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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

“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!


'Crybaby award' winner's life takes even sadder turn

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You might not remember the name Terrence Philo Jr., but you might remember his story.

At his Pleasantville (N.J.) Middle School basketball team’s end-of-season banquet, Terrence’s coach invited him to come to the end-of-season banquet for a special moment. Then, in front of 25 teammates and parents, the coach gave Terrence an award: the “Crybaby Award,” complete with a trophy depicting a baby, and a nameplate misspelled “Terrance.”

The coach claimed it was supposed to be some sort of honor for Terrence’s play and vocal participation, but Terrence wasn’t in on the joke. The 13-year-old was so embarrassed, he refused to come back to school that Monday, and his father said Terrence didn’t even want to go outside. The bad-joke award got national attention, and the coach who issued it, 24-year-old James Guillen, was fired, though he kept his job as a special education teacher.

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That was 2004.

Six years later, Terrence Philo Jr. is back in the news again. It would be nice to say that the traumatizing incident strengthened the honor student’s resolve to treat others well and put himself in a position to help others.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that.

From the Press of Atlantic City:

A Pleasantville teen who made national headlines six years ago for being awarded a “crybaby award” by his middle school basketball coach is accused of leading police on a chase – and now faces assault, gun and drug charges.

Police say an officer was injured while trying to arrest Terrence Philo Jr., 19.

Police told the newspaper that a Pleasantville officer saw someone, later identified as Philo, attempt to rob someone with a gun. The officer chased Philo as he sped away in a car, and the officer crashed his car into the back of Philo’s vehicle after Philo hit a parked car. He ran away, but another officer and a police dog tracked Philo down in a closet at a nearby home, where he was arrested. Police said they found a loaded .357 Magnum and crack cocaine in his car.

Without knowing what’s been going on with Philo over the last six years, it would be a real stretch to say that the “Crybaby Award” turned him from honor student into alleged criminal. Just like how you can’t say for sure that Michael Costin Jr. grew up to abuse drugs, alcohol, and his 23-years-his-senior girlfriend because his father was killed by another hockey dad in a notorious 2000 case.

However, it’s safe to say that, in each case: it didn’t help.

The words from a family therapist, spoken to USA Today in 2004, about the “Crybaby Award” incident sound haunting now:

“It’s an awful thing to have done to a teenager, just totally uncalled for,” said Michael Popkin, a family therapist and author based in Atlanta. “One of the harshest things you can do to a kid is to publicly humiliate them. It’s bad enough putting him down one on one, away from the team. To set him up like that and then cut his knees out in public is a huge blow.” …

Whether the boy suffers permanent harm from the humiliation depends on how strong he is emotionally and how much his friends, family and teammates support him, Popkin said.

By the way, Guillen is still teaching special education in Pleasantville. The Press did not appear to contact him (and I haven’t either). But one wonders what he thought when he heard of “Terrance” Philo Jr.’s arrest.

Should student athletes get punished for out-of-school conduct?

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In Haddonfield, N.J., there are two lawsuits — both involving students suspended from extracurricular activities after being arrested for underage drinking — that seek to answer in the negative the musical question I’ve posed in the headline. However, there is a long tradition of that question being answered in the positive. Recent court decisions have affirmed that opinion, by saying plainly that while students have a right to stay in school, they have no special right to stay there afterward and participate in activities.

Contrary to how the new or unusual the concept of punishing student-athletes for nonschool conduct might seem, it’s been around for a long time, long enough that it was the rule when I was running cross country and track at Carmel (Ind.) High School back in the days when parachute pants were all the rage. In fact, it’s been around long enough that when I was editor of the high school’s newspaper, I identified the names of multiple basketball players suspended for a game after they were among 90 arrested at a party where underage drinking was taking place. (So there is a precedent to my revealing the names of Carmel’s current basketball players identified in a budding hazing scandal.)

However, apparently this concept is new to Haddonfield, N.J., where the school district adopted its “24/7” policy in 2006 to take action against students who run into trouble outside of school events. The policy includes the Haddonfield police tipping off the district if any of their students get arrested, a fairly common practice in many areas.

According to the Philadephia Inquirer, 70 students, including those of Haddonfield Mayor and 24/7 policy promoter Tish Colombi, have gotten caught in its net. (Correction: Colombi’s children got busted for underage drinking while in high school, and she later promoted the 24/7 policy.) Local attorney Matthew Wolf is seeking class-action status on behalf of all of them in his lawsuits representing two 15-year-old student-athletes got smacked down by the 24/7 policy in two separate incidents. Wolf, in a story that aired March 6 on NPR’s Weekend Edition, called 24/7 “simply a vigilante system of justice established by a school board in violation of the Constitution of the United States.”

