Author Archive

Easton’s New Protective Helmet — How Dare They!

This is just outrageous! As many of you recall, a young HS pitcher named Gunnar Sandberg from California got drilled in the head last year by a baseball off an aluminum bat. Sandberg was seriously injured, but thankfully he’s recovering and back to playing ball this year.

That’s the good news. Now, here comes Easton Sports – -the same people who manufacture and sell aluminum baseball bats – and they announce with great fanfare something called “the Dome” —  a protective helmet for pitchers. And right behind them in this parade is, of course, Little League Baseball, which fully embraces this new product, and hopes that all youth pitchers everywhere start to wear one.

WHOA!! Let’s back up.

First of all, Sandberg got nailed by a line drive OFF AN ALUMINUM BAT – -the kind of bat that Easton makes. Why doesn’t Easton make real news, and announce that they are stop making and selling aluminum bats? Now, that would be welcome news.

Secondly, I would assume that these Domes are going to be sold for a price….meaning that Easton will be making money off of this. Doesn’t that also strike you as bizarre?

Third, if LL Baseball is so concerned about the health of young ballplayers, then why don’t they ban all aluminum bats? Why? Because LL Baseball says that aluminum and wood are exactly the same. What world are they living in? All you have to do is go out and throw batting practice to a kid with an aluminum bat, and then have him use a wood bat, and see for yourself.

Finally, will this Dome device help those pitchers who get hit in the face, or chest, or knee by a ball off an aluminum bat? No, I didn’t think so.

So, Easton and LL Baseball, once again, you’ve made the wrong choice. Just stop making aluminum (and for that matter, composite) bats…and then give out these Dome helmets for free. That’s where you start. Again, this is just outrageous. Think if it were your kid getting hit by a ball like this.

HS Coaches v. Travel Team Coaches: Who do you listen to?

Well, when it comes to top HS athletes,  the bottom line is that travel team coaches (and private instructors) are now pretty much running the show.

And for many sports parents, that might seem like a harsh reality to accept. But with the exception of HS football (and even that is changing), these days, top athletes who are serious about their sport and who harbor dreams of playing in college, are becoming more and more drawn to their travel team (also known as elite, club, premiere, etc.). That is, any team which is outside the purview of the local HS in which the athlete has to try out, and if he or she makes the team, then they have to pay to be on the team (to cover coaching salaries, fields, and refs) and also have to fund their own travel to tournaments, etc. Travel teams can cost a family anywhere from $500 to $5000 or more for a year.

And of course, travel teams play against other elite teams. They also routinely serve as a showcase for college coaches. Plus many times, while the travel team coach might not have a background as an educator, they might bring lots of collegiate or professional experience to their players.

As a result, lots of top HS athletes feel as though listening to the advice and coaching suggestions given to them by their travel coach is extremely valuable – and maybe more valuable than their HS coach can offer.

I come to two conclusions about this: 1) for better or worse, in general —  travel teams – especially for sports like ice hockey, baseball, sofbtall, basketball, soccer, etc – have now replaced HS varsity programs in terms of better competition, prestige, and so on. It’s still great fun for a HS athlete to play for his or her HS varsity, but if they want to compete at the next level, by the time they’re 16 or so, they have to be attached to a travel squad.

2) But that being said, if a student opts to play for their HS team, the student has to recognize that the HS coach rules the roost in terms of his program. That is, if one of his athletes disagrees with the coaching techniques that are offered by the coach, the kid (or his parent) just can’t say, “Well, that’s not what I learned from my travel coach.”  That kind of response is demeaning and insulting to the HS coach. Besides, the truth is that there are lots and lots of traditional HS coaches who know more about the sport in question than the travel coach does.

Bottom line? Since all the athlete wants to do is get better at their sport, they would be well advised to listen to ALL the advice that’s being offered by both their travel team and HS coach, and then decide on their own which approach works best for them. Some real sensitivity and maturity is needed to do this, but if a young athlete can do this, then he or she will end up having the best of both worlds.

The Case of the HS Wrestler Who Refused to Wrestle a Girl

So Joel Northrup, a HS sophomore in 112 lb weight class with a stellar record of 35-4, refuses to wrestle a female opponent in the opening round of the Iowa state tournament. Northrup, who comes from a religious family which strongly believes that males and females shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of physical touching, said all the right things about his opponent, but in the end, he stuck to his religious convictions. He defaulted on the match. The girl was declared the winner while he moved on into the consolation bracket.

Lots of good calls today about this situation. Is Northrup to be saluted for giving up his chance to win the state championship by putting his religion first? Or is he to be castigated for not having the guts to wrestle a girl and risk losing (the girl has a record of 20-13).

