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Is it a good idea for coaches to rip parents publicly?

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Carly Curtis resigned this week as head girls’ volleyball coach at Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) High. On her way out the door, she made it abundantly clear to the local newspaper who was responsible for her depature: those goddamn fucking parents. (That’s my paraphrase.)

Some of you might be saying, hallelujah, I’m glad a selfless public servant is telling those parents what-for. But I’m not sure Curtis made the wisest decision. Certainly, if she ever wants to coach again at the high school level, her comments to the Coeur d’Alene Press are going to be thrown back in her face. But I also wonder if — in an age in which the youth sports world is hyperaware of pushy parents — it’s a little easy to blame them for your own troubles.

Curtis had two things happen in recent seasons that tend to cause tension — her team started losing, and her daughter was playing on the team. I don’t know that one had to do with the other (and her daughter has made all-league). But whatever was going on, Curtis defaulted to parents being unreasonable.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press:

“I’m tired of dealing with disgruntled/jealous parents and players that are taking their frustrations out on me and my daughter,” Curtis said. “And I am trying to look for a more peaceful atmosphere for me and my daughter.” …

“I think a lot of people couldn’t handle that I was coaching my daughter,” Curtis said.

The Vikings finished 9-18 this season, after going 2-22 in 2009.

“It was a frustrating season,” Curtis said. “And in the end, I didn’t feel the support was there for me to stay. I didn’t feel there was a lot of support from the administration.”

Curtis said her daughter may transfer, but will wait until the end of the semester to decide what she wants to do.

Oh, I forget to mention that — she ripped the administration publicly, too. The same administration she plans to continue to work for as a physical education and health teacher at Coeur d’Alene High.

It’s always interesting to read the comments that are posted under any story about a youth sports situation, because even though you get some anonymous sniping, it’s the best place to get some of the story behind the story. If the comments are to be believed, there were issues for years with Curtis’ style and temperament, and recent losing brought the complaints more to the fore.

By the way, Curtis is not leaving volleyball. She will continue to coach a club team she co-founded. One wonders whether the issue was the parents, or that Curtis, a serious volleyball coach, would rather have a team with players and parents who are as intense about the sports as she is. And that place is not the school team.

Still, one wonders if a club team parent has a complaint, if Curtis is going to spout off about it elsewhere. Is it a good idea for coaches to rip parents publicly? I always say, the answer is no.

Written by rkcookjr

November 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Why my 13-year-old, like so many others, is dropping out of organized sports

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For years, I read that 13 was the magic age, the Logan’s Run of youth sports, the time when 75 percent of kids (or whatever stat you want to pull out of your rectum) quit sports en masse, bitterly, for a lifetime of obesity.

As it turns out, my 13-year-old son, Bobby, coming home today from his first day of eighth grade, told me today that he would not try out again for the volleyball team, despite being one of the last cuts as a seventh-grader, despite going to volleyball camp this summer, despite the very good jump serve he’s demonstrated in our back yard.

He announced this angrily and dejectedly after… well, actually, he was pretty darn excited when he told me. That’s because he found out his school’s spring musical, in which he played the title role of “The Wizard of Oz” last year, would for this school year be a fall musical instead, a production of “Bugsy Malone.”

Yep, the all-kid gangster musical.

While I’m sure there are 13-year-olds who are out of sports because they have had miserable coaches, mean teammates and nutball parents, it turns out my 13-year-old is getting out of sports because, like other 13-year-olds, he’s finishing what my wife has referred to as his logical path of self-discovery (a phrase she coined sarcastically to refer to my peripatetic early professional career).

My son like sports OK, and maybe he’ll play rec league basketball this winter and try out track again in the spring. But he knows he LOVES performing. He likes being on stage, and not to put to fine a point on it, he’s good at it. He got his grade’s “best actor” award last year, which isn’t exactly a preview of the Oscars, but the kind of encouraging sign that points you in the direction of something you might enjoy for a while. My 13-year-old went to a theater camp over the summer, and he’s wanting to take improvisational acting classes.

Also, he really, really, really wants to be a Marine. So I see where he wants his path to lead: Rob Riggle.

That’s a USMC hat my 13-year-old son Bobby (left, posing with his 7-year-old brother, Ryan) is wearing at the July 4 parade in Munising, Mich. No kidding: not long after this picture was taken, a Marine in full dress walked by in the parade, saw Bobby and his hat, and gave him a Marines poster. Is this how Rob Riggle got started?

Like most any father, I had a thought from Bobby’s babyhood what sports he might play. That he’s not playing any — I’m good with that. The excitement he felt telling me about the school musical made ME want to sign up for it. After a youth of baseball, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, track, soccer, hockey and other sports I’m probably leaving out (like roller-blading, which he does just for the fun of it), Bobby’s logical path of self-discovery has given him sports he can enjoy in his down time, and activities he can enjoy the hell out of most of the time.