Wolf says the off-campus policy violates the Constitution by duplicating the punishment and meting it out before the kids have gone to court. Also, he says drinking at a party on Saturday night has nothing to do with school safety.

“If a student has stabbed another student outside of school, or stabbed anyone outside the school, we don’t contend that the school doesn’t have the right to exercise its authority over students who commit serious offenses,” says Wolf.

Actually, courts so far have said the opposite — that it would be tougher to expel a student who stabbed someone outside of school than it would be to boot someone off the volleyball team for getting busted for even the most minor of offenses.

An Ohio state appeals court case is hardly legal precedent, but it’s the closest we might come (other than a judge denying one of Wolf’s clients a temporary restraining order) until a case like Mather v. Loveland City School District Board of Education makes its way to the Supreme Court.

The plaintiff was Charlie Mather, a student at Loveland High, located in a suburb of Cincinnati. One night in summer 2008, police pulled over a car in which he was riding, and police noticed an open container of alcohol between his legs. Mather was arrested. Later, a Loveland resource officer who also is a city cop told the school about Mather’s arrest. The school, under its policy, suspended Mather for 40 percent of the football season. Mather’s mother sued the school district, and got a local court to give a temporary injunction for him to play football — but he still faced sitting out 40 percent of lacrosse season in the spring.

With that in mind, the case (relatively quickly) made it to a state appeals court. On March 13, 2009, in a unanimous decision, the three judges said the lower court was all kinds of wrong in even giving Mather the time of day.

The first problem, the judges noted, was that the Ohio legislature never granted students a right to appeal suspension from extracurricular activities, even though they did have the right to appeal suspension or expulsion from curricular activities (which is why I noted Wolf had it backward about who had the harder time getting back into school). As a matter of fact, the Ohio legislature appeared to make it clear there would be no legal right of appeal on the extracurricular end. In 1996 it passed a  law allowing school boards to adopt policies for prohibiting students from participating in extracurricular activities. In 1999, it struck out the word “extracurricular” when it amended statute on students’ rights to appeal suspension or expulsion from school.

It is significant that the legislature both created a separate statute to address policies for prohibiting students from extracurricular activities and deleted “extracurricular” from the statute concerning the right to appeal a school board’s decision. It is clear to us that the legislature intended to create a right of appeal to a common pleas court only for curricular activities. Extracurricular activities are governed solely by R.C. 3313.664, which provides no right to appeal a school board’s decision. Perhaps the legislature reasoned that some issues have to be left to the good faith of school officials, rather than to have every incident such as this one dragged into court.

That court also noted a 1980 decision by the Sixth Circuit Court — one step short of the Supreme Court — in a case called Glenn v. Harper. That court upheld the right of a school district to kick a student off the cheerleading squad, without a hearing or a right of appeal. The Sixth Circuit noted, and the Ohio state appeals court followed, that there is no Constitutional right to participate in extracurricular school activities.

So that’s what a court says, but is that right? I’ll sound like a grumpy old man, but, yes, it is. If a college team can suspend a player for off-campus problems, there’s no reason a high school or middle cannot, as well. As schools note, participating in extracurricular activities is a privilege. Generally, students and their parents have to sign an agreement (as Mather and his father did) adhering to a code of conduct, and if the student doesn’t, well, see you in math class, but not on the football field.

However, if Wolf and his like want to make some progress on giving young athletes more wiggle room in the code of conduct, they might concentrate on what’s in the code itself, and how it is applied. There is a case pending in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, Ind., in which two female athletes were suspended from teams for salacious MySpace pictures (often known as the “Penis Pop case”). In that case, the issue is whether photos taken and posted for the benefit of a select group of people (they couldn’t be seen by people outside the girls’ networks) counts as any sort of moral public turpitude worthy of getting suspended, and especially worthy of having to grovel in front of all-male panels gawking at your licking a phallus lollipop in order to get back on the team.

I’ve already gone on record as saying I don’t think this is actionable like an athlete getting busted for something illegal. At least in the latter case, you have a public record to go on, rather than trying to make some judgment call. But we’ll see what the court has to say. For now, those athletes in Haddonfield shouldn’t hold their breaths that Matthew Wolf will succeed in his goal of getting their suspensions off their permanent records, something extremely important in the well-to-do community. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

A number of Haddonfield parents were contacted for this story, and all declined to speak on the record. They expressed concern that their comments would affect their children, both in their day-to-day existence in high school and when they applied to college in the months or years ahead.

