Archive for the ‘Heroic athletes/coaches’ Category

HEROIC COACHES: An Interview with the Legendary Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s Prep

In his long-tenure at St. Anthony’s Prep in Jersey City, Bob Hurley won 28 state championships with the boys’ basketball team. He has sent literally hundreds of his players onto to Division 1 programs on full scholarships. A few years ago, Coach Hurley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is extremely rare for a HS coach. His two sons, Bobby and Dan, are head coaches at Arizona State and the Univ of Rhode Island respectively.

In short, Bob Hurley’s remarkable achievements fill page after page. He is that unique as a coach. But more than that, Coach Hurley is widely recognized as being one of those rare people in athletics who stand for all the right values when it comes to teaching kids in sports.

As I’m sure many of you know, St. Anthony’s had to close its doors due to financial restraints last year. Bob had served as the head basketball coach there since the early 1970s, and he did everything he could to try and keep the doors open. But in the end, there just wasn’t enough money to keep the school going.

But that school closing hasn’t slowed Coach Hurley down. On my radio show this AM, he joined me from Omaha, Nebraska, where he had been invited to speak and to run a basketball clinic for hundreds of Sudanese basketball players. As Bob explained on the air, Omaha has become a thriving home to more than 20,000 Sudanese immigrants in recent years, and like the rest of the world, Sudanese athletes love playing basketball. “They already have had a number of kids go on to play Division I programs here,” explained Bob, “and from what I say out in Omaha, there are lots more on the way.”

He continued: “It was also heartening to see the transition for these kids and their families into the American culture. Many of their parents wore traditional Sudanese clothing, but their children were clearly dressed as American youngsters.” Indeed, as I pointed out, the is all about the American dream, where all of us at some point came from ancestors who migrated to the US (with the exception of Native Americans).

In any event, I was very eager to get the Coach’s take on what’s going on with the current headlines of college coaches taking bribes from sneaker companies in order to push players to certain colleges. Hurley made it clear that he expects more arrests are going to escalate in the months to come. And that college basketball programs which deal with the sneaker companies are working hard right now to see if they might be implicated in any way.

“The fact that it’s the FBI speaks to how serious and widespread this issue is,” said Coach Hurley, “the NCAA just doesn’t have the manpower or staff to follow through or to enforce the necessary discipline. But with the FBI fully engaged, and then perhaps the IRS, this is going to have a major impact on college recruiting as we know it.

Coach Hurley continued: “I think we’re going to see a coming together of the NBA, the NCAA, the sneaker companies, AAU and so on. They clearly need to correct this problem, and figure out how this should work better. It’s obvious that the “one-and-done” of college basketball is not working. Maybe the time has come to emulate what they do in Europe, where a kid in his mid-teens can sign with a pro team and play on their club team for a few years before a decision is made as to whether he’s going to be good enough to sign a much bigger contract and play for the pro team.”

That’s an interesting perspective, because it would help eliminate any financial inducements by sneaker companies because the kids would already be under contract to a pro team. And if a kid gets to be 17 or 18, and it doesn’t appear that he’s going to be a top pro player, then maybe he goes to college and plays for four years there.

 

TALKING WITH HIS SONS ABOUT RECRUITING

I asked Coach Hurley about how this scandal would affect his boys. He said that it’s more of an issue for Bobby, who is the head coach at Arizona State in the Pac-12. “That’s because more and more of the top players who are being recruited in the Pac-12 and other major conferences are truly anticipating to be one and done players. Kids like Fultz and Ball who last year were selected first and second overall in the NBA. So Bobby is well aware of the pressures that college coaches feel about gaining any advantage they can to sway a kid to attend their school for a year before turning pro.

“But at other D-I programs, like the Univ. of Rhode Island where Danny coaches, it’s different. Most of those players do not expect to be one-and-done kids, so there’s less money floating around. Those kids would of course love to go pro, but already know the odds of that happening are less.”

What’s the bottom line? Well, first of all, we have to wait and see how many more coaches like Rick Pitino are booted out of their jobs, how many assistant coaches are indicted, and even how many HS kids who took money might be charged with a crime.

Once all of that is cleaned up, we can only assume that smart people like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and coaches like Bob Hurley will get together and try to come up with a solid plan that finally puts an end to this nonsense once and for all.

