocked and devastated relatives, friends and teachers and coaches who saw in her amazing talent and promise – a nice girl who could put a smile on anyone’s face. …

The coroner Friday afternoon ruled the manner of death suicide, “by ligature hanging.” …

[Nadia] Martinez said her daughter had a 4.0 GPA and had dreams of becoming a neonatologist.

One of the most awful things about suicide is it often comes with no warning. Bri’s family will probably never be able to answer the question, why?

The reason I think of Richard Cory is because he is the title character of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem about a beautiful, tragic figure. I remember reading this poem in grade school, and it hit me pretty hard and has always stuck with me, maybe it’s because it’s the first work that opened my eyes to the idea that you never quite knew what was going on inside the heads and hearts of those who seemed to be well. The last line, which comes out of nowhere, symbolizes the shock anyone feels when a loved one commits suicide — even for me, when I had a friend kill himself at 15, a friend who gave ample warning (what I considered ample — others did not ) of what he was going to do.

The poem, in its entirety:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

[youtubevid id="euuCiSY0qYs"]

You might recall Simon & Garfunkel’s rewrite of Richard Cory.

The reason I think of Kathy Ormsby because I was in attendance at the 1986 NCAA track and field championships in Indianapolis — the event where the North Carolina State 10,000-meter runner split from the track mid-race to jump off a bridge over the nearby White River in an attempt to kill herself.

Instead, she was left paralyzed from just above the waist down. A lot of coverage at the time focused on how Ormsby, a high school valedictorian and premed student, was extremely driven and put a ton of pressure on herself to succeed, with the implication that might somehow have been behind her suicide attempt. From the New York Times, circa 1986:

Mitch Shoffner, the head of the social studies department at the high school, taught her world history and coached her in volleyball in the 10th grade.

”I know that she’s always driven herself very, very hard,” he said. ”She’s not the type of person who can accept second best for herself. If there’s any pressure, Kathy was putting it on herself. She’s always been very much of a perfectionist.”

Later, Ormsby did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself.

”One time, I got on the volleyball team for not practicing hard enough, and she broke down and cried. Most of the girls just got mad. She was very, very serious about everything she did.”

Later, Ormsby indeed did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself, and in later interviews said she had a panic attack and never intended to kill herself. (Ormsby is now an occupational therapist in Wilmington, N.C. — I believe her photo is the top one on the blog post here.)

Do Richard Cory or Kathy Ormsby give any indication as to why Bri Matthews, who seemingly had the world at her feet, decided she could no longer live? No. But they’re all unfortunate examples that suicide, and whatever is behind it, can affect seemingly the most successful among us.

College scholarships: harder to win than the lottery

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In advance of Feb. 3′s National Signing Day, college football’s orgasm to the child porn that is the recruiting watch, the Houston Chronicle’s Jenny Dial asked a question. Just what are your kid’s chances of getting a scholarship, anyway?

If you didn’t read her story (or see it on Youth Sports Parents — hat tip your way), then in the afterglow of signing day, with the sweet throb of the fax machine still faintly pulsating, you’ll get an instant cold shower from her answer: almost nil.

You would think it’s generally understood that the odds are long. But Dial’s excellent piece makes you wonder if, as a means of future earnings potential, parents should buy lottery tickets instead of paying big bucks for travel teams and private lessons. The chance of success is about the same, and so is the usual justification — you can’t win if you don’t play.

How do we know the odds are so long? Dial took numbers from the National Federation of State High School Associations on school sports participation, then took numbers from the NCAA on the number of scholarships awarded to Division I athletes, and did the math. The numbers might not be 100 percent accurate: they don’t count kids who play at elite club levels only (increasingly common), and they don’t count kids who might have gotten scholarships to NCAA Division II or NAIA institutions. But those figures would probably not move the needle much one way or the other.

So, without further adieu, the percentage of high school athletes in the class of 2008 (the latest figures available) who got Division I athletic scholarships nationwide, in alphabetical order by sport:

Baseball: 0.6

Boys basketball: 0.7

Girls basketball: 0.9

Boys cross country/track and field: 0.5

Girls cross country/track and field: 0.9

Football: 1.4

Boys golf: 0.6

Girls golf: 1.6

Boys soccer: 0.4

Girls soccer: 1

Softball: 0.7

Boys swimming and diving: 0.8

Girls swimming and diving: 1.2

Boys tennis: 0.6

Girls tennis: 1.1

Volleyball: 0.8

Boys wrestling: 0.3

Man, I think you get better odds from the lottery ticket.

[youtubevid id="tN5V8cQ2DAk"]

Your odds are 1 in 300 for this lottery.

Dial also talked to parents to see what they spent on sports. Golf parents spent the most: about $11,000 per year. A lot of sports fell in the $2,000-$5,000 range. Football parents spent the least, about $300 a year for offseason expenses. Football is relatively cheap because, unlike every other high school sport, you’re also not duty-bound to join a travel or elite team in addition to your school team in order to get college recruiters’ attention. However, you can rack up expenses paying for all-star camps and Nike-sponsored combines that require you to jet around nationwide to get the attention of your top football schools.

And for what? Not only are the chances of a scholarship tiny, but Dial’s survey included partial scholarships. Every athlete is not getting a four-year free ride. In most sports (mainly, outside of football and basketball), just about everyone is getting only half, or one-quarter, or less covered in tuition expenses — if they’re getting a scholarship at all to play.

This is not to say that you should immediately dump your kid’s golf clubs in the nearest water hazard. If you and your child love the youth sports lifestyle, and you’ve got the money to spend, then have fun. But if you’ve got a hard-on for a college scholarship, chances are that on National Signing Day, you’re going to be limp with disappointment.

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