As one caller pointed out, does Joel’s religion also say that any physical contact between males is wrong? If that’s true, then Joel shouldn’t have wrestled any boys this year. Another caller suggested that the ideal situation would have been for the girls to have their own tournament. But even though there are more than 6,000 female HS wrestlers, only a handful of states actually have male and female separate wrestling tournaments.

From my perspective, I have to give some credit to Joel Northrup because, if nothing else, he’s been consistent in his appoach. Three years ago, he also had to face a female opponent, and he declined to wrestle her as well. This time, in the states, he once again abides by his religion, and defaults.

There was once a time in the US where a boy being defeated by a girl in sports was truly humiliating for the boy. I’d like to think that those old-time biases have begun to wash away a bit as more and more younger athletes fully understand that one’s gender makes no difference when it comes to athletic ability. As such, I don’t think the thought of losing to a girl was what drove Northrup’s decision. Judging from the media accounts, it was all about his religion.

But the boy is only a sophomore so there’s a good chance this could repeat itself next year and the year after that. Is there no way to figure out a solution or compromise to solve this kind of dilemma?

Talk about Coaching Pressure? Having a roster with names like Twyman and D’Antoni

I think Chris DiCintio may have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Just think – he’s the varsity boys’ basketball coach at Rye HS, and on his team, he has the grandsons of NBA Hall of Famer Jack Twyman and the son of Mike D’Antoni, the head coach of the NY Knicks.

By all accounts, Chris is the perfect coach for this kind of situation. That’s because he’s sensitive to the pressures that’s on these kids. That is, Chris understands that these boys are working hard to chase their own dreams in sports, and that there must be a certain amount of inherent pressure on them to succeed. Furthermore, it’s clear that Coach D’Antoni and Jack Twyman never cross the line to specifically corner Chris to ask about their boys, their playing time, their role on the team, or whatever. Twyman and D’Antoni basically let Chris do his job in peace.

What’s the takeaway here? Quite simply that D’Antonio and Twyman  view their roles in the stands are father and grandfather (by the way, the two Twyman boys’ Dad played D-I basketball under Rick Pitino). And because these fathers and grandfathers understand the pressures that come in playing competitive basketball, they hang back and don’t in any way interfere with Coach Chris DiCintio. Good for them!

IN OTHER NEWS….that Hockey Dad homicide incident from 2002 continues to make sad news. Not only was Tom Junta’s 21-year-old son Quinlan just get arrested for serious home invastion, armed robbery, and so on, Sports Edge contributor Doug Abrams points out that the son of Michael Costin (the hockey dad who was killed) has also been in and out of serious trouble with the law over the last few years, and has also spent time in prison.

Makes you think about these kids not having fathers during their teenage years. One dad was in jail, the other day was dead.

WHAT ABOUT THE HS BASEBALL COACH in Orlando who cut soph pitcher Anthony Burruto from the team? The coach said that Anthony, a boy who was born without legs beneath his knees and who plays on prosthetic legs, couldn’t field bunts, and that’s why he was cut. The coach was backed up by the HS principal, who said that just keeping Anthony on the team as an inspiration wouldn’t be fair to the other 23 kids who tried out and got cut.

My sense? Well, making a varsity team should be based on merit, and maybe it’s true that Anthony – -only a sophomore – wasn’t one of the best pitchers. But couldn’t the coach have handled the situation with a little more sensitivity? That just seems like common sense.

FINALLY….hats off to the Wake Forest coach who volunteered to donate one of his kidneys to a freshman on his squad who was dying of kidney failure. That coach, Tom Walter, gets my vote as Sportsman of the Year!

The Teachings of Lombardi: Do They Still Have Impact?

Because it was Super Bowl Sunday, I thought it was the appropriate time to have Tony Ponturo, the creator and co-producer of the Broadway show, LOMBARDI, to come on to talk about the coach’s legacy and whether today’s coaches and sports parents still feel the weight of Lombardi’s teachings.

I grew up in the 60’s, when Lombardi and the Packers were the supreme team in the NFL, and as a HS and college football player, I believed strongly in Lombardi’s lessons: I worked as hard as I could, I practiced to perfection, the team came first, quitting is for losers, and so on. And I would daresay that the vast majority of my teammates felt the way I did. So did our coaches. And so did our competitors.

But that was a long time ago. Lombardi has gone for more than 40 years. So I’m curious as to whether those same truisms still exist for today’s athletes. After all, we live now in a world of instant gratification, and our kids are totally influenced by this new regimen. Maybe our kids totally have missed out. Maybe, as sports parents, we haven’t done a good job in teaching the basic principles of Coach Lombardi.

