Advice From Youth Leaguers Who Overcame Physical Challenges:
Fun, Sportsmanship, Smiles, and Competition
By Doug Abrams
Newspapers and magazines regularly report the seamy side of youth sports. . . . Parents who taunt referees from the stands. Parents who assault coaches, referees, or other parents. Parents who impose unreasonable pressures on their sons and daughters. Win-at-all-costs coaches who drive 10-year-olds to quit rather than warm the bench. Teams whose ever-expanding schedules disrupt home life and price many families out of participation. And other excesses that mark many local sports associations.
Excesses lead news commentators to seek a better way. Headlines such as these have appeared in just the past two months or so: “How To Make Your Kid Hate Sports Without Really Trying”; “Youth Sports: Insanity and Big Business: We Gotta Let Kids Be Kids”; “Kids’ Sports Culture Needs Repair”; and “New Years Resolution For Youth Sports Parents: Miss Some Games.” One writer even asks, “Should We Ban Parents From Kids’ Sporting Events?”
Bad news about youth sports abounds, but this column reports two human interest stories that offered good news late last month. The stories profile youth leaguers who have earned acceptance and support by overcoming physical challenges. But chronicling fortitude and determination is not this column’s primary purpose. I write here because we should listen to what the profiled youth leaguers say about what sports competition should be. Their words deserve attention.
The first of the two February stories, from the New Hampshire Union Leader, profiles 14-year-old freshman Tristan Wilmott, a junior varsity basketball player at Hillsboro-Deering High School in Hillsboro. Tristan stands only three-foot-five and weighs only 42 pounds. He has mulibrey nanism, an extremely rare genetic condition that, as described by writer Jason Schreiber, “causes considerable growth failure and other abnormalities affecting the heart, muscle, brain and eyes.”
Tristan has “taught us how to really work as a team,” one Hillcat teammate tells the Union Leader. “He definitely raises the spirits of everybody on the team,” adds his coach.
The second story profiles Spirit Sparkles, a cheerleading squad comprised of special needs students at East Lawrence High School in Trinity, Alabama. “The girls raised our spirit level more than anyone else,” the varsity cheerleading squad’s sponsor tells the Associated Press about the cheerleaders with conditions such as Down syndrome.
Fun, Sportsmanship, and Smiles
One recent news commentary appeared below this headline: “Why Do We Play Sports? We’ve Forgotten.” The three February stories prod us to remember.
“Winning is always nice,” the perceptive Tristan Wilmott told the Union Leader, “but at the end of the day it’s all about having fun.” “It’s good sportsmanship and everything. That’s why I like it,” he told CBS News about his JV basketball team.
“No matter if we’re winning or losing, she always has a smile on her face,” a senior cheerleader told the Associated Press about a Spirit Sparkles member with Down syndrome.
Fun and sportsmanship on the field, and smiles from the sidelines, while athletes strive to win . . . . Youth leaguers would be better off if parents and coaches paid attention to what these young athletes said last month about how sports influences their lives.
Sources: Jason Schreiber, Height Didn’t Keep 3-foot-5 Player Off Hillcats Team, N.H. Union Leader, Feb. 22, 2016; CBS News, “Never Give Up”: Teen With Rare Disorder Inspires Team, Feb. 24, 2016; Deangelo McDaniel, Unique East Lawrence Cheerleading Squad Includes Special Needs Students at Varsity Games, Decatur (Ala.) Daily, Feb. 23, 2016; How To Make Your Kid Hate Sports Without Really Trying, http://www.abc-7.com/story/31021729/how-to-make-your-kid-hate-sports-without-really-trying, Jan. 21, 2016; Kevin McNab, Youth Sports: Insanity and Big Business: We Gotta Let Kids Be Kids, ColoradoBiz, Feb. 5, 2016; Tim Trower, Kids’ Sports Culture Needs Repair, Mail Tribune (Medford, Or.), Feb. 13, 2016; Bob Cook, New Years Resolution For Youth Sports Parents: Miss Some Games, Forbes, Jan. 3, 2016; Mark E. Andersen, Should We Ban Parents From Kids’ Sporting Events?, Daily Kos, Feb. 14, 2016; Beau Dure, Why Do We Play Sports? We’ve Forgotten, Huffington Post, Jan. 5, 2016.