 

HEROIC ATHLETES: The Magic of Kids Who Know No Boundaries

Another Youth Leaguer Who Overcomes Physical Challenges

 By Doug Abrams

Youth sports headlines these days sometimes seem calculated to make many readers cringe. Stories about parental sniping and even violence. Stories about coaches who cut young kids in tryouts and bench young kids who make the roster. Stories about referees under siege. Stories about financially strapped families unable to afford escalating costs of participation.

But every so often, a news story captures the essence of wholesome athletic competition. The story shines the spotlight on what youth sports can be – a powerful, perhaps unique, vehicle for enriching children’s lives on and off the field.

On September 25, writer Ian Frazer profiled 12-year-old Jack Coggin in the Forsyth County (Ga.) News. The headline tells the story: “Lambert Youth Football Team Embraces Teammate With Cerebral Palsy.”

A few moments after each game, the teams line up, Jack in uniform gets the ball, his Longhorns teammates block for him, opponents clear the path, and he runs for a touchdown. The idea of enrolling Jack came initially from the Longhorns’ coach, and the team’s parents (including Jack’s mother and father) are supportive. “I’ve had one parent say they were upset about their kid’s playing time,” the coach told Frazer, “and after seeing Jack score and how happy he was, it kind of put things in perspective.”

Opening Doors

Jack Coggin’s love for football — and his acceptance by teammates, parents, and opponents — demonstrate that sports can make a difference for physically challenged boys and girls who otherwise might be cast aside. To the maximum extent possible, teams and leagues should encourage children with physical challenges to participate if their parents approve, their abilities permit, and participation does not change the character of the game or compromise safety. Worthwhile programs, such as Little League’s Challenger Division or USA Hockey’s Sled Hockey, serve children whose conditions make integrated play inadvisable or impossible.

The media regularly reports about children with Down syndrome, amputations, or other conditions who earn their teammates’ acceptance, support, and respect. Some of these children  see regular game action; others may serve as team manager, perhaps seeing symbolic action late in selected games, or near the end of the season. One way or another, the Longhorns youth football squad shows that well-crafted encouragement, driven by empathy and understanding, can open doors.

Sports done right enables children with disabilities to learn, enjoy healthy lifestyles, hone their social skills, and develop self-esteem. As they fulfill their needs and desires, these children teach valuable lessons about surmounting barriers through sheer perseverance and determination. A few years ago Sami Stoner, a blind Ohio high school cross country runner who competed accompanied by her guide dog, delivered teammates and opponents a lesson that extends beyond the race course: “Even if you have a disability or you don’t think you can do something, there’s almost always a way.”

Excellence and Adventure

Journalist George F. Will is right that, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.” Experience in sports, concurred writer James A. Michener, “enlarge[s] the human adventure.”

Excellence and the human adventure extend beyond the scoreboard. Not reflected by any posted numbers, few examples of excellence emerge more vivid than examples set by athletes who overcome physical barriers to play to their best. And the human adventure assumes sharper focus when athletes who set the example, and team members and even opponents who support them, have not yet left their teen years.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden explained the core stimulus basic in athletic and non-athletic endeavors alike: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” In public schools and youth leagues, the impulse to include, rather than exclude, children marks youth sports at its best.  Inclusion is good for young athletes with disabilities, good for their teammates and opponents, and good for America.
Sources: Ian Frazer, Lambert Youth Football Team Embraces Teammate With Cerebral Palsy, Forsyth County (Ga.) News, Aug. 24, 2017; Douglas E. Abrams, Youth Sports Heroes of the Month: Wakana Ueda, Sami Stoner, Doug Wells and Taylor Howell, http://www.momsteam.com/blind-athletes/youth-sports-heroes-month-wakana-ueda-sami-stoner-doug-wells-taylor-howell (2012).
 

 

HEROIC FANS: Giving Back to the Kids in a Most Unusual Way

 Donating to Youth Before the End of the Year

By Doug Abrams

Headlines and commentary report adult excesses in youth sports with unfortunate regularity, but sometimes a positive story stays with readers for its inspiration. The staying power may last for years.

In 2011, the Simcoe (Ontario, Canada) Reformer reported the death of Boston Bruins fan Ron Shepherd at 63. Readers likely expected nothing extraordinary from a story about the passing of a family man who had lived his life outside the public spotlight. But to share his love of hockey with the younger generation, the Shepherd family made a novel request. The family asked that each visitor to the funeral home bring a new hockey stick, and not flowers that would wilt at the curb awaiting trash collection within a week.