I still need to talk to him about that Marines thing, though. It’s great he loves the idea of serving his country, and I’ll support him in whatever he wants to do. But as a parent I’ll take Bobby dying on stage over dying, for real. Maybe I can get Rob Riggle to have a chat with him.

Written by rkcookjr

August 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Cheerleading: not a sport

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Collegiate cheerleaders perform a high splits ...

You're not athletes! (Image via Wikipedia)

That’s not me saying cheerleading isn’t a sport, even if I did type that headline my ownself.

That’s a Connecticut judge, ruling whether Quinnipiac University could count competitive cheerleading as a sport in order to meet requirements under Title IX, the federal law that prevents gender discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding. U.S. District Judge Steven Underhill, sitting in Bridgeport, ruled in favor of the school’s former women’s volleyball team, which sued after the school announced it would chop (as well as men’s golf and men’s outdoor track) in favor of competitive cheerleading for 2009-10, a lawsuit that Underhill later expanded to a class-action case.

Actually, the lawsuit looked at all sorts of questions about roster-size manipulation Quinnipiac, in the judge’s mind, made to comply with Title IX, but the headlines are uniformly about how cheerleading is not a sport. And why not, after Underhill made this statement, reported in the Hartford Courant:

“Competitive cheer may, sometime in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

The immediate result of this case is that the Fighting Pollsters have 60 days from the July 21 ruling date to get in compliance with Title IX, and specifically must bring back the women’s volleyball team.

However, while Underhill unequivocally declared that cheerleading is not a sport, no matter how much paralysis it has caused, like the current U.S. Supreme Court he made his ruling narrow enough so that everything isn’t 100 percent settled.

After all, Underhill, by saying “sometime in the future” it could qualify as a sport, ruled that cheerleading isn’t a sport not because it’s doesn’t have a ball or stick. It’s because it’s not organized enough.

So I’m thinking the takeaway for those in the cheerleading community — or the public school community — that want sis-boom-bahing declared as a sport would be: Get organized. Start leagues. Have conference championships. Get to the point where people are playing football on the sidelines to fire up the crowd into rooting harder for the cheerleaders.

Is cheerleading a sport?

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TOKYO - AUGUST 24:  Members of the Nippon Spor...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

“Is cheerleading a sport?” isn’t some sort of semantic question, like “is bowling a sport,” “is auto racing a sport,” or “is challenge pissing a sport.” (The link is NSFW language, but it’s not what you think. Or hope, if you’re R. Kelly.)

“Is cheerleading a sport” is a question that will be answered in a courtroom, and it could have an effect on how boys and girls are counted when it comes to Title IX, the federal law guaranteeing equal access by gender for any student in any school that receives federal money.

A trial started Mon., June 21 against Quinnipiac University (the Fighting Pollsters!) of Hamden, Conn., which is being sued by six women’s volleyball players over the school’s dropping their program. The players contend the elimination, as part of budget cuts, violated Title IX federal guidelines. A judge has already sort-of agreed, granting a temporary injunction to keep women’s vollyeball alive at Quinnipiac and granted the lawsuit class-action status.

That’s all well and good. But more interesting is one way Quinnipiac sought to prove that its female athletic participation is in step with its 62-38 female-male ratio: by elevating competitive cheer, with its 40 female members, to the rank of “sport.” From the New Haven (Conn.) Register:

The trial could ultimately be a referendum on competitive cheer, the gymnastic-like sport that is neither recognized as a varsity sport by the NCAA nor listed as an emerging sport. Quinnipiac initially intended to replace the 11-member volleyball program with a much larger competitive cheer squad.

According to published reports, cost estimates for a roster of 40 in competitive cheer is approximately $50,000. The volleyball budget was over $70,000 for 11 players last year.

Competitive cheer has many of the qualities of gymnastics, yet to some, it’s just an extension of “sideline cheer,” which is commonly seen at collegiate sporting events.

Others see competitive cheer as a low-cost loophole used to inflate the proportionality of female athletes at a school.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which sets the guidelines for Title IX student participation does not have a specific ruling to allow or disallow competitive cheer, but in 2008 issued a “Dear Colleague letter” which provided clarifying information to help institutions determine which intercollegiate or interscholastic athletic activities can be counted for the purpose of Title IX compliance. The letter indicates that when OCR conducts an investigation to determine whether an institution provides equal athletic opportunities as required by Title IX regulations, OCR evaluates the opportunities provided by the institution on a case by case basis.

Quinnipiac is currently in an alliance called the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association which includes the universities of Maryland, Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State (club team), Fairmont State of West Virginia, Azusa Pacific of California and Fort Valley State of Georgia.