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Apropos of nothing, Bill Cosby talking about drinking, when he was more funny than hectoring.

Written by rkcookjr

March 8, 2010 at 12:11 am

No gun sponsorship allowed for N.J. youth baseball team

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Apparently the only arms the South Orange-Maplewood Baseball League wants referenced on its fields are those attached to the players. From My Fox New York:

TheInstructorA Maplewood, New Jersey man is upset that a Little League baseball league has rejected his business as a team sponsor.

Matthew Carmel’s (right) son played in the South Orange-Maplewood Baseball League last year and he wanted to sponsor a team in the coming season. A sponsorship costs $300.

The league committee rejected his offer.  Carmel thinks that it is because his business happens to be a gun store called Constitution Arms. [The league did not give an official reason for denying his sponsorship.]

Carmel says, “It is fairly clear that someone has a problem with firearms.”

Mao was wrong. Youth sports sponsorship power does not come from the barrel of a gun.

Written by rkcookjr

March 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

St. Patrick, elite N.J. basketball program, is banned from postseason

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Not a good last few days for elite high school boys’ basketball programs. First, on Feb. 26, the high school behind faux high school program Findlay College Prep says it’s closing. Today, a federal judge in Newark denied St. Patrick, New Jersey’s No. 1 team, injunctive relief that would allow it to participate in the state tournament, as well as the ESPN RISE Tournament of Champions for the faux high school boys basketball national title.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association banned the Elizabeth, N.J., school because head coach Kevin Boyle held several illegal practices before the official start of the preseason — a charge Boyle has copped to. His athletic director got suspended for three months without pay for the rules violation, and St. Patrick offered to suspend Boyle if that got St. Patrick into the postseason. But no dice.

The St. Patrick case was full of questionable actors — including the NJSIAA. The case started when the father of two players transferring in from Texas called the NJSIAA to question how his estranged wife could afford to move there. The NJSIAA found no recruiting violations (and the players ended up back in Texas), but the NJSIAA — in what was to be an extremely controversial move — hired a private investigator to follow the players and videotape any goings-on. Sayeth Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage to the (Newark) Star-Ledger: “I find that extremely fascist on behalf of the NJSIAA.”

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Chris Bollwage dedicates this one to the NJSIAA.

By the way, who was that father who tipped off the jackbooted thugs at the NJSIAA? None other than Chris Washburn, one of the biggest busts of the bustfest that was the 1986 NBA draft. A bust so bad, No. 2 pick Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose before his first practice, and he arguably had a better legacy than Chris Washburn, the man taken behind him. Washburn lasted three years before the NBA drummed him out for repeatedly failing drug tests.  And now, here he stands, the voice of the rules of athletics.

cwChris Washburn, bringer of excitement.

Findlay Prep, a fake high school basketball team, is now more fake than ever

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Las Vegas’ Findlay College Prep, in its four seasons of existence, has been a faux high school basketball team, what with no actual high school called Findlay College Prep. But with the imminent closing of the high school the players actually attend, Findlay Prep is getting a little faker.

The Henderson International School, where Findlay Prep players matriculate when they’re not jetting around the country to play other schools also burning to be faux national champion, said Feb. 26 it is shutting down its high school division after the 2009-10 school year ends, citing financial difficulties. Basically, other than players being bankrolled by auto dealership magnate Cliff Findlay, a former UNLV center and longtime Rebels booster, few in the extremely lousy economy of Las Vegas could afford an annual tuition that ran to near $41,000, including room and board.

High school losses running more than $1 million a year wouldn’t do for the school, owned by Meritas LLC, a company backed by private equity firm Sterling Partners, meaning that eventually this school was supposed to be part of a publicly traded, profit-making machine.

The mercenary roots of Henderson International were a good fit for Findlay College Prep, whose college preparation focused on getting players ready for college basketball. True, its “students” reportedly have acquitted themselves decently in the actual classroom, but the program’s success is measured by its national prominence and the players it put on college rosters. Its website has a Hall of Fame — anyone who joined a major college program. (New Hampshire, being Division I, counts.)