The family donated the 75 new sticks to the local youth hockey association for free distribution to players in the youngest age group. “My dad would be so happy to see the kids playing with the sticks,” said Shepherd’s daughter.

Human-interest stories like this one do more than simply highlight one person’s generosity that might otherwise go unnoticed. Individual generosity can also remind readers to consider making their own modest tax-deductible donations to worthy causes that help improve the lives of children. Because the tax year does not end until December 31, this timely reminder is the purpose of this column.

The Best Judges

Charitable impulses depend, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many adults receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many adults must manage the family budget closely these days. But in and out of sports, adults seeking worthy causes that serve youth do not have far to look.

Their child’s youth sports association, or the local parks and recreation department, may accept donations toward fees or equipment for families that might otherwise be unable to keep pace with escalating costs of participation. Private local donations may also help bring state-of-the-art safety equipment such as automated external defibrillators.

National youth sports governing bodies typically maintain charitable initiatives devoted to equal opportunity and outreach to under-served youth. Because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind.

A parent or coach concerned about advancing player safety nationally may support leading organizations, such as the MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

Outside of sports, the parent or coach might have a favorite national, state, or local charity with a youth focus.  For example, children’s hospitals serve sick and injured boys and girls from modest-income families, and typically accept donations not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for amenities such as toys and games that make a young patient’s hospital stay more bearable.

A local hospital may serve as an indigent-care facility for families that cannot easily afford these amenities. When their child’s hospitalization happens suddenly, other families frequently overlook touches like toys and games, at least for a while as they adjust to the new family situation.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. Private philanthropy matters, and individual adults are the best judges of where their dollars can do the most good.

Filling Buckets

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop put it well more than two thousand years ago: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Maya Angelou reminds us today that (as Ron Shepherd’s daughter experienced in Simcoe five years ago) donations serve both the recipient and the donor: “Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill up quickly when thoughtful adults take the initiative and pitch in.

 

Sources:  Barbara Simpson, Gift in Memory of Ron, Simcoe Reformer (Ontario, Canada), Apr. 18, 2011, p. 8; National Philanthropic Trust, Philanthropy Quotes, https://www.nptrust.org/history-of-giving/philanthropic-quotes/ (quoting Bloomberg and Angelou); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990).

 

 

HEROIC COACHES: WHAT ONE MAN IS DOING TO REVIVE INNER-CITY BASEBALL

It was back in October of 2013….close to two years ago….that I introduced you my WFAN audience to Steve Bandura of the Anderson Monarchs baseball team. And I approached Steve a few weeks ago to have him back on.

To me, Steve is one of those unsung American heroes who, for 20- years in South Philly, has quietly introduced young inner-city African-American kids to the National Pastime. And he has succeeded, with many of his kids going onto play baseball in HS and college. Even better, many of his early kids have now come back to teach and instruct the newest generation of Anderson Monarchs.

This spring, Steve’s team is embarking on a three-week barnstorming tour of the South, Midwest, and East to celebrate the Civil Rights movement, including stops — and playing games – in such historic cities as Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama.

In any event, Bandura serves as a local rec director in South Philly, and to him, teaching kids to play baseball comes just as naturally as teaching them to play basketball, football, or soccer. As Steve said on my show this AM, “You gotta get the kids when they’re young to teach them the game. Baseball’s the kind of sport that by, 12 or 13, it’s too difficult to teach the basic skills.”

Remember, Major League Baseball has bemoaned the declining number of African-American plays in the big leagues these days, and despite their efforts at the highest levels to put together some meaningful programs for inner-city kids, most of them have only been modestly successful.

But good news – thanks to Steve’s perseverance – MLB, under new Commissioner Rob Manfred, has stepped up to help sponsor the bus tour, along with Chevrolet, Easton Sports, and a few others. Plus more awareness of his program is happening: witness a major story in this AM’s New York Times about Steve and his program.

You may have heard of one of his better players, Mo’ne Davis of last year Little League fame. In fact, seven players from Taney LL, which made it to Williamsport last August, are kids who play for the Anderson Monarchs. So clearly Steve is doing a great job of instructing his kids.

