Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Indianapolis

Why a Midwestern suburb is going on a youth sports building frenzy

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Here is an example on what gets built, and what doesn’t, in our not-officially-in-a-recession economy.

In the fast-growing Indianapolis suburb of Westfield, Ind., there was a proposed $1 billion, 1,400-acre project that was going to include mostly new housing and stores, but would also have 150 acres set aside for youth sports fields, a new Y, and a minor-league baseball stadium. Because of the lousy real estate market, the housing-and-stores part of the development has been cut by two-thirds.

Meanwhile, the athletics portion of the project has broken off, and its size has doubled — to 300 acres, or as the Indianapolis Business Journal points out, the size of the Kings Island amusement park.

I’ve written about it here before (and before that), and I’ll write about it again, because cities keep doing it:  using youth sports as an economic development tool. And why not? At most, your huge complex can host scads of tournaments, which means scads of out-of-town teams, which means scads of parents and kids spending money at your hotels and restaurants. At worst, if the out-of-towners don’t show up, you can justify the cost of the project (and Westfield’s was estimated, when it was half the current size, at around $60 million) by pointing out that, unlike building a new NFL stadium, the community gets to use it.

Even in the throes of the recession, parents in unemployment-scarred towns such as Elkhart, Ind., ponied up to put their kids in sports. As one parent told me in 2009, he will cut any other expense, because “if you save $5, it’s $5 you can spend on your child.” With such a loyal spending base to work with, it’s no wonder even little towns like Edwardsburg, Mich. (population 1,200), have huge sports complexes in the planning or construction stages.

After all, you don’t want to have your hometown newspaper write about all the tournaments (and money) you lost because you didn’t keep up with the Basketball Joneses. (Often, the local coverage of proposed complexes sounds a lot like the fawning articles that beat the drums for taxpayer-funded pro stadiums. Sample headline: “New sports complex offers cities financial home run.”) Again, so what if the promised multimillion-dollar impact from youth tournaments doesn’t happen? At least your kids have a nice place to play, right?

Westfield, population 27,000, is much more ambitious than most cities building youth sports complexes. Instead of just saying, we’re building a complex, Westfield and its mayor, Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) have declared they are building “The Family Sports Capital of America.”

Why so grandiose? Westfield, located in Indiana’s Hamilton County, one of the fastest-growing in the nation, is trying to grab more of the executives who have been more apt to settle in other suburbs, particularly Carmel, located immediately to Westfield’s south. Carmel (hometown of your humble blogger) itself has stood out nationally because of its grand schemes, such as its embrace of roundabouts, its snagging of Michael Feinstein and his Great American Songbook, and its getting Kendra Wilkinson to film her reality show there. A few years back, the U.S. Census Bureau renamed the Indianapolis metropolitan area the Indianapolis-Carmel metro. One of Westfield’s few claims to fame was being the home of a serial killer.

Carmel has always been bigger, richer and more important than Westfield, and damnit, if the town was going to be known for being more than Carmel’s leftovers, it needed to do something grand. Hence, “The Family Sports Capital of America.” (Giving yourself a grandiose nickname is a tradition among Hoosiers. See Michael Jackson, “King of Pop.”)

With ground yet to be broken, we’re a long way from finding out whether Westfield can pop a big civic boner in the face of its rival, which I just realized is a highly inappropriate metaphor in a piece about a place kids play. But we are hardly a long way away from cities of any size determining that putting money into shiny, new youth sports complexes is maybe not such a good idea after all. As long as parents are willing to spend their last $5 on their kids and their sports, there is going to be a market for the facilities. The only question might be is if some other town is going to try to beat Westfield to the “Family Sports Capital of America” punch.

(Actually, Blaine, Minn., already did.)


