Author Archive

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Is Adam LaRoche Being a Good – or Bad – Father?

Here’s what I find so amazing about sports parenting issues:

You never know when the next controversy is going to come from.

Case in point: Long-time major league slugger Adam LaRoche made national headlines this past week, insisting that he had language in his contract with the Chicago White Sox that his 14-year-old son could spend as much time in the White Sox clubhouse as he wanted. And indeed, the boy has pretty much been an everyday presence in the White Sox clubhouse this spring.

But over the last few days, the GM of White Sox, Ken Williams, approached LaRoche and asked him if he could “dial it back” meaning not have the young teenager in the clubhouse every day.

Incensed but polite, LaRoche — who is slated to earn $13 million this season – responded by saying this may indeed be his last season in the bigs, and as such, having his son – who is home schooled by the way – spend as much time with him as possible is very, very important to LaRoche as a dad.

Some other important details. By all accounts, the boy is not the issue. He’s polite and non-intrusive. Yet he does dress out in his own White Sox uniform, and even has his own locker.

AN ACT OF SELFISHNESS?

When I opened this issue for discussion on WFAN this AM, the calls poured in. And what might surprise you is that most of them praised LaRoche for being a kind and caring dad, but most of the callers also felt he was out of line with his demand to have his son be behind closed doors. One caller even said that such a demand was flat-out selfish in terms of the other players on the team.

“No other player is going to call out LaRoche for doing this,” the caller said, “but I have to think that there must be several players on the team who either feel uncomfortable with having a kid in the clubhouse all the time, or for that matter, they’re thinking they should be bringing their own kids int there all the time as well.”

Chris Sale, the All-Star pitcher for the White Sox, has praised LaRoche and calls out Chicago’s front office for having made Adam  a promise and is now trying to wriggle out of it. Sale’s accusations could clearly polarize the team in a wrongful way while still in spring training.

Some calls suggested that there’s probably more to this issue that has been made public. Having spent a lot of time in major league and minor league clubhouses over the years, I tend to agree with that assertion. Despite Sale’s contention that everybody on the White Sox roster is fully backing LaRoche, my instinct tells me that’s probably not true. In fact, I would surmise that a few players went to Williams privately and told him in confidence that they don’t think it’s right for Adam to have his 14-year-old there all the time. But that being said, they don’t want to go to LaRoche and tell him directly as that might result in a real chasm.

WOULD YOU WALK AWAY FROM A BIG PAY DAY?

So what happens next? LaRoche is now seriously leaning towards walking away and just retiring. That would mean walking away from $13 million, but of course, he feels the money is less important than the principle here – that of spending quality time with his son. Ken Williams has said that he doesn’t want to ban the LaRoche kid – he just wants him to be there less often.

Bear in mind that over the years, other big league players and coaches have let their kid in the clubhouse on occasion, and even take batting practice. But for the most part, these have been on a limited basis only. Being there full-time is a different kind of presence.

I, for one, feel that LaRoche is off base in his insistence that his son be allowed there everyday. I can certainly see how the boy could be viewed as a potential issue for the rest of the team, and that in Adam’s zeal to be a good father, he has inadvertently stepped on the toes of his teammates. And that’s not fair. Besides, in my opinion,  a 14-year-old boy would benefit greatly by spending time with his own age peers than just hanging around millionaire major leaguers who are in their 20s and 30s.

SPORTSMANSHIP: When Things Start to Get Ugly at High School Sports….

A Role for High School Athletes When Fans Resort to Slurs and Vulgarity

By Doug Abrams

Last Friday night, Catholic Memorial School downed Newton North High School, 77-73, in a hard-fought Massachusetts basketball division title matchup at Newton North High School. Catholic Memorial is an all-boys private college preparatory school in West Roxbury, and Newton North is a public school that has a large Jewish population in the community and the student body.

High school division title games usually generate few headlines outside the immediate area or the state, but this game has gained national attention. Several fans cheering for Catholic Memorial taunted their opponents with chants of, “You killed Jesus; you killed Jesus.” Catholic Memorial administrators apologized the next day. Catholic Memorial fans said that their players were taunted with chants that included “Where are the girls?,” which they viewed as anti-gay slurs.

This is not the first media report about overheated high school fans who, somewhere in the nation, cross the line between healthy partisanship and rank vulgarity. I doubt that it will be the last.

“This is not what our school stands for”

To people disturbed by media reports such as last Friday night’s, improving fan behavior will not come easily. Education and dialog in the schools might have some positive effect, and so might the specter of student disciplinary proceedings in appropriate cases.