For years now baseball fans and MLB have bemoaned the decline of African-American baseball players. Sure, there are top players like Andrew McCutcheon. CC Sabathia, and Curtis Granderson, but the numbers don’t lie  — there are just fewer and fewer black players entering the game these days. Some pundits say it’s because black athletes are being funneled off to basketball and football, where scholarships are easier to obtain coming out of HS. Others say it’s a cultural problem – that despite the impact of Jackie Robinson, that playing baseball is simply no longer a cool pursuit for young black athletes.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the numbers of black baseball players are dropping. Except that Steve Bandura is proving all of these theories and myths to be wrong. In short, Steve is proving the point that inner-city black kids DO play baseball, DO love the sport, and DO keep playing it.

I urge you to go to WFAN.com, click on the link for podcasts, and find the podcast from today’s show to hear what Steve has to say. Trust me, you’ll find it to be inspiring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HEROIC ATHLETES: The Rise of Mariano Rivera III, the Classic Late Bloomer

One of the realities that too many sports parents either don’t recognize or refuse to acknowledge is the impact that adolescence and physical maturity have on young athletes. It’s almost as though parents seemingly forget that all sorts of changes can occur to kids once they enter into their teenage years – and in more and more cases, it seems that the physical growth spurt of young athletes can last into their late teens and even early twenties.

Adolescent growth spurts are significant for a number of reasons: during the magical teenage years, short kids suddenly can grow 6 inches or more, chubby kids can slim down, kids who were seen as slow of foot can become quick, and on and on.

On the flip side, athletic kids who were large for their age early on and were dominant in youth leagues sometimes reach their peak height by the time they’re 11 or 12, and then they stop growing. Meanwhile, their peers catch up to them and often surpass them.

There are all sorts of examples of how adolescence growth spurts can change the athletic landscapde, but here’s the latest one that caught my eye.

Mariano Rivera III is the son of the Yankees’ great baseball pitcher by the same name. This past week, the younger Rivera was selected as a very high choice in Major League Baseball’s free agent draft: he was drafted in the 4th round by the Washington Nationals. Being such a high draft choice signifies that the Nationals really feel that Mariano has a real chance of advancing to the major leagues.

Scouts pointed to Rivera’s stunning velocity on his fastball, which was routinely clocked this past spring at 95 mph. A senior at Iona College, he set a school record for the most strikeouts in a season with 113, his ERA was 2.65 and he was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pitcher of the year.

All wonderful accomplishments, and all to be expected from a college senior who was a high draft pick.

But consider this: Just a few short years ago, Mariano III was a smallish kid who pitched a total of only six innings in high school at Iona Prep. In fact, he played very sparingly, being used primarily as a pinch-runner. In fact, in his senior year of high school, he didn’t even try out for the team. He skipped the spring baseball season and just played for fun on a summer team.

In other words, he not only wasn’t a pro prospect – he was pretty much over in terms of high school career.

He graduated from Iona Prep and went to Quinnipiac College for a semester, but got home sick and transferred to Iona College. He made the team, but in truth, he didn’t play much there either.

But then an adolescent growth spurt kicked in. By his junior year, when he was 20, he got a little bigger physically….and his fastball velocity improved.  By the end of his junior year, he put up decent numbers, good enough to be a low draft choice by the Yankees which, most people assumed, was just a courtesy draft.

But over the last 12 months, Mariano continued to grow some more and he got stronger…and his velocity also continued to dramatically improve – into the mid-90s.

Pitchers who throw over 90 mph are hard to find…and that’s why the Nationals made their selection.

Let’s put this all into perspective…this was a high school senior who didn’t even try out for the school team as a senior because he feared he wouldn’t play much, and four years later he blossomed into a 4th round choice of the Washington Nationals.

What’s the underlying lesson here? To me, I often wonder about all those kids who are cut by travel teams when they’re only 8 or 10 or 12, long before the adolescent years kick in. And most kids who get cut at a young age rarely come back to that sport down the road in junior high or high school.
To that end, I wonder how many other future Mariano Rivera III’s have had their dreams shattered at such a young age simply because they hadn’t gone through their growth spurt yet. I think that something for all sports parents and coaches to ponder.

HEROIC ATHLETES: Ivy League Baseball Continues to Attract Top Talent, Both On and Off the Field

Anybody who has heard my radio show over the last 15 years knows that I’m a big supporter of Ivy League baseball. To me, there’s just something very unique and special about talented baseball players who are also brilliant and accomplished students. Even more, because the baseball season is so short AND so cold in the Northeast, I’m just so impressed with the kinds of top ballplayers who come out of these programs.