Written by rkcookjr

October 6, 2010 at 1:21 am

Butler is kinda sorta like 'Hoosiers'

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As inevitable as headlines saying “the Butler did it,” Butler University’s presence in the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four has dredged up the comparisons with the movie “Hoosiers.” It’s a facile exercise, considering Butler’s status as a relatively small fish in the NCAA pond, and its home court, Hinkle Fieldhouse, where as the 1986 movie taught us, the dimensions of the court are the same as our gym back in Hickory.

However, Butler has as little in common with the 1951-52 Hickory Huskers as the very urban IUPUI, which used “Hoosiers” as its inspiration when it made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2003, and Notre Dame center Ruth Riley, who thought of little Ollie shooting his underhanded free throws when she hit the game-winning freebies to give the Irish the 2001 NCAA women’s title. Butler is a team full of talent, beyond Gordon Hayward as Jimmy Chitwood (though Hayward looks more like he could star in “The Rade Butcher Story”), and it’s had a sustained period of success, with three appearances in the round of 16 since 2003.

Four passes before you shoot Gordon, er, Rade.

Instead, the plucky high school team Butler resembles the most is not fictional, but very real — the 1954 Milan Indians, whose “improbable” Indiana high school basketball title run inspired “Hoosiers.”

Despite the Cinderella story, Milan was no out-of-nowhere team in 1954. In 1952-53, Milan went 24-5 and reached the final four of the Indiana state boys high school basketball tournament under a baby-faced coach in his mid 20s named Marvin Wood. (Milan lost to South Bend Central, Hickory’s opponent in “Hoosiers.”) The nucleus of that team was back for 1953-54, including Bobby Plump.

The 1953-54 Milan team went 28-2 — 28 being the number of Butler’s regular-season victories this year. Just like Butler, Milan mostly dominated its similarly sized competition. Despite the movie’s depiction of a series of tight games, Milan cruised through the tournament, not facing a close game until its legendary 32-30 nailbiter final in Butler Fieldhouse (Tony Hinkle was still alive and coaching Butler at that point) against Muncie Central, a game won by Plump’s last shot. (Plump’s Last Shot 40 years later, became the name of a Indianapolis restaurant co-owned by Plump.)

Meanwhile, baby-faced Butler coach Brad Stevens, age 33, is bringing his Bobby Plump, Hayward, into the NCAA Final Four, after previous success led to expected excellence (Butler at one point was a top 10-rated team during the regular season) as the Bulldogs dominated their similarly sized competition (the Horizon League). By the way, just to close this circle, Plump played his college basketball at… Butler, and, until Matt Howard broke it during the regional final, he had still held the school’s record for most free throws made.

Rade Butcher, er, Bobby Plump, er, Gordon Hayward at left. (Photo from Flickr)

This is not to say Butler shouldn’t milk the “Hoosiers” connection. With the Final Four five miles south on Capitol Avenue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, I look forward to Stevens breaking out the tape measure, and having Hayward stand on a ladder to hold one end to the rim, and Shelvin Mack on the floor holding one end on the free throw line. Stevens could call the picket fence, with Hayward as a decoy, and Hayward telling Stevens, after the team shakes its head thinking back to that game against Oolitic: “I can hit that shot.”

Anyway, I presume that while Bulldogs fans want their story to end just like Milan (or “Hoosiers,” for that matter), they don’t want Stevens to do what Marvin Wood did after Milan’s title — leave for a bigger school.

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Carmel hazing update: a little less redaction

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The dribs and drabs of information from Carmel (Ind.) police regarding two separate alleged assaults upon teammates by members of the high school basketball time dribbed and drabbed a little more today [March 15].

The police released a less redacted report on an incident that the complainant said occurred Jan. 8 in a Carmel High locker room, but did not come to light until Feb. 22, as police were taking statements on an alleged sexual assault that took place on a bus ride back from Terre Haute to the Indianapolis suburb.

(Quick summary: four senior players were suspended from the team, and school, for the alleged hazing incidents, one player for the Jan. 8 report, and three for the bus-ride report.)