I do not pretend to have a sure-fire response for eradicating the slurs and vulgarity that waft from the bleachers at so many high school games in various sports, but I do suggest an immediate response that might sometimes work. What if the players and coaches themselves, supported by school administrators in attendance, temporarily halted the Catholic Memorial-Newton North basketball game minutes after tipoff, moved to the microphone, and firmly told the crowd before resuming play that, “This is not what our school stands for”?

“It’s Not Fair”

I am reminded of a basketball game early last year at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Throughout the early minutes, the eighth-grade Lincoln players saw fans in the stands verbally abusing one of their courtside cheerleaders, who has Down syndrome. The players themselves stopped the game and approached the stands to halt the maltreatment of their classmate.

“The kids in the audience were picking on [the cheerleader], so we all stepped forward,” Lincoln Middle School player Chase Vazquez said later. “We walked off the court and went to the bullies and told them to stop because that’s not right to be mean to another person,” teammate Miles Rodriguez told Fox & Friends. “It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong,” teammate Scooter Terrien explained to WTMJ-TV, because “we’re all created the same.”

Reports indicated that when play resumed, the verbal abuse stopped.

 Lessons To Be Learned

Peer influence matters in the elementary and secondary schools, and athletes and coaches often hold a particular place among the student body. Rick Wolff, Brooke de Lench, Jim Thompson and others have spoken and written about the leadership role that a team can play when it acts together to counter bullying that targets vulnerable classmates. By stepping up to protect a seemingly easy target who was no match physically or emotionally for bullies, the Kenosha middle school basketball team demonstrated that these youth sports experts are on the right track.

The experts’ lessons might transcend bullying and hold an antidote to other antisocial high school fan misconduct, such as that reported from Friday night’s basketball game in Newton. Will a team’s united intervention usually work? I do not know, but I believe that this immediate intervention is worth exploring by coaches, school administrators, and the athletes themselves. The exploration can be particularly fruitful when, during the preseason, teams anticipate future issues that might stain the local sports culture.

Respect

One final thought. . . . When a news outlet reports fan excesses such as what surfaced last Friday night, some blogging readers invariably complain that the nation is drowning in “political correctness” that places slurs and vulgarity out of bounds. These readers, who suggest that victims need thick skins to “tough it out,” are the ones who are out of bounds.

Publicly slurring a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other identifiable difference from the mainstream demonstrates disrespect for the person’s worth. In the America that we should want for ourselves and our families, respect is not “politically” correct. It is simply correct.

 

Sources: Evan Allen, Catholic Memorial Students Chant Anti-Jewish Taunt at Game, Boston Globe, Mar. 12, 2016; CBS News, Mass. Catholic School Apologizes For Anti-Semitic Chant, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/boston-catholic-memorial-newton-anti-semitic-chant/ (Mar. 13, 2016”; Valerie Strauss, Catholic School Supporters Say Anti-Jewish Chant at Game Followed Anti-Gay Slurs, Wash. Post, Mar. 13, 2016; Middle school basketball players defend bullied cheerleader, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wisconsin-middle-school-basketball-players-defend-bullied-cheerleader/ (Mar. 12, 2015); Players Leave Court Mid-Game to Confront Bully of Cheerleader With Down Syndrome, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/13/players-leave-court-mid-game-to-confront-bully-cheerleader-with-down-syndrome/ (Mar. 13, 2015); Deneen Smith, Welcome to D’s House, Kenosha (Wis.) Times, Mar. 9, 2015.

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: Some Good News Regarding Kids Playing Sports

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.

Overcoming Barriers

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.

COLLEGE RECRUITING: Insider Tips from Noah Savage, Princeton Basketball

With March Madness and state basketball playoffs ongoing, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the concept of college recruiting of HS basketball players. To that end, I asked Noah Savage, who served as the captain of the Princeton basketball team in 2008 and who, as a 6-8 sharpshooter, was an All-Ivy selection, to come on the Sports Edge this AM to talk about what aspiring players (and their parents) should know about playing in college.

Being not that far removed from being a HS player himself, Noah spoke candidly on a wide range of topics and handled a number of calls. Here’s a brief recap of his suggestions:

Division I or III? If you, as a player, don’t know where you might fit in as a college player and at what level, Noah cautioned that pretty much every teammate of his at Princeton had been superstars at their respective HS programs. That is, regardless of how much playing time they got in college, they ALL had been All-this or All-that in HS. Noah recalls that when he was being recruited by Princeton, one of the recruiting coaches told him that Noah — who was All-State in New Jersey – would be competing against a kid from Ohio who had recently scored 52 points in a game.