That’s why I was so eager to have Brett Boretti, the head coach of Columbia baseball, come on my show this AM. Columbia just won its third Ivy Championship in a row, and they start the NCAA playoffs in a couple of weeks. Columbia finished with a regular season record of 29-15, their most wins in a season ever, and they routinely knock off top-ranked programs. This year, for example, they defeated the University of Houston twice on the road. At the time Houston was ranked #6 in the nation. Last year, they beat the University of Arizona, the defending national champs.

But what’s so neat about Columbia this year is that they are led by 29-year-old Joe Falcone, a 6-5,230 lb outfielder with tremendous power. Falcone, the son of former major league pitcher Pete Falcone, hit .345 this season along with 11 HRs. But here’s the best part about Joe. After HS, instead of going to college, he enlisted in the Marines and did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a medic. Once he finished his stint in the Marine Corps, he came back home and enrolled at the College of Staten Island where he spent a year before transferring to Columbia.

Joe was Boretti’s best recruit, to be sure, but as the coach laughs, “I didn’t recruit Joe at all. He just showed up in my office one day, and asked if he could try out for the team. Good thing I said yes!”

But don’t be misled. Coach Boretti and his staff comb the entire nation for top players who also have superb grades, board scores, great mental make-up AND who are terrific ballplayers. This explains why Columbia has had 4 players drafted by Major League Baseball in the last three years.

And that’s typical of the Ivy League. Each year at least 10-15 players are drafted from the eight schools and many others are signed as undrafted free agents. If you follow baseball, you will recognize these names: Mark DeRosa (Penn), Craig Breslow (Yale), Ryan Lavernway (Yale), Chris Young (Princeton). Ed Lucas (Dartmouth), Doug Glanville (Penn), Ron Darling (Yale), and of course, don’t forget that Lou Gehrig went to Columbia. And this is just the tip of the Ivy League ,major league iceberg.

And Brad Asmus, who is the manager of the Detroit Tigers, didn’t play ball at Dartmouth but played in the bigs for 20 years.

Bottom line? I just think it’s great that are so many talented baseball players across the country who find their way to the Ivy League. Here’s hoping the trend continues…but here’s also hoping that spring time comes earlier to the Northeast!

HEROIC ATHLETES: A Moment in Sports Worth Savoring…

 When a School Sports Team Protects a Bullied Classmate

 By Doug Abrams

 Middle school basketball games usually generate no headlines. The visiting team bus arrives, the teams suit up, and the players take the court for an hour or so. Parents and classmates cheer, the teams shake hands at the final buzzer, and the bus leaves for home.  Nobody remembers the final score for very long, and the players are unlikely ever to recount middle school sports memories to their own children years later.

A recent basketball game at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin was different. The contest quickly went viral – not to be forgotten — because the Lincoln team’s dramatic act of citizenship eclipsed the scoreboard.

In the middle of the game, the eighth-grade Lincoln players saw one or more fans in the stands verbally abusing one of their courtside cheerleaders, Desiree Andrews, who has Down syndrome. The players (yes, the players) stopped the game and approached the stands to halt the maltreatment of their classmate.

“The kids in the audience were picking on Dee, 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.”

 Lessons To Be Learned

The Kenosha story resonates for two reasons. First, the bullying was happening (perhaps not for the first time) right under the noses of coaches and other school officials, who evidently did nothing to stop it before the players took matters into their own hands.

Second, the players demonstrated courage and values uncommon among students, who rarely intervene to protect a bullied classmate. Children are not born with courage or values, so the Lincoln Middle School basketball players must have learned right from wrong from their parents at home. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The American Medical Association, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention correctly identify bullying as a serious “public health problem.” With research showing the profound immediate and lasting harm that bullying can wreak on school children, the Lincoln Middle School’s evident non-response and the eighth-grade players’ uncommon response each warrants our attention.

 

The Schools

 Pediatric professionals recognize bullying as a form of child abuse, perpetrated by other children rather than by adults. School officials overlook their protective and pedagogical roles when they ignore verbal or physical bullying that happens in plain sight.

If Lincoln Middle School authorities indeed tolerated the bullying of Desiree Andrews from the stands, the authorities failed on two accounts. Not only did they leave her unprotected; they may also have squandered an opportunity to teach citizenship lessons central to the public schools’ mission.