The Carmel city attorney, Douglas Haney, who has been besieged by local media to release the full police reports in each incident, wrote today [March 15] that given the “current stage of the investigation,” he could take some black lines off the report concerning the Jan. 8 incident. He didn’t go into any further detail.

After comparing the two reports, it turns out very little was unerased. But it’s enough show that apparently more than one player was involved in the actual assault on a teammate. From the report (as posted by Fox 59 TV news in Indianapolis):

I was advised by [redacted] that [redacted] and [redacted] had been involved in an altercation with [redacted] in the locker room [redacted]. According to their information, [redacted] and [redacted] had held [redacted] down, pulled down his shorts [a full line redacted].

Written by rkcookjr

March 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Your kid's cellphone: a youth sports parent's best friend

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You might have seen over the weekend that the New York Times put up a blurb about the growth of cell phone use by six-to-11-year-olds, a group that back in my day (insert old man voice) would still have been playing with pretend land lines. However, I see nothing disturbing at all in kids having cell phones, not with my 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter having had them for about two years. I’m also guessing a lot of parents who are shuttling kids to multiple events, sports or otherwise, feel the same way.

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“Oh-hoh! I’ll send Goofy to pick you up at the field, Billy!”

The Times, quoting a study released Jan. 4 by Mediamarket Research and Intelligence, said that in 2005 11.9 percent of six- to 11-year-olds had their own mobile phone. In 2009, that number was up to 20 percent. The most dramatic increase, according to the market research company, was 10- and 11-year-olds, whose phone ownership was up 80.5 percent.

These numbers might be disturbing if you believe cell phones cause brain tumors, or if you imagine your 6-year-old now having the power to send naked pictures of himself all over the virtual world. And, yeah, when I put it that way, even I’m starting to freak out a little bit. Let me check my kid’s phones, and I’ll be right back. …

(OK, nothing untoward there. Whew.)

Or maybe you think merely that a post-toddler or preteen is too young to have a phone.

The New York Times item on this survey, being a blurb, left out a key part of the 5,000-child survey: why they use their phone.

The overwhelmingly No. 1 reason why kids use their phones is to call their parents. Now, as a child — and I was a good kid (really, I was) — my worst nightmare was that my parents could have some sort of tracking device on me that would always reveal to them where I was at any given moment. But my experience with my own children is that both sides like the security of being able to get in touch, anytime. Certainly, a cell phone would have been helpful so I could go from one park to another without having to make a detour home first so I could ask my parents if I could go.

The survey said 88.1% of the kiddie cellphone wielders use the device to call their parents. This is where the phone as youth sports parent’s best friend comes in. There comes a time, when the number of kids you have and the schedules they keep outflank you ability to be everywhere at once, that the phone is a necessity for making sure that your child isn’t left stranded after practice or a game — or that you can talk to your child and the parents of whomever has offered to bring him or her home, preferably via a postgame ice-cream shop stop.

My 12-year-old’s phone certainly comes in handy for his frequent, hours-long in-line skating jaunts, so I can call him home, or he can call me in case there is a problem. I feel safer with him having the phone, though my concern for his safety does not extend to making him wear a helmet and pads.

Over the summer, when we were visiting my family in Carmel, Ind., my son bladed over to the nearby Monon Trail (a conversion from a rail line upon which a parent threatened to send up Hickory basketball coach Norman Dale after hidestrapping his ass to a pine rail), which runs south to downtown Indianapolis. I was running the trail myself, so I saw him as we entered at about 146th Street, and I saw him again as I ran south from the trail’s end at 161st Street in Westfield, with him heading north. His phone in hand, I let him keep going after I was done running.

About 90 minutes later, not having heard from my son, I figured I’d better call him to see if he was OK. “Yeah, I’m fine, Dad,” he said. “Where are you?” “I’m not exactly sure.” “What was the last street sign you saw?” “I think it was… 96th Street.” (96th Street is the border between Carmel and Indianapolis.) “96th Street? Where the heck are you going?” “I wanted to go all the way downtown and back.” “Uh, no.”