But as Noah points out, the game changes dramatically once you’re in college. “Let’s say you were a 6-5 center in HS….in college, suddenly, at 6-5, you’re being seen as a guard. The kids are bigger, faster, and stronger than the kids you competed against in HS. And for many players, it’s just too bi of a jump.”

ASK THE COACH DIRECTLY

In any event, Noah had some good advice. “Go to a showcase or summer camp, and ask the college coaches there who have seen play — ask them directly for their assessment of where they think you can play. These coaches will tell you the truth. It may not be what you hoped to hear, but unlike a lot of AAU coaches, or HS coaches, or even parents, the college coaches will tell you the truth.

“And by the way, if the coach says you might be a preferred walk-on, don’t be seduced. Walk-ons rarely play, and often get cut the second year as new recruits come into the program.”

I pointed out that, according to the New York Times, close to 40% of all college basketball players transfer out by the end of their sophomore year. “That’s because the college coach tells the sophomore player that the kid is not as good as we thought he was going to be. In other words, the coach is telling the sophomore that he’s probably never going to see any playing time.

“That’s a tough conversation, but at least it’s honest. Then the player can decide for himself whether he wants to remain in the program, or transfer out. In other words, the kid can decide what’s best for him. And a lot of them do transfer out.”

TWO KEY TAKEAWAYS

Noah also advocated two other key points:

One, you MUST do your homework and ask the recruiting coach the tough questions, e.g. where do I fit into your program? How much playing time when I have my freshman year? Will I be on the travelling roster? What year is the kid on the team now who plays my position? And of course, how much scholarship money will I receive?

Being told you’re a preferred walk-on, or let’s see what kind of freshman year you have and then we’ll talk about possible scholarship for your second year are serious red flags. In other words, the coach is under no obligation to you at all.

And two, leave your parents out of the decision. Yes, they can and should meet the college coach. But after that, all communication should come from the athlete to the coach, never from Mom and Dad.

To hear the entire interview, go to WFAN.com and find the link for Rick Wolff’s podcast.

SPORT SAFETY: Physical Therapy When Coming Back from an Injury…

This is a given. If your son or daughter plays competitive sports, at some point in their career, they’re going to get hurt.

It might be an ankle sprain, a bump on the head, a jammed neck. Or it might be more serious, such as a sprained MCL, broken leg, etc.

The good news is that if your kid gets hurt, chances are they will first see a doctor for a diagnosis, and then be referred to a local physical therapist who will work with the athlete and guide them back to being healthy again and ready to compete.

Now, a little background. Back in August, I had an operation to repair my hip. The procedure is called hip resurfacing, which is in the same ballpark as hip replacement, but not as extreme.

After Dr. Edwin Su of the Hospital for Special Surgery worked on me, I knew I would be headed for several weeks of physical therapy.

And to that end, I attended ProClinix in Armonk, NY, where Dr. Brian Dombal is one of the principals and a terrific therapist. Brian, along with his colleague Dr. James Cassell, did an amazing job in literally getting me back on my feet and jogging and working out within a matter of a few months. These days, I’m happy to report, I’m back to my regular running schedule 3 or 4 times a week, whereas last year at this time, I could hardly stand up for more than 5 minutes. And running was simply out of the question.

Because I was so impressed with Brian and his staff at ProClinix, I asked Brian to come on my radio show this AM, because he sees young athletes every day in his practice, and he knows first hand  the worries that the kids have, as well as their parents.

Brian made some important points: first and foremost, it’s essential that there a clear line of communication among the physical therapist, the parents, the school coach, and the school’s trainer. In other words, there should never be any possibility of misunderstanding of how well the injured athlete is progressing, and what is his or her timetable to return.

Brian also made it clear that each athlete has to work at their own pace. That is, the physical therapist has to listen carefully to the athlete regarding their progress, and never give in to the pleadings of the parents or the coach who is eager to have the youngster return to action. Coming back too soon to play runs a serious risk of aggravating the original injury.

Along those lines, the issue of repetitive use injuries came up. “I see kids who are literally playing two or three sports in the same season,
Brian explained. The chances for injury when repeating the same actions over and over again is substantial. Problem is, kids these days are so eager to keep up and compete with their peers that they don’t want to take any time off from their sports, even if their body is telling them they’re hurt.