Protecting vulnerable students is serious business because researchers tell us that victims of bullying may display psychosomatic symptoms resembling ones suffered by many child abuse victims, including sleep disturbances, bedwetting, abdominal pain, high levels of anxiety and depression, loneliness, low self-esteem and heightened fear for personal safety. Bullying can also induce school phobia, increase truancy, or impair the victim’s concentration and classroom achievement. Research also indicates that persistent bullying leaves many victims with lifelong emotional scars.

Citizenship lessons also weigh heavily. “[E]ducating our youth for citizenship in public schools,” Chief Justice Warren Burger explained a generation ago, “is not confined to books, the curriculum, or civics class; schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order.” The “basic educational mission,” the Chief Justice wrote, “emphasizes teaching the “habits and manners of civility. . . . The inculcation of these values is truly the ‘work of the schools.’”

Civility and bullying do not mix. Confronting bullies and their parents can put schools disciplinarians in precarious positions, but virtually all states have enacted strong anti-bullying legislation in the past two decades. This consensus commands schools to act, not only in classrooms and hallways, but also during school-sponsored extracurricular activities such as interscholastic sports competitions.

 

Players and Their Families

 Now for the Lincoln players. . . .  Like the students who verbally assaulted Desiree Andrews from the stands, most bullies crave an audience. Sooner or later, most bullying happens in front of student onlookers, most of whom do not intervene on a victim’s behalf or report the bullying. Onlookers are much more likely to avoid associating with the victim, or even to join the bullies in an effort to boost social position or to avoid being targeted. One study found that 85% of bullying incidents had student onlookers, but that onlookers intervened to protect the victim only 10% of the time. Bullies wield real or perceived power, and (as we know from incidents of adults who recoiled from aiding crime victims) confrontation takes guts.

The parents of the Lincoln Middle School basketball players must be teaching the right lessons at home. Children are not born with attitudes about bullying; bullying, and rejection of bullying, are learned responses. Researchers have found that parents can help prevent bullying by raising their own sons and daughters in a household that stresses civility, mutual respect, empathy, and tolerance. Peers, teachers and other adults exert influence, but parents remain prime role models for their children.

 

A “Public Health Problem”

For good or ill, peer pressure matters in the elementary and secondary schools. Now that the dust has settled, perhaps the Kenosha bullying was controlled better by the basketball players acting as a team than by teachers or administrators moving through the stands.

Rick Wolff, Brooke de Lench, Jim Thompson and others have spoken and written about the role that youth athletes can play when they act as a team to help prevent and control 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 players proved that these youth sports experts are on the right track.

 

 

Sources (with videos): 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;  Douglas E. Abrams, A Coordinated Public Response to School Bullying, in Our Promise: Achieving Educational Equity for America’s Children (Carolina Academic Press 2009). Hat tips to Rick Wolff and Peter Randall for bringing the Kenosha story to my attention.

HEROIC ATHLETES/COACHES: Some Role Models You Should Tell Your Athletes About…

 What to Tell Children When Professional Athletes Stray

By Doug Abrams

 

The past few years have exposed a darker side of professional sports, in full view of children who follow their favorite stars. In bygone decades, some players were no angels but sportswriters chose silence over public revelation. Since Watergate, however, journalists play by different rules.

Journalists today remain silent about nothing, and indeed strive to outdo one another with accounts of pros who cross the line into criminality and other personal irresponsibility off the field. Accompanying swift public disclosure in broadcast and print sources is the limitless reach of social media, which sometimes brings graphic video (think Ray Rice in the elevator).

Every baseball fan today knows about the Major Leagues’ “steroids era,” when some players cheated to secure advantage. We know too about disturbing rates of criminality among players in some leagues, particularly the NBA and the NFL (which some cynics dub the “National Felons League”). Headlines chronicle players’ arrests for such crimes as assault, rape, and child abuse. Last week we learned once again that adult cheating can infect even the Little League World Series.

“A Life of Greatness”

How should parents and coaches explain to their children news accounts of a prominent player’s arrest or conviction?  It seems to me that the adults can counter the bad news about errant players with the good news about players who use sports to set examples that make us proud. (And yes, the media does report the good news, often as prominently as it reports the bad. Good news is not hard to find if the adults pay attention.) Because professional athletes are drawn from the general population, some stray but most do not. People make choices.