Findlay Prep, which imports all its players from outside Nevada, is the most obvious manifestation of how professionalized high school basketball has become, in large part as a response to competition from AAU ball and other elite leagues. ESPN, for one, is a willing participant in blowing up the stature of the most craven high school programs, putting together its ESPN RISE Tournament of Champions high school “national championship,” which of course includes Findlay Prep.

(As an aside, one invitee to that tournament, St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J., is in litigation with authority that runs New Jersey high school athletics, which will not release the school to play. The NJSIAA also has banned St. Patrick from its New Jersey state championship tournament. It appears to be a power struggle between the putative authority on athletics in the state, and a school that, like Findlay, gets players far from its local area and plays a national schedule. Findlay Prep solves this problem by not being a member of its state high school athletic association.)

If it weren’t for college programs requiring some minimum academic achievements, Findlay Prep could say, screw it, and just field its all-star team. However, it will have to find some other private school to glom onto to keep itself alive. Is there another one in Las Vegas? In Nevada? Who cares where it is? As long as it isn’t in a state with a lot of basketball talent, so Findlay Prep doesn’t have to freeze those players out so as not to run afoul of any basketball authorities.

Is there a private school in Idaho that has some room?

Volleyball-chucking coach Eric Maxwell doesn't get why he's so, so wrong

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This here blog on Jan. 6 posted the video of Southern Regional High School (Manahawkin, N.J.) always-intense volleyball coach Eric Maxwell going nuts during a game after a player committed the sin of not hitting the ball before it reached the floor, going nuts in the form of whipping a volleyball fastball on her head. Alas, in a tribute to the lack of pull this here blog has (for now), it took posting the video Feb. 1 before Maxwell and his school bothered to respond to questions like, why is this guy still coaching?

Maxwell defended his action (which occurred in October 2009) to the Press of Atlantic City (one of the best newspapers of its size in covering youth sports issues, in my opinion), as did a few other school officials, who I think were afraid they would get brained with a volleyball if they didn’t tell the world what a great guy Maxwell is.

Maxwell claimed he wasn’t trying to hit a player, and that everything with his team was hunky-dory a few hours after the incident, which got him booted out of the game. Maxwell said he apologized to the player, and wrote a letter of apology to his team members and their parents. A signal that Mr. Intensity (“he patrols up and down the sidelines …. with the fury of a drill sergeant, sayeth the Star-Ledger of Newark) wasn’t looking at this as a lesson to dial things down came when he said he didn’t apologize to anyone else because he “wasn’t going to put out little fires.”

“You see a short clip like that, but no one knows what preceded it. I’m not condoning my behavior in getting upset and yelling at a referee, but my intent was to throw it off the wall. It certainly looks like I threw it at her,” he said.

Hey, sarge, it doesn’t matter whether you were TRYING to throw it at her. You shouldn’t have been chucking the ball in the first place. How do you expect your team to be calm and controlled when you have zero mastery over your own temper? Unless you were firing a ball at a person who had entered the gym carrying an assault rifle, I can’t think of “what preceded” your action that made it excusable.

Then again, sarge, you do have employers who make excuses for you.

Southern Regional School District Superintendant Craig Henry said Monday afternoon that the incident was an anomaly and completely out of character for Maxwell.

Apparently Henry never reads the Star-Ledger.

“This coach is a faith-based individual and he is moved to emotion every time it comes up. He’s a class act in everything he does,” Henry said.

A faith-based individual? What does that have to do with anything? Richard Reid, Baruch Goldstein and Eric Rudolph were faith-based individuals moved to emotion, too, and no one wants them coaching their volleyball team. The point is not that Maxwell is a religious nut bent to kill, but that it’s maddening how people are ready to explain away any action because, hey, the guy’s got the Jesus! By the way, I would love to hear the superintendent’s explanation of how Maxwell was a class act in whizzing that volleyball across the floor.

Hey, teachers at Southern Regional High, you now have permission to chuck objects at your students, as long as you’re a faith-based individual and you say you were aiming for the wall! (Well, Maxwell is on one-year probation, according to the superintendent, so there might be a teensy-weensy consequence, at least if your tantrum gets on YouTube.)

At least athletic director Kim DeGraw-Cole said throwing the ball, no matter what Maxwell tried to hit, was wrong.

“The fact that the ball hit one of his players that he cares about and coaches is embarrassing. He took the proper steps before we took action,” DeGraw-Cole said. “It wouldn’t matter if he threw the ball at the wall, it wouldn’t be appropriate. No one felt worse than he did.”

I don’t know, Ms. DeGraw-Cole. I bet that girl who got a ball off the head felt pretty damn bad.