“That’s a real concern,” Brian points out. “Kids need to understand that, sometimes, they have to back off and let their body rest.”

But psychologically, that’s not always easy to do as kids don’t want to fall behind the others. And with only so many weeks in a season, the idea of sitting out is difficult for any kid.

At the other end, if a youngster is coming off a serious injury which involved surgery, it’s often on the physical therapist to help guide the individual and reassure him or her that they’re healed and ready to go. “This decision has to be made in direct consultation with the physician,” says Brian. “But to me, the key is whether the athlete clearly is able to run and perform at 100 percent. If there’s any holding back or gingerness, then he or she is not ready to go out.”

Here’s the bottom line: there was a time not long ago when physical therapists were around but not really a major part of the sports scene. The good news is that these days, they are. Be proactive. Before your son or daughter – or even yourself — need to find a physical therapist, do your homework now and find someone in your area who is well regarded.

Trust me, if you and your family are involved in sports, at some point you will need a physical therapist.

 

SPORTSMANSHIP: Here’s How to Stop Lopsided Scores in HS

Let me talk  — once again —  about lopsided scores in HS games. Like hazing, we just can’t seem to stop this trend. And I’m not sure why.

The most recent disgraceful  blowout was a HS girls semifinal playoff game in Cleveland where Gilmour Academy defeated Northeast Ohio Prep 108 to 1.

That’s right 108-1.

Every basketball season we hear and read about lopsided scores. They just never seem to go away. But why is that?

The truth is, the head coaches of both teams absolutely hate these kinds of games. The losing coach hates them for a variety of reasons, including the public humiliation of his or her squad. What does a coach say to a team that just lost by 50 or 70 points or more?

For the winning coach, he or she knows that such a lopsided affair is going to result in a lot of questions as to how they allowed the score to get out of hand, that the coach is seen as a discompassionate jerk who allowed his or her team to run up the score. Plus the coach runs the risk of so angering the losing team that a brawl or fisticuffs might ensue. And there’s always the worry of a player getting injured in what has become a meaningless romp.

It seems to me that EVERY coach should know, in advance, how to handle these kinds of games. That is, if it becomes clear early on that the game is going to be a rout, it’s essential to substitute liberally. Everybody knows that. But more than that, if by halftime the score is out of control, then the two coaches and the refs should meet and discuss either stopping the game there, or making sure that the clock runs all the time in the second half.

In some states, but not all, mercy rules allow the clock to run in the second half. In this game in Ohio, there was no such rule in place.

 

In this particular game, the score was 72-1 at the half, so it wasn’t as though the final outcome was at risk. They should have ended the game at that point.

Another approach would be for the refs to take control and tell the two coaches at the half that the game is over. Trust me, nobody is going to protest that kind of decision. Why take the risk of someone getting hurt? Besides, the kids who are playing don’t want this nonsensical game to continue either.

 

Yes, I suppose some could make a case that playing in such a lopsided affair builds character for the losing team, but I just don’t buy that. The kids realize early on that they’re getting routed, and they just move on. They’re not interested in playing.

What’s the bottom line?

Coaches and refs….if you ever find yourself in a HS game where the margin of winning is 30-40 points at the half AND  in your judgment, the margin is only going to get worse, step up and be an adult and get together with the coaches, the AD’s, and make a decision at half-time to either end the game, or at least run the clock in the second half.

To me, that’s just the right thing to do.

 

BOOK REVIEW: DON’T “SHOULD” ON YOUR KIDS

DON’T “SHOULD” ON YOUR KIDS: Build Their Mental Toughness

By Dr. Rob Bell and Bill Parisi

Reviewed by Rick Wolff

This delightful sports parenting – and coaching – guide features a most unusual title, which is clearly intended to motivate Moms and Dads to try and think twice before putting their own personal expectations onto their kids who play sports.

Adapted from one of the earlier chapters in the book, the authors pinpoint some of the daily interactions that sports parents have with their kids before the youngster goes into action:

“Alex, you shouldn’t be nervous.”

“Dwayne, you shouldn’t make so many mistakes.”

You get the idea. Any well-meaning sports parent who has exposed to their 10-year-old to a post-game analysis on the drive home from a game will immediately recognize what Dr. Bell and Mr. Parisi are alluding to in this chapter.

Of course, most sports parents feel it’s their obligation to lay these “shoulds” on their kids, especially when the game just finished and the action is still fresh in one’s mind and the parents are driving their son or daughter to their next event. Problem is, this kind of parental grilling only ends up alienating the youngster from the sport. It does not motivate them to play harder or better.