For parents and coaches who want to discuss choices, here is a good start. . . . In just the past few weeks, the media spotlighted three prominent pros whose choices set wholesome examples for young athletes, and indeed also for their elders:

  • Two years into his three-year $37.5 million contract, 29-year-old St. Louis Rams center Jason Brown left football and bought a 1,000-acre North Carolina farm. Brown told CBS that his agent advised that, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life” by walking away from the final $12.5 million. Brown disagreed because he had resolved to learn how to be a farmer so he could help feed the hungry by donating his crops to food pantries.

Last fall, his First Fruits Farm donated 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers. More is on the way. “[W]hen I think about a life of greatness,” he told CBS, “I think about a life of service.”

  • During the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game weekend in Columbus, Ohio late last month, Washington Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin went public with his desire to win either the Honda car that would be awarded to the player chosen last in the NHL Fantasy Draft, or the car that would be awarded to the game’s most valuable player. He even held up a handwritten sign that went viral: “I want to be last. I need a car.”

Ovechkin’s salary did not leave him wanting for wheels, so the other players wondered what he was up to. He took a lot of ribbing, did not tip his hand, but came up short when he was chosen second-to-last in the fantasy draft and failed to win the MVP Award.

Ovechkin’s agent then revealed that his client wanted a car so that he could donate it to a Washington-area youth hockey program for special-needs children. Ovechkin felt a bond with the program ever since a pre-season skating session, when he struck a friendship with one of the program’s young players, a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome.

When Honda learned why the Capitals’ captain wanted the car, the company gave him a new 2015 Honda Accord, which the star promptly turned over to the youth team.

  • After spending three years with the NFL’s Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, 26-year-old safety Ricardo Silva spurned offers to play in Canada or become a college football coach. Instead he joined Teach for America. He teaches geometry at Washington, D.C.’s Ballou High School because, he told the Washington Post, “I would love to see kids go to college. And I feel like I can show them the way.” “It’s more than football to me,” he told CNN, “It’s life.”

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Kids deserve to learn about professional athletes like Jason Brown, Alex Ovechkin and Ricardo Silva. Amid occasional reports about pros who stray into criminality and personal irresponsibility, the trio’s stories demonstrate the power of sports as a force for good in American life.

 

[Sources: Adam Gretz, Alex Ovechkin Wanted to Win a Car At All-Star Game So He Could Donate It, http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/eye-on-hockey/24994227/alex-ovechkin-wanted-to-win-a-car-at-all-star-game-so-he-could-donate-it  (Jan. 25, 2015); CBS News, Steve Hartman, Why a Football Player Traded NFL Career for a Tractor, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/former-nfl-player-farms-for-good/ (Dec. 26, 2014); Tim Stevens, Jason Brown, a Former NFL Lineman, Has Big Dreams, News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/11/27/3413624/jason-brown-a-former-nfl-lineman.html (Nov. 27, 2013); Helena Andrews, Former Football Player Ricardo Silva Teaching High School in D.C., Wash. Post, Sept. 19, 2014; CNN, Betsy Anderson, Trading Football For Teaching, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/30/world/iyw-silva-nfl-to-teacher-text/index.html (Feb. 1, 2015). A hat tip to John Coleman for bringing Alex Ovechkin’s story to my attention.]

HEROIC ATHLETES/COACHES: Kids Sports + Charitable Causes = Winning Tradition

 

Donating to Youth By Year’s End:  The Potency of Private Giving

By Doug Abrams

 

On November 3, the Meriden (Conn.) Record-Journal ran a brief story about the 20th Hysterical Comedy show, which took place in Wallingford a few nights later.  The twice-a-year event typically draws audiences of more than 400 people. The beneficiary is a local charity called On the Team, which helps needy families pay registration fees, equipment costs, and other expenses that make organized youth sports programs affordable. From ticket sales and the like, the past decade’s comedy shows have raised more than $25,000 to help 135 boys and girls play baseball, soccer and softball.

Local charity events like the Wallingford comedy night can easily pass beneath the media’s radar screen. When brief news stories do appear, however, they accomplish more than simply recognizing the organizers’ good works. News stories can also remind readers to consider making modest tax-deductible donations of their own to causes that improve the lives of underprivileged youth leaguers or other underprivileged children before the end of the tax year in December. This reminder is the purpose of this column.

Charitable Impulses

In and out of sports, a person’s decisions about donating depend, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many adults receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many must manage the family budget closely these days.