But then I think about NFL stars like Aaron Rodgers, who although he’s now a bona fide star as Super Bowl MVP, there was a time not that long ago that, as a HS senior, he wasn’t recruited by one major college program. I wonder how Aaron felt about that? How did he keep his confidence up? I wonder what his Dad or Mom said to him?

Same goes for Tom Brady, the NFL MVP. For years he sat on the bench at the Univ of Michigan, waiting for his chance to get off the pine and play.  Wes Welker, Brady’s favorite receiver, was always written off as being too small and too slow. All Welker could do was catch the football.

Matt Cassel, the rising star QB for the KC Chiefs, never even started a game at USC, but yet was drafted on his potential. It must have been very sweet for him when KC took apart Seattle this season — coached by his former coach in college, Pete Carroll.

In any event, these few names just pop to mind as being evidence of strong and determined athletes who have all followed the work ethic and patience that Lombardi always talked about. When they finally got their chance, they were ready to perform.

So, to answer my own question? Yes, I’m glad to see that the legacy of Lombardi lives on.

Hats off to KC Royals’ Pitcher, Gil Meche, For Doing the Right Thing

What would you do if you were in Gil Meche’s shoes?

Now 32 years old, he’s pitched serviceably for the Kansas City Royals for the last four years. But over the last few seasons, he’s run into all sorts of arm problems. Nevertheless, for this coming 2011 season, he was slated to earn $12 million . That money is guranteed, so long as Gil heads off to spring training in Arizona in a couple of weeks. Even if his arm isn’t heathy —  so long as he makes an attempt to pitch — he gets the dough. Even if he just ends up going to rehab for his arm, the money is his to keep.

Gil Meche decided he didn’t want to be accused of just picking up a paycheck if he couldn’t earn it. So he called the Royals GM and told him that he was going to retire. Meche knew full well that if he retired, then the money wouldn not be forthcoming.

Meche shrugged and said, in effect, that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he got paid under false pretenses. So he walked away, and left the $12 mil on the table. $12 mil that was his!

Mind you, Meche has earned $40 million over the last four years for his efforts for KC, so it’s not like he’s destitute. But still, in a world of pro sports where the mantra is still “Show me the money!” a story like Meche’s is, well, just amazing. And inspiring.

Do yourself a favor and take a couple of minutes and tell your young athletes this story. Twelve million dollars is a LOT of money, but sometimes, you have to ask yourself what’s the right thing to do.

Has the Time Come to Pay College Athletes a Salary?

For years, it’s been debated as to whether college student-athletes should be paid a small salary in addition to the tuition, room, and board they receive for being on an athletic scholarship. After all, it’s pretty clear that the university benefits greatly from having these talented athletes wear the school colors on the fields of competition.

As noted on the show, when a college has a successful athletic program, usually student enrollment goes up as do alumni donations. This explains why that even at non-scholarship schools (such as in Div-III), kids with less GPAs and SAT/ACT scores can gain admission. Why? Because the university knows that having winning teams translates into more money coming in — money that the school keeps but does not share with the student-athlete.

Bear in mind that a kid on an athletic scholarship is told that their top priority to be at all practices and games. Studies come second. In effect, the kid has become an employee of the school. Furthermore, as one caller pointed out, lots of college athletes pretend to go to class. They have private tutors or are enrolled in meaningless courses, just so they can maintain a GPA so they can play.

So, why not pay the student-athlete a salary of $15,000 a year, and he or she can decide whether they want to pursue liberal arts, OR learn a technical skill that will prepare them for a real job in the real world when their four years of athletic eligibility are over OR they can choose not to go to class at all. Let the young athlete make some important decisions. Let them be accountable for their actions. But most of all, let’s get away from the sham of having the NCAA serve as watchdogs over which student-athletes are really going to class.

I know this all sounds perhaps like fantasyland, but trust me, this conversation ought to be had by top college presidents sooner rather than later.

Is Trash-Talking a Curse? Or Just Entertainment?

It used to be that coaches warned their players all the time not to engage in any trash-talk, lest the comments find their way to the opponent’s bulletin board, which then becomes stronger motivation for one’s opponent.

But that all changed this week with the NY Jets’ profane and pushy comments about their game with the Patriots. Antonio Cromartie was particularly outspoken about Tom Brady. And Coach Rex Ryan wasn’t far behind.

To tell you the truth, I had a very strong hunch that every football fan in the USA (with the exception of Jets’ fans) was hoping that the Patriots would clobber the Jets.  But, of course, that didn’t happen. In fact, the Jets dominated and won going away against New England.

So, what’s the take-away? Is trash-talking now the new way to pump one’s team up? Is that now the key way to insure that one’s team plays well?

As one of my callers said this AM, “C’mon — it’s just entertainment. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s like pro wrestling.”

But on other hand, does this mean that sportsmanship has pretty much become extinct?