The rest of the chapters in the book offer timely and other pertinent parenting and coaching insights as well, including advice on specializing in one sport, dealing with pre-game jitters, coping with adversity, keeping calm during games, and other related topics. The authors do a fine job in peppering their book with case studies of young athletes as well as professional ballplayers, all of whom have experienced the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat on a personal level. It makes for compelling reading.

Overall, because the chapters are short, this is a fast-paced and entertaining read that adds real insight into the library of sports parenting and coaching manuals.  I do think that we are gaining ground in educating sports parents and coaches about the intricacies in how we communicate with our kids who are developing athletes, and Bell and Parisi have written an excellent manual that every Mom, Dad, and coach ought to read before they start a conversation with their aspiring youngster. In other words, Mom and Dad, think twice before you lay a “should” on your athlete.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Rob Bell is a long-time sports psychology coach who has worked with top athletes as well as with corporate employees. For more information, his website is ww.drrobbell.com.

Bill Parisi is well-known for his highly popular Parisi Speed School outlets throughout the country. A former NCAA All-American in track and field, Parisi qualified for the 1988 Olympic trials in the javelin throw. Check out www.parisischool.com.

DON’T “SHOULD” ON YOUR KIDS is available on Amazon. 152 pages, $18. http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Should-Your-Kids-Toughness/dp/0989918424/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455673691&sr=1-1&keywords=don%27t+should+on+your+kids

LEGAL CONCERNS: Athletes from Outside the School District Pay Tuition Fees to Transfer in and Play Right Away: And It’s All Legal

I have covered a lot of unusual developments in amateur sports over the years, but this one really made me sit back and think.

Suppose I told you that in the state of NJ, there are a bunch of talented HS basketball players who decided to transfer from their current HS to a different school district, then enroll in that school, and then play on the basketball team right away.

Sound inviting? All you need to do is pay that new school district’s individual student’s tuition fee – a fee which is routinely thousands of dollars less expensive than a comparable parochial or private school in that area of NJ.

Heck, some public high schools in NJ which have terrific academics and athletics, who I guess are looking for more students, even advertise this opportunity on their website!

Let me be more specific.

Point Beach HS in central NJ is a very small public HS with only 400 kids in the entire HS. Yet over the last few years, their boys’ basketball team has produced numerous Div I players….big kids who are 6’7, 6’8, 6’9  or so. So you must be thinking, “Wow, they must have great drinking water in Point Beach to produce basketball players who are so tall and talented.”

But the truth is, the star basketball players at Point Beach don’t necessarily live there. Many of them reside elsewhere, but their parents pay an annual tuition fee of $7,700 a year so that their son can go to Point Beach HS and play on the boys’ basketball team.

In recent years, Point Beach basketball has suddenly become a launching pad for Division I players. Kids have gone to ND, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida Atlantic, and so on. Only one of those Div I players actually grew up in town in Point Beach. The rest are all imports.

What about the local kids who DO live in that school district and who have grown up hoping to play for the HS varsity team? Well, the harsh reality is that most of them get to HS and then realize that they have no chance of getting much playing time on the varsity team.

The long-time parents in the town are understandably outraged; after all, their kids’ dreams of playing HS hoops are crushed by these out-of-towners. But here’s the kicker: this is all perfectly legal.

HOW CAN THIS BE LEGAL?

Suppose this happened to your son or daughter in your local HS? They work hard and finally get a chance to try out for the varsity team, only to see on the first day a bunch of new kids who are bigger and stronger and who are also trying out? The head coach knows that at the varsity level, it’s about winning. And so, he goes with the best players, even if they are new to the school district. Case closed.

As some of my callers said this AM, “There are no guarantees in HS sports. Just because you think you have a good shot at being a starter, there’s no guarantee of that – especially if some new kids enroll.”

Matt Stanmyre is a sports writer with NJ Advance Media and NJ.com broke this story a couple of weeks, and the response have been strong. Some commiserate with the local kids and their parents, and voice outrage about these kids coming into school. Others say that’s just another example of how youth sports and priorities have changed in recent years.

Others wonder how in the world these Div-I prospects end up at such a small HS.Rumors swirl as to whether Nick Catania, the talented head coach at Point Beach, is recruiting these top athletes on the sly. According to sportswriter Stanmyre, Catania vehemently denies all of this, and says these players simply find him and that the small school — which has top academics — suits their needs. Regardless, there is no evidence that Coach Catania is recruiting. But clearly the word has gotten out.