Sports and individual philanthropy, however, can mix very well. The brief article about the Wallingford comedy show reminds me of a few dozen similar articles that have appeared in the national media in just the last year or two. Some describe fundraisers that, like the comedy show itself, make sports accessible to children who otherwise would be sidelined by rising costs and difficult family circumstances. Other articles, such as one that appeared in the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle late last November, describe equally worthwhile initiatives to improve the lives of needy children beyond sports.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported that on the day after Thanksgiving, about two dozen children and four dozen adults braved freezing temperatures to play flag football at a local park in Penfield, a Rochester suburb. The choose-up game benefitted the Center for Youth, a local volunteer organization that provides emergency services for homeless children, school-based programs dedicated to  academic achievement, and similar community outreach programs that make a difference for children in need.

When a Center volunteer, Matthew Richards, was dying of cancer two months earlier at age 37, his wife asked him whether he had any final wishes. “I don’t want anything for me,” he said, “The only thing I’d like you to do is organize a flag football game to benefit the Center for Youth.” When the day came, each participant donated $20 to take the field, and plans were already underway to make the game an annual Thanksgiving weekend fundraising event.

Some Suggestions

Some worthy national and local sports-related causes come immediately to mind as worthy recipients of private support. National sports governing bodies typically maintain charitable initiatives devoted to equal opportunity and outreach to under-served youth; because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind. Service organizations such as On the Team make a local difference. Private youth sports associations, or the local public parks and recreation department, may welcome donations for assistance that reaches families otherwise unable to enroll their children.

Outside the sports realm, local programs such as Rochester’s Center for Youth advance youth enrichment. So does United Way or the community chest. Children’s hospitals serve sick and injured children of modest-income families, and typically accept gifts not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for such amenities as toys, stuffed animals, and games that make a child’s hospital stay more bearable.

These ideas are meant to be suggestive, and not exhaustive, of opportunities that await adults with the ability and desire to help make a difference. Adults can make individual decisions about where and how to make their impact felt.

Making a Difference

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

“If we all just gave according to our ability,” says President Bill Clinton, “the positive impact would be staggering. . . . If everyone did it, we would change the world.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop (620 B.C.-560 B.C.) said that “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” The lesson for today’s adults is that every donation matters. Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill up mighty quickly.

 

[Sources:  Leigh Tauss, Comedy Show Helps Kids Play, Record-Journal (Meriden, Conn.), Nov. 3, 2014, p. A3; David Andreatta, A Last Act of Charity, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 30, 2013; Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, pp. 55, 206 (2007); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990)]

HEROIC ATHLETES: The Meaning of Derek Jeter to Our Kids

THE REMARKABLE CAREER OF DEREK JETER AND YOUTH SPORTS

By Steve Kallas

 

So, what do we take away from the brilliant career of Derek Jeter as it relates to youth sports?  Well, here are a couple of quotes from Jeter’s Yankee Stadium press conference before his final home game on Thursday, September 25, 2014.

After admitting that many players have more talent than he has, Derek Jeter said, “I don’t think anyone played harder.  I don’t.  Maybe just as hard.”  Later, he said, “Every single day I went out I tried to have respect for the game and play it as hard as I possibly could.”

\For you big-time, old-time Yankee fans, Jeter’s quotes are a reminder of a quote from one of the greatest ball players ever:  Joe DiMaggio.  When asked, towards the end of his great career, about why he played so hard in a meaningless game, DiMaggio said, “Because there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time.  I owe him my best.”

 

SO, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOUNG ATHLETES OF TODAY?

 

Well, in a world where many players think it’s optional to run hard to first or where some players think it’s cool to stand at home and admire a ball they hit (which may or may not go out), it means that right from wrong dictates that you play hard all the time, that you always respect the game, that you never give up.

For Derek Jeter, it was never all about the “Flip” play, or Mr. November, or being number six on the all-time hits list, or even about five rings.  For Derek Jeter, it’s about playing hard, respecting the game and never giving up.  THAT’S what young people should take away from the career of Derek Jeter.

And that’s what you parents should impress upon your young children about the career of Derek Jeter.

In a world where most athletes try and make the game about themselves and try to draw attention to themselves, it was Derek Jeter who deflected the attention and only wanted to do one thing: help his team win.  And, by playing hard, by respecting the game, and by never giving up, that’s exactly what he did for 20 years.

In the look-at-me 21st Century, thank goodness we all got a chance to watch Derek Jeter play baseball.

 

@ COPYRIGHT 2014 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED