Key to youth sports? Let 'em have fun, Citizen of the Year says

July 07, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Joseph Sommers stood up on the stage, thanked everyone for honoring him as Crofton's Citizen of the Year for his work with youth athletics, and then lectured parents on how to let their children have fun.

"There are a lot of new families moving in and they see an established sports program and say, 'Oh, that's great. Let them take care of my kid for a while,' " the 48-year-old said Friday. "That is not what Crofton is all about."

Mr. Sommers stressed that parents need to become involved by becoming coaches or referees, but at the same time they shouldn't push their children into thinking that winning is all that matters.

"Even if you don't have kids, it is a tremendous experience to see the kids playing and having a good time," he said. "If they miss a ball or drop a ball or if they throw a ball the wrong way, then so what?"

Mr. Sommers started coaching in 1974, so his sons, Michael and David, now 20 and 16, would have a sports program.

"I signed up to be an assistant coach for soccer," he said. "I had never seen a soccer game. The next day, the commissioner called and said the head coach quit. I said, 'Do you have any books?' "

For the next 23 seasons, Mr. Sommers has coached, served as commissioner and helped out youth sports programs. He has been honored by the county for expanding the soccer program, has been president of the Anne Arundel County Youth Soccer League, and has coached everything from lacrosse to basketball.

It was his sons who nominated him for the Citizen of the Year award.

"In this world of the 'Me' generation, he is just the opposite," Michael and David wrote. "He is a caring and compassionate man. He is often embarrassed by praise. We are very proud of him."

In an interview, Mr. Sommers said he was stunned by his sons' remarks.

"I thought they had passed by the stage where Dad is a great guy and into the stage of 'Who is that stupid guy running around the house?' "

Mr. Sommers said after the ceremony that he will always remember three events, all bad ones, that occurred while he coached:

* The parent who signed his son up to play soccer so he didn't have to see him anymore.

* The lacrosse coach who grabbed a young boy, yelled and shook him for botching up a play. It was the coach's son. "The tears were just running down his face. He wasn't having fun. He was never going to want to play again. I wanted to go over to the coach and just say, 'Shut up.' "

* A group of parents during a soccer game who continually screamed at the young referee, who was letting small errors go unnoticed for the 6- and 7-year-olds. Mr. Sommers said he had to kick the parents off the field.

"Parents cannot live out their old memories through their kids," Mr. Sommers said. "Let's just go out and have fun."

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