SO WHAT’S THE COST?

To attend Point Beach HS as an out of district student, the annual tuition is $7,700. That’s still a lot of cash, but it’s a lot less than going to a top parochial school in NJ where the tuition is $16,000 a year. And private schools can run $30,000 or more a year.

Furthermore, Point Beach is not the public school that allows this. There are others,  good ones like Northern Highlands HS in northern NJ, where the application form to enroll is on the school’s website. The tuition fee at Northern Highlands runs about $13,400 a year.

Matt also told me there’s a public HS called Eastern Regional HS in southern NJ which is renowned for its field hockey program. Apparently, top HS field hockey players routinely enroll there as tuition transfers to play there.

I wonder how the other field hockey coaches who compete against Eastern Regional feel about a perennial powerhouse which basically allows top players to go to school there from anywhere in the state.

From the brief research that I have done, apparently it’s up to the individual school district to decide whether they want to allow HS students to transfer in by paying tuition. I know in New York State, where I live, some top high schools like Horace Greeley HS in Chappaqua and Bryam Hills in Armonk don’t allow transfers. Other schools, I have heard, do allow transfer athletes.

But if the school board decides not to allow this, then the issue becomes moot.

BUT WHAT ABOUT FLORIDA?

Meanwhile, there is legislation under way in the Sunshine State that goes one step further. A law is being proposed there that any HS student in Florida can attend any Florida HS he or she wants….and doesn’t have to pay a tuition fee. Plus you can play on the HS sport team right away.

Florida HS coaches are outraged. They see this move as bringing a sense of free agency to HS kids. That is, talented athletes will be tempted to jump to another high school for any number of reasons: better coaching, better facilities, better conduit to college coaches, and who knows, maybe some extra perks under the table.

Sounds hard to believe, but this is being considered in Florida as I write this. Such a move just sounds it could backfire in a big, big way.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Making Our Playing Fields Level for ALL Athletes

When Game Officials Overlook Youth Leaguers’ Cultural, Ethnic, or Religious Identities

 By Doug Abrams

When the Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School Eagles girls basketball team faced Greenway High School earlier this month, the Eagles wore their hair in traditional Navajo buns during pregame warmup. Flagstaff is near the Navajo reservation, a sizeable percentage of the student body are from the tribe, and the girls wore the buns to honor their heritage. Before tipoff, the referee prohibited the buns as a potential safety hazard because they were done with yarn. The girls complied and removed them.

Reuters reported that Flagstaff’s principal was “livid” at the referee’s decision, and that the Navajo Nation’s president called it “blatant discrimination.” The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which administers the state’s high school sports, said that the referee had applied the rules in good faith without intending an insult. But the Association apologized and announced that players may wear Navajo buns in future games. The Association has promised to continue exploring issues related to cultural sensitivity.

We have been down this road before. First a game official decides that a youth player, coach, or team may not participate while wearing a cultural, ethnic, or religious symbol, or while speaking a language other than English. Without suggesting that anyone had ever played dirty, the official cites player safety or competitive parity. When the referee’s decision becomes public, the league or the sport’s national or local governing body rescinds the decision and apologizes.

Consider these prior incidents:

Lakeville, Massachusetts (2005)  

In the third inning of a Little League semifinal state tournament game, a Methuen (Mass.) assistant coach instructed his 14-year-old pitcher in Spanish to try to pick off a runner at second base.  The press reported that Methuen’s pitcher and catcher did not speak English fluently.

The umpire stopped the game, instructed the assistant coach to speak only English, and threatened to eject any player or coach he heard speaking Spanish. Methuen’s manager called the umpire’s instruction “sickening,” but he continued the game when the tournament director on the scene backed the umpire.

“It appears,” a Little League spokesman told the Associated Press afterwards, that “the umpire was concerned that the coach or manager may have been using a language other than English . . . to communicate potentially ‘illegal’ instructions to his players.” The umpire reportedly also thought that speaking a foreign language might give Methuen an unfair advantage.

Little League International, whose rule book comes in both English and Spanish, distanced itself from the umpire’s decision and instructed state officials to remove him from further games in the state tournament.

Cooper City, Florida (2012)

 Two referees ejected a volunteer youth soccer coach from a game for instructing some of his 14-18-year-old players in Spanish. The coach had refused to heed the refs’ instructions to speak only English.  The ejected coach later said that various referees had also tried to discourage players from speaking Spanish to one another during games. As in Lakeville a few years earlier, league officials disavowed any English-only rule within a few days.