As you probably can guess, personally I’m not big on trash talking. I may be old school, but I still prefer winning with dignity. That seems to be a trait that Ryan and the Jets don’t seem to care much about.

Even worse, the victory by the Jets and their verbal demonstration will, unfortunately, have real impact on amateur teams. After all, why should HS kids or younger athletes care about keeping their mouths shut when the Jets have yapped their way to the AFC championship game?

Only time will tell, of course, just how all of this plays out. But for those of us who care about doing the right thing in sports, this kind of verbal behavior really sets back sportsmanship.

Put it this way: wouldn’t the Jets’ win today been a lot sweeter if it hadn’t been tarnished by all their pre-game trash-talk?

Can A Kid Be Cut from a Team for Not Cutting His Hair?

The short answer is…yes.

This stems from a recent Federal lawsuit from Indiana where a junior HS basketball player was cut from the school basketball team because the coach had a rule that all kids on the team needed to have short hair. Apparently, the kid balked at getting a hair cut, so the coach dismissed him from the team.

The parents filed suit. But as law professor Doug Abrams pointed out this AM, there’s quite a body of legal decisions that say that being on a team is a “privilege” – not a right. And as such, the coach and school have a lot of leeway when it comes to setting down certain rules and regulations regarding hair length, dress codes, demeanor, behavior, and so on.

In truth, this somewhat surprised me. After all, in this day and age where parents file lawsuits routinely, it seemed to me that rules regarding freedom of expression (in line with the First Amendment) would make it difficult for HS coaches to be too demanding or strict about such items as hair length, facial hair, tattoos, dress code, and so on. But as Doug made clear, coaches and schools these days are allowed the freedom to use common sense rules when governing their teams.

Please note, of course, that I’m writing very precisely here. That is, once you get into issues of religious or ethnic concerns, the laws become a lot hazier. For example, if an athlete’s religion dictates the wearing of certain headwear or clothing, the school (and coach) have to respect that. If there’s a medical reason as to why a young man can’t shave his beard, the school (and coach) have to allow that as well.

But it can be confusing. As my colleague Tony Fiorino asked on the show, “What if a coach mandates that all the kids on the team have to get a mohawk in order to show solidarity? Can a coach make all the kids do that?” Good question. Answer? Probably not.

Or as Doug asks: what if a swim coach mandates that all kids have to shave their head in order to swim faster – and a kid doesn’t want to do that? Does the coach have the right to boot him or her? Good question. Answer? I just don’t know.

Bottom line? The good news for schools and coaches is that there’s a lot of legal precedent for them to put down their team rules and regulations, and truly expect the kids to follow them. And if they don’t, then the kid can be dismissed from the team since being on the team is seen as being a privilege, not a right.

However, if I were coaching a HS or Jr HS team and I wanted to set down some team rules, I think I’d want to check with the school district’s policy on such rules before announcing them to the team. During these litigious times, you just can’t be too careful.

Baseball Bat Alphabet Soup: BESR, BBCOR, etc…

I truly feel sorry for any well-intended Mom or Dad who attempts to purchase their son a new baseball bat for this coming spring. That’s because -thanks to the aluminum and composite bat manufacturers and fueled by the dopey support of LL Baseball that there’s no difference between a ball coming off a wood bat or a non-wood bat —  there’s now more confusion than ever in the history of baseball as to what kinds of bats are legal to use in amateur ball in 2011.

And here’s the irony. All of these new bats with new rules are being constructed with one purpose in mind – to come close to simulate the effect of a wood bat hitting a pitched ball.


I can hear you asking. “Well, if that’s the purpose, why not just get rid of aluminum and composite bats, and simply go back to just using wood bats.”

And that’s exactly my point. Starting this spring, and then carrying over into 2012, pretty much every baseball bat will have to carry a BBCOR certification…which means that the bat will have the same kind of very restrictive trampoline effect that all wood bats have. The only advantage, from what I can tell, is that non-wood bats won’t break. Aluminum bats and composite bats won’t drive a ball any further; they’ll just be difficult to break.

So the question is: why would you spend $300 or more to buy a composite or aluminum bat when a really good maple bat only runs $125? True, a maple can break, but even that extra maple bat still costs you less than the $300 composite.

As Steve Kallas pointed out on the show this AM, this is just madness. Plus all of these BBCOR/BESR certifications now puts an extra burden on umpires working the game to review all the bats before the game. Umps will need a long list of which bats are legal, and which ones aren’t.

What’s the simple solution? Just outlaw aluminum and composite, and pass a rule that only wood bats – just like they use in pro ball – are allowed. Not only does it make for a better game, but it’s the way the game was invented.

I just don’t see any reason why this can’t be done. It’s just common sense, plain and simple.