Hey, my 12-year-old son may be old enough to have a cell phone, but I wasn’t going to let him traverse by himself to downtown Indianapolis and back. I might let him skate with no pads and no helmet — and an iPod going full-blast — but I have my limits. (I did let him skate back, though.)

By the way, second in the survey was calling friends (68.1 percent) and emergency purposes (55.7 percent). Mediamarket says much of the rise in cell phone use has to do with more kid-friendly phone offerings.

Left totally unsupervised, with no cell phone pads and cell phone helmet, can mobile technology welcome your 6- to 11-year-old to a world of sexting, cyberbullying, tumor-iffic, airtime-charge-sucking ne’er-do-wells? Perhaps. When we got our kids phones, my wife and I gave long lectures about what they were to be used for — and not. We haven’t gotten our 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter their own phones yet, but they’re not moving about independently enough to need them.

Anyway, I think the results of the Mediamark survey show that children — and parents — want that electronic tether to make sure they’re never out of reach; what was once my nightmare, now a child’s and parent’s dream.

Written by rkcookjr

March 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm

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.

Written by rkcookjr

February 21, 2010 at 1:37 am

Guns in parks: Why?

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When I go to the park, I take a water bottle, maybe a wagon for the younger kids, some snacks, perhaps light jackets in case there’s a chill in the air. On another planet, there are people who are beside themselves that they can’t bring their guns.

I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t get it. I don’t consider myself crazy anti-gun. I don’t own a gun, probably never will, but that’s not out of any anti-Second Amendment principle. It’s because I have no more interest in owning a gun than I do an expanded special edition of Reese Witherspoon in “Sweet Home Alabama.” I just don’t find it useful to my interests, unless I’m forced to watch “Sweet Home Alabama,” at which time I might want a gun to go all Elvis on the TV.

And I’m certainly not sure why people feel so scared of their shadows that when they go for a nice stroll, or they go to watch their kid’s ballgame, they need to pack heat or their hearts palpitate nervously like me when I show up to a ballgame without a Starbucks grande americano with two Sweet-n-Lows and skim milk.

Indianapolis is the latest place where someone is proposing that people with permits be allowed to pack heat in public parks. That someone is a Libertarian who, philosophically, figures our Second Amendment rights extend to having a Glock in your pocket while you push your child on the swings.

3200979329_634514a42dKid, that swing is taken, if you catch my drift.

In some way, I get that. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. What I don’t get is the reaction of Republican council member Ryan Vaughn, quoted in the Indianapolis Star:

“For the sake of consistency, I think there’s merit in it,” Vaughn said. “You could have citizens who don’t know what kind of park they’re in.”

Don’t know what kind of park they’re in? What is THAT supposed to mean? I don’t know if Vaughn has a racist bone in his body, but it sounds to me like my fellow white man wants his constituents protected in case they somehow stumble across Scary Black Park. (If Vaughn introduces an ordinance to change the names of parks to reflect their racial makeup and crime status, then we’ll know.) The only other way I could see citizens not knowing what kind of park they’re in is if they travel there wrapped inside a sack and then get dumped off the back of a truck.

Fortunately, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican and ex-Marine who presumably knows how to handle a gun, unlike most of the numbnuts who would pack heat at the park, said he would veto allowing guns in the parks, given that in three years in office, by his reckoning, exactly zero people have brought up this issue with him.

Still, that’s not likely to stop pro-gun types, not with victories such as the upcoming lifting of the gun ban in national parks, set to take effect Feb. 22. (It won’t be all Wild West — the park will enforce whatever local gun laws are in place.) Plus, you still have the push-pull in Tennessee, where it became legal to carry in public parks, unless local governments passed a law saying otherwise — and some have.