Aurora, Colorado (2014)

The Overland High School Trailblazers opened their girls varsity soccer season short one player. The referees sidelined the Muslim player with a pre-game ruling that her hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty and devotion, created a “danger.”

Trailblazer coaches and teammates, and other voices on social media, criticized the ruling, and the Trailblazers stood with their sidelined teammate. Most were not Muslims, but all sent a powerful message by wearing hijabs in their next game two days later. The referees let them play, and no injuries were reported.

Central to American Life

I do not know the motives of the officials in Flagstaff or in any of the earlier games reported here. Game officials have a tough job and may deserve the benefit of the doubt in some cases, but reason remains for suspicion that prejudice may sometime play a role in expressed concerns for safety or competitive parity. It seems more than an uncomfortable coincidence that in matters of conscience or respect, reports of youth leaguers regulated by officials tend to involve members of cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities who seem “different.”

Incidents such as the ones described here should remind us that sports provides valuable opportunities for youngsters of various backgrounds to participate in mainstream national culture. Because sports remains central to American life, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth leagues at their finest.

Seeking to induce children to disavow their heritage or religion, or to speak a language they have not yet mastered, serves no worthwhile purpose because arbitrarily excluding children from wholesome activities serves no worthwhile purpose. When youngsters from diverse cultures play hard and clean and contribute to the team, sports programs serve the community best by displaying tolerance and respect for individual differences. Tolerance includes rules applications that demonstrate respect without conferring competitive advantage or otherwise changing the essential character of the game or competition.

Youth sports incidents such as the one that arose earlier this month in Flagstaff may not happen often, but they happen. If these incidents have a silver lining, it is that suspected prejudice exposed to public view usually does not withstand the light of day.

These incidents suggest the wisdom of proactive measures. To the extent possible, league rules should address reasonably foreseeable sensitive issues that are likely to have particular impact on cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities. The Arizona Interscholastic Association promises to promises to pay closer attention to sensitivity issues, as it should. So should other leagues and governing bodies nationwide.

These issues are not always predictable. Referee certification classes and clinics, which generally are already required, should discuss tolerance and respect with game officials who will administer largely discretionary standards such as safety and competitive parity. Avoidable embarrassment, even followed by apology, serves no one in youth sports well.

 

Sources: Reuters, Arizona Basketball Team Wins Reversal of Navajo Hair Bun Ban, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-arizona-navajo-hairbuns-idUSKCN0VE2MM  (Feb. 5, 2016); Aurelio Moreno, Coach Speaks Spanish, Is Tossed: Cooper City Soccer League Says It Has No Such Rule, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Dec. 21, 2012;  Assoc. Press, Ump Bans Mass. Team From Speaking Spanish, USA Today, July 29, 2005; Mark Zeigler, Ump Out – Told Massachusetts Little Leaguers: English Only, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 30, 2005; Douglas E. Abrams, Youth Sports Heroes of the Month: Overland High School (Aurora, Colo.) Girls Soccer Team,

http://www.momsteam.com/blog/douglas-abrams-jd/youth-sports-heroes-month-overland-high-school-aurora-colo-girls-soccer-team#ixzz3zbryfsVa (Mar. 31, 2014).

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Celebrating 18 Years of The Sports Edge on WFAN

This morning’s radio show on WFAN marked the 18th anniversary of the Sports Edge being on the air. And I want to thank you all for your tremendous  support, and great and smart comments and questions over the years.

We may be the only major radio show in the nation that focuses exclusively on sports parenting issues. And with the “here today, gone tomorrow” mentality of sports shows, being on the air for close to 20 years is pretty special.

I first became involved in sports parenting when my own kids were just starting out in sports, and now, 18 years later, they are in their 20s and 30s, and I’m happy to say, they still love sports and still enjoy playing them.

I think, to me, that’s the ultimate bottom line. That is, that their original love and passion for sports has stayed with them, long after their competitive days in HS and college and, in my son’s case, pro ball. As a sports parent myself, I’m very proud that they continue to go out and play in hockey games, take batting practice, pick up a lax stick and practice some shots on goal, and so on.

A LOOK BACK IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR

Once upon a time in this country, back in the early 1990s, I was one of a handful of people who was talking about the changing landscape of sports parenting. As I recall, back then, there was Fred Engh and I believe Bob Bigelow was getting involved in sports parenting as well. But one thing was for sure – the field of sports parenting was a new frontier.