If this were a movie, there would be a climatic scene in which the competitive cheer team performs in court, and the judge, so moved, declares: “You ARE a sport after all!” And everybody hugs.

In 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared cheerleading was a sport — and a contact sport at that, in that competitors were in physical contact with each other. (And given the high injury rates for competitive cheer, you’d be safer on the football field instead.) However, that ruling wasn’t for Title IX purposes. It was to disallow a cheerleader’s right to sue the partner who failed to catch her, as well as the school and its insurance company to pay for treating her injuries.

In some states, the high school athletic ruling body includes competitive cheer under its jurisdiction, although often it seems like it does so to pull the same kind of Title IX shenanigans in which Quinnipiac is accused of engaging. For example, in 2009 the Florida High School Athletic Association had plans to cut back every sport but football (which it declared was coed because three girls played) and competitive cheer. Those plans were beaten back by Title IX activists, among others. And Florida’s inclusion of competitive cheer also seemed similar to why catchers have to report with pitchers to spring training. Somebody’s gotta cheer for the football team, and somebody has to catch the ball.

As of this writing, the Quinnipiac trial is ongoing.

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.

Coach chucks volleyball at player during game

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“Boy, I love to compete. … I always have. I love having the opportunity to teach the game and instill a passion for it in young people. I try to let the girls see how important the game is to me. I coach with a lot of energy and fire and I think it’s catchy.” — Eric Maxwell, girls volleyball coach at Southern Regional High School, Manahawkin, N.J., to the Asbury Park Press on Dec. 12, 2009.

“Eric Maxwell patrols up and down the sidelines at Southern Regional with the fury of a drill sergeant. Calling play formations, barking out instructions and questioning calls, when Maxwell is at the top of his lungs, chances are Southern Regional is at the top of its game. ‘I am an extremely competitive person. I want to win. I want to put the team in a position to win. I want to do all I can to give them the opportunity for success.’ ” — “Maxwell takes it to the Max,” profile in The Star Ledger (Newark, N.J.) for its high school coach of the week series, April 24, 2008.

Coach Maxwell, you might want to dial that passion and fire down just a skosh. And remember that someone is always recording your games.

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(Hat tip to for finding the video, and reporting that the coach got a red card during the game, but was not ejected. And he still, presumably, has his job.)

Written by rkcookjr

January 6, 2010 at 11:12 am

My kid's not going junior high: dealing with getting cut, part II (the aftermath)

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About a week ago, I wrote about my seventh-grade son getting cut from the school volleyball team, and all the emotions that flowed from it.

For any of you parents who fear life after getting cut, I can assure you: it goes on.

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Holy crap, Nirvana totally ripped off “Come As You Are” from this song. And from Killing Joke’s “Eighties,” too.

I presume some of the secret to everyone getting over a cut is the same advice often given to parents when their toddlers fall over while walking. That is, unless your child is upset and crying, there’s no need for you to freak out over a fall. A calm child getting herself up off the floor will only freak out by seeing you freak out.

In my case, when I got home from work, my son was not freaking out over being cut. I asked him how he felt, and he said he was OK, that he figured after the first day he had a 50-50 chance of making the team. Actually, this might be another lesson in getting cut. Had we spent thousands and thousands on travel volleyball and camps, had my son done only volleyball for the first 12 years of his life (that is, all of his life), everybody would have been more devastated just by the crappy return on investment. While my son has played on a school team before, done intramurals and attended a few camps, it wasn’t like everything in his life was building to that moment. So he was disappointed, but not devastated.

I’m not going to say my son is 100 percent over it. His math teacher, the girls’ volleyball coach, asked my son if he wanted to be the manager of the boys’ team, keeping score and such. His immediate answer, a la Sarah Palin’s mythical response to the Bridge to Nowhere: Thanks, but no thanks.

I asked my son that night whether he wanted to give managing a try, that maybe this was a sign from the coaches of how close he came, and how it might give him a chance to get to know the coaches and team and perhaps improved his chances when he tries out in eighth grade. But he was adamant: if he’s not going to play volleyball, he’s not going to watch other people do it. Perhaps some of this is not wanting to be a second-class citizen (as managers are) on a team he tried to make. But my son also has no interest in watching sports on television or just sitting in his seat all game at a live event. This is no new behavior.

Instead, he has focused on what other things there were to do at his new junior high. He signed up for the Strategy Club, at which you play chess and other head-stretching games. He has signed up to play drums in the school band. As I mentioned last time, he’s got his eye on running distances in track and field, where no one gets cut. He’s a budding photographer, so he’s interested in school newspaper and yearbook. And then there’s his favorite activity, putting on his Rollerblades (the actual brand, not the generic use of the name) and his iPod, and skating around for an hour or so.