It doesn’t help the case when you have oddballs like the guy in Seattle who protested his city’s new ban on guns in the parks by taking a pistol to a dog show. You know, just in case a shih-tzu looked at him cross-eyed. (Technically, the guy is right — a Washington state law passed in 1983 prevents any locality from passing such a gun ban, and there are lawsuits against the city declaring just that. But still.) Or tragic cases like the mom in Pennsylvania who created a cause celebre by openly carrying a weapon at her kid’s soccer game — and then ended up dead by her husband’s hand in a murder-suicide.

The only person I know and would trust taking a gun to a park for a Sunday walk or a kid’s ballgame is a friend of mine who happens to be an ex-Marine and a Secret Service agent. At least I know he’s trained to be alert for danger and would know how to discharge his weapon without wiping out the opposing team’s parents. Otherwise, it just seems like overkill, no pun intended, for people to bring guns along. If you’re feeling tense and nervous at the ballpark, I would recommend a strong cup of coffee instead.

Charter school basketball — stop being so competitive!

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The Indiana General Assembly in 2001 passed legislation allowing local school districts to create charter schools with the idea they would expand students’ opportunity and provide competition. In Indiana, that has worked spectacularly well — for basketball stars.

As it turns out, a charter school that can draw students from anywhere in the district can put a pretty damn good basketball team together if it puts its mind to it. In a state still reeling from the death of its beloved, storied single-class tournament in after the 1997 season, the idea that public high school teams are not grown organically in rigid district lines is making some Hoosiers Hysterical.

Actually, thanks to the four-class format that small schools tired of getting their asses kicked year after year since the Milan Miracle (the 1954 title run that was the inspiration for the movie, “Hoosiers”), charter schools can turn themselves into instant championship contenders in lower classes, thus getting those coaches to talk about charter schools in the same derogatory tone once received for private schools.

For example, Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary hired an AAU coach, had AAU stars from the city enroll in the sixth or seventh grade, and now watches the magic happen as the rest of the city’s high schools are now drained of talent.

Indianapolis’ new Herron charter high school, which has an arts curriculum as a nod to its location in the former building for IUPUI’s art school, in August hired another AAU coach, Sherron Wilkerson, well-known in the state for losing his Mr. Basketball title in a playing-time snit and his Indiana University roster spot after being arrsted for beating his girlfriend. Of course, one NCAA Division I signee has already transfered from a noncharter high school. Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ mayor has blocked formation of a proposed sports-themed charter school because, well, it would be too much competition for other schools.

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“THIS is your team. That’s because Jimmy Chitwood and anybody else who could play worth a damn transferred to Terhune Charter Academy.”

From The Indianapolis Star:

Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Blake Ress said charter schools have created an “odd scenario” in that they operate as public schools without district boundaries.

Because of that, he agrees there is reason to be concerned, but the association is at a loss for how to prevent it from happening.

“If students enroll at charter schools as ninth-graders,” Ress said, “there is not a whole lot the IHSAA can do unless there is blatant recruiting and undue influence that has occurred.

“The potential is there for a charter school to create imbalance because you draw from anywhere and (students) can go there without paying tuition. There’s a wide pool of talent to choose from, and (charter schools) have access to it.”

By the way, this worry has cropped up in other states, and even was an issue in Indiana in the 1950s. After the Oscar Robertson-led Indianapolis Crispus Attucks team won consecutive state titles (back in the halcyon single-class days) in 1955-56, all of a sudden there was a lot of squawking about how some of those players should have been on other city teams because of where they lived.

Of course, at the time the Indianapolis Public Schools’ segregationists policies stuffed the black kids at Attucks, policies that were undone post-Oscar. You might say Attucks was sort of a charter school before its time. And it now can draw any Indianapolis student again — after being closed and then reopened as a junior high, the school is now Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, though there is no sign another Oscar Robertson is on the way.

Charter schools, being criticized for providing too much opportunity and being competitive. Ironic, ain’t it?

Written by rkcookjr

October 2, 2009 at 1:08 am