And that was no surprise. After all, up until the 1980s or so, it used to be that kids learned how to play sports by playing pick-up games with their buddies and peers on playgrounds, sandlots, and open fields. The older kids chose teams, nobody sat out, and if there were a dispute on a call, we argued for awhile, and then just did a do-over.

There was no need for refs or umpires…..no need for tryouts…no need for one’s parents to intervene.

As kids, we kept score for the individual game, and if the game had a lopsided score, we simply stopped and reshuffled the teams to make them more equal.

Nobody worried about individual stats….nobody worried about making All-League or All-State….nobody gave a thought to playing in college or in the pro’s. Did we dream about that stuff? Sure. But nobody took it seriously.

We just played….because it was fun to do.

But then things began to change, bit by bit.

Way back then, for example, there was this new concept of travel teams introduced. Now, nobody knew what travel teams were or how they would change youth sports, but like a spreading virus, once travel teams started, they grew and grew everywhere. Now you’d be hard pressed to find any town or community anywhere in the US where travel teams don’t exist.

PARENTS BACKING COACHES?

Right around the time travel teams got going, it seemed that after years and years of parents always backing up the HS coaches on strategy, discipline and so forth, suddenly, there was a growing rash of parents interfering with their kid’s coaches.

There were parents arguing with coaches about their kid’s playing time. Parents were getting in the face of their kids’ coaches, complaining bitterly, even threatening lawsuits against the athletic director and school district if the Dad felt his kid had been slighted.

Formal HS Codes of Conduct began to pop up, so that AD’s and coaches could point to prescribed kinds of punishments. But for the most part, the Codes were soft and did not promote a sense of strict discipline. That’s because the parents didn’t want the schools to adopt a zero tolerance policy. If they did, it might mean that their own child might run afoul of the rules and get booted off the team instead of getting just a warning.

These, there have been growing discipline issues with social media abuse, such as Twitter, Facebook, sexting. Of course, these things didn’t exist 18 years ago, but they sure do now, and they cause sports parents to have tremendous anxiety when their kids are involved.

For years and years, LL baseball allowed pitchers to throw as many pitches as they wanted. It  wasn’t until Steve Kallas came on the Sports Edge and pointed out that especially in Williamsport, top young pitchers were throwing hundreds and hundreds of pitches in a week of tournament play. Finally,  LL woke up and realized that they had to change their rules and regulations on pitch counts.

And of course, LL still allows young pitchers to throw curves and sliders endlessly, even though Dr. James Andrews, who serves on their board of directors, still says that kids shouldn’t throw breaking balls until they’re old enough to shave.

Don’t even get me started about LL and aluminum baseball bats, which in my opinion, is still very dangerous. Anybody  — and I mean anybody – who has ever thrown batting practice to a kid with an aluminum bat knows instinctively that the ball comes off the bat faster – much faster than off of wood. LL, please stop telling me that’s not true.

A NEW WAVE OF ADVOCATES

Now, These days, there are growing numbers of other people who have become sports parenting advocates, and I applaud that. From coast to coast, there are sports parenting advocates who are blogging….posting columns….doing TED talks….writing books….and so on. It shows that the gospel we’ve been trying to spread on Sunday mornings for the last 18 years is finally beginning to have a real impact.

But I must confess that I do get something of a chuckle when they post a column about this “new phenomenon” of pushy parents…or a lack of sportsmanship….or kids quitting sports at a young age….or how travel teams are having a major impact on their kids….and so on – and they write these columns as though these kinds of incidents are totally new developments in our athletic society and that they are the first to pinpoint them.

But you and I know the truth…we’ve been taking about these issues on the air at WFAN for 18 years. And like yourself, I’ll be most interested to see how the world of sports parenting changes in the years to come. What will the next generation of sports parents do when it comes to their kids in sports? That, of course, is the ultimate question. And will fun still part of the experience?

Until then, my thanks to the loyal readers of Askcoachwolff, and for those of you who listen to The Sports Edge on WFAN Radio each Sunday. I also want to send a special of personal thanks to Doug Abrams and Steve Kallas, two brilliant attorneys who share my passion for doing the right thing for kids who play sports. It’s nice to know that there are wonderful people in this world like Doug and Steve.

Sports parenting continues to be a most challenging topic for all of us, and as noted, I think we have made some progress. I just hope we can make even more progress in the next 18 years.