TWO TEENAGE DISASTERS: Both Could Have Been Prevented

There were two most unfortunate incidents this past week in youth sports, and the sad part is that both could have easily been prevented if only a little forethought had been present.

The first occurred with the Little League Softball championship playoffs, or Junior League Softball World Series as it’s called.

A Snapchat photo that went viral caused tremendous embarrassment to all concerned, and it resulted in a team being disqualified for the national championship game. The photo featured 6 girls (ages 12-14) from the Atlee, VA, team posing, with all of making an obscene gesture (middle fingers raised),in a kind of threat against their next opponent, Kirkland, WA.

This took place just as Atlee was about to square off with the tournament host team (Kirkland). By all accounts, it was a heated and tense game. And when the game was over, Atlee emerged as the victorious team.  That meant they would advance to the championship game the next day, a game that would be televised nationally by ESPN.

But there was the matter of that awful photo, which, to be sure, was the essence of poor sportsmanship.

The head coach of the Virginia team didn’t even know about this photo, but as soon as he did, he immediately reprimanded the players who were involved – it was not his entire team – only about 5 or 6 girls. And he insisted the players apologize to the host team in person.

But the coach also didn’t think it was fair for his entire team to be bounced out of the championship game due to this momentary lapse in teenage judgment. In short, this was another case of social media announcing teenage stupidity where none of those 6 girls thought ahead about the consequences of their actions.

Little League Baseball intervened, and decided to disqualify the entire Virginia team. They were not allowed to play in the championship game due to their inappropriate behavior. Atlee was dismissed, and LL Baseball decided to promote the losing Kirkland team to the championship game instead.

Joe Heinzmann, who’s an attorney and who’s been long involved in LL coaching and administration, was my guest this AM, and he pointed out how unfair this solution was. He first said that there were at least 6 or 7 girls on the Atlee team who were not in the photo, and that it wasn’t fair to ruin their dreams of playing for a championship because some of their teammates were short-sighted dunces. Joe suggested that LL Baseball might have ruled that Atlee play those other 7 girls, and play the offending girls as minimally as possible in the championship game.

The other concern was that the Kirkland team had sportsmanship issues of their own. In their game against Atlee, the Kirkland coach and a player had been ejected from the contest by an umpire for trying to steal signs from Atlee. But apparently, that lack of sportsmanship and etiquette didn’t matter to LL Baseball; Kirkland was allowed to overlook that —  as well as their loss to Atlee -and advance to the championship affair. They lost, by the way, 7-1.

C’mon, LL Baseball, you’ve got to do better than that. Or, just have the guts to tell ESPN that neither of these two teams had the right to advance to the championship game because neither squad exhibited good sportsmanship.

After all, good sportsmanship — isn’t that what LL Baseball/Softball is all about?

TRAGEDY IN FOOTBALL CAMP

At least with the softball incident, no one was killed.

Josh Mileto, 16, a junior football at Sachem HS East (NY) was not so fortunate.

The details are still coming forth, but apparently he was subjected to a drill in a summer football camp in which a very heavy log – something like a telephone pole – is carried by several players over their heads. The purpose, from what I understand, is to not only to build arm and shoulder strength, but also to build a sense of team trust, that is – for players to learn how to work and trust your teammates in a unified act.

Apparently, this drill is adapted from a similar drill that NAVY Seals do in their training.

But all that being said, clearly something totally disastrous took place.  During the drill, the 400 pound pole fell on Josh and killed him.

Obviously, this was an accident. But the outrage and anger has been palpable. Questions such as: was the drill supervised by adult coaches? And if so, couldn’t they see that the pole was going to be too heavy? Bear in mind that Josh was small by football standards: 5’6 and 135 pounds. And how many other teammates were carrying the pole? Safety experts have said that you need at least 8 strong bodies to do this.

From what I have read in the media, this drill is not all that popular with football coaches, simply because of the risks involved. But those concerns are moot now, as this boy was killed.

Again, wouldn’t a little advance forethought worked here? Couldn’t someone in charge recognize that this was going to be a bad, and dangerous, idea?If someone had, then I wouldn’t be writing about the death of a 16-year-old football player.

This has nothing to do with sports and assumption of the risk of getting hurt. That has to do with plain old common sense.

Legal liability? As Joe Heinzmann made clear on the show, the Sachem School District will have to confront this accidental death. None of the coaches will be held personally liable.

But of course, no amount of money will bring this youngster back to his family and friends.

BOTTOM LINE

As a parent or a coach, if you teach the power of thinking ahead and the consequence of one’s actions, that may be the most important lesson of all.