So I come to praise dabbling, and the peace of mind and lack of pressure that can bring.

Perhaps my son will not be incredibly great at all these things. But by being open to a lot of different experiences, he gets more of a chance to do more of what he wants or try something he’s never done.

However, he and any of us dabblers must always understand that sometimes you’re going to lose out to people who do devote their lives to something, or are merely physically and mentally steps ahead of you at the beginning.

The other day I walked by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where early in the morning parents were standing in line with their children for the young people’s tryouts for “A Christmas Carol.” I suspect that none of these kids was a dabbler, and that no one is going to devote two blog posts to a kid not making the cut — nobody demands that theater be as fair as sport. You know, in each, the problem is that there are only so many parts to play.

The more immediate issue for my son is his interest in going out for the basketball team. He’s pretty juiced about it, having played park district, intramural and school ball for the last three years. However, I’ve also told my son that if he wants to make the basketball team, he’s going to have to practice on our driveway hoop every day to make sure, say, he hits his layups every time. My son is not 6-foot-2, so making the team is going to be, um, a tall order. I told him there’s always park district basketball again, but if he really wants to make the basketball team, he’s going to have to dedicate himself to it. We’ll see how that goes. I’m not forcing him outside.

If there’s an upside to your child being cut, it’s that it can open opportunities to discover other activities at school or elsewhere. Given how few kids make it in sport (see my blog title), your child being given the opportunity to dabble can mean a lot more in the long run than making a team ever could.

That said, it’ll still suck that day if my son gets cut from the basketball team.

Written by rkcookjr

September 4, 2009 at 11:13 pm

My kid's not going junior high: dealing with getting cut

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In all my four children’s lifetimes, never has the simple act of getting off the school bus been such a sign of doom.

If my seventh-grade son had survived the final cut of his school’s volleyball tryouts, he would have been at practice today instead of being on that bus. He made it through the first cut down to 20. But he didn’t get picked for the final roster of 14 seventh- and eighth-grade boys.  I found out when my wife texted me, “He just got off the bus. Damn.”

Before I get into the issue of cut or not to cut, let me say that no matter how you feel, getting cut, or seeing your kid get cut, is a punch in the gut. Getting told you’re not good enough to do something is always a rotten feeling, no matter how old you are, no matter what you’re doing.

My son had two days to impress the coaches (though they also saw him in a summer camp), and that doesn’t give you a lot of margin for error. I think he should be proud that he is officially among the 20 best boys’ volleyball players in his school, especially because my understanding is that only five seventh-graders made it to the final tryout. But right now I’m sure he’s upset, and I’m upset for him.

Now, this day, is not the time to share the oft-told, inspiring (and completely untrue) story of how Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore (he was put on the junior varsity team, as most sophomores are). It’s also not the time to start plotting how many camps he’ll go to so he can have a better shot next year. It’s also not time to tell him about all the opportunities it opens up. (Sheesh, I get offended when my wife half-jokingly tells me about all the free time I have when the Indianapolis Colts or Indiana Pacers season ends in a crushing playoff loss, though the Pacers’ haven’t been good enough to give me that headache lately.)

Today is about grieving. If that sounds a bit much, then you’ve probably never been cut before.

However, I’m not joining the chorus of those who say nobody should ever be cut from a school team. I’m not sure we can surmise that the genesis of school shootings is kids getting cut from the basketball team. On the other hand, I’m not saying that I’m a hard-ass who believes snot-nosed kids should learn early and often how much they suck so they can move onto more appropriate pursuits, like staying the hell out of the jocks’ way. If a school wants to do cuts or no cuts, it doesn’t bother me — though it would be nice if schools had intramural programs for kids who either didn’t make the team or would rather play in a more casual setting.

Getting cut can go either way for a child, and for a parent. It can be a positive experience that teaches a child about dealing with disappointment. It can be a valuable lesson in telling a child that maybe there’s somewhere else where his or her talents will work and be appreciated. Or it can be a valuable lesson in how hard work on your own time is the key to success, and coming back from being knocked down.

Or it can be a crushing blow to a child’s self-esteem, making him or her feel a little less like a functioning member of society. That’s always the initial feeling. The trick is morphing that feeling into the positive experience I described in the previous paragraph.

The question is how to do that. How can I help him? Should he spend a year working hard on his game for next year’s tryouts? Should he forget volleyball and pursue other interests? (Even before volleyball tryouts, he said he wanted to do a tech/computer club, a strategy games club and learn drums in the school band.) How long is the mourning period for being cut? (My only sport in high school with cross country and track, where no one got cut.)

I’ve love to learn from your experience, if nothing else so getting off the bus can be a happier event.

Written by rkcookjr

August 27, 2009 at 6:07 pm