Much too often, playing fields are rife with strife Youth sports participants need to settle differences amicably


September 30, 1992|By PAT O'MALLEY

We have violence on our streets, sometimes in our schools but on the 50-yard line?

We don't need that, but unfortunately, it has come to that in some places, and it has to stop for the sake of the kids before it escalates.

Parents, fans, coaches, officials and players have to get a grip on a disturbing trend in youth and high school sports.

It used to be that the athletic field was everyone's escape from daily doldrums. Sports always has been the one segment of our society where diverse nationalities and personalities come together and work as a team.

Whether the big-time educators who deplore athletics and are blind to its values like it or not, athletics unite people and generate harmony. Athletics represent the American way of people working together for a common cause.

Several incidents over the weekend in county youth football have me and others who care very concerned.

At one site in Anne Arundel County, a mom and dad attacked their son's coaches. At another, a player took a swing at a referee and cheerleaders battled among themselves.

Unhappy with the way their son's team was being run, two parents confronted the coaches and a melee broke out, with several people punched and injured before police arrived.

What kind of message was being sent to the onlooking boys and girls, several of whom were brought to tears?

A young player who begged to differ with an official thought he was gaining status among his peers by cursing and then swinging at a referee after a game had ended.

The cheerleader incident was incited by a disgruntled youth who was denied admission because she applied long after the deadline for registration. Unhappy that she couldn't jump on the boat in mid-stream, she caused a ruckus that led to a melee among the girls.

Differences on the street are settled by a fight or violence, and I'm afraid it is occurring a little more frequently in athletics than we would want.

County Rec and Parks is not to blame, nor are the youth and high school coaches and officials. And the kids are not to blame.

It all starts in the home.

Parents have to teach their kids that someone has to be in charge and run the show and that they have to respect that person's judgment whether they agree with it or not. Certainly, we can question it, but we should never threaten that authority.

It's all right to have an opinion, but don't begrudge one, such as a coach or official, who differs with you. It's healthy to disagree and argue to a point and try to come to an agreement or compromise when dealing with kids, but it's unhealthy to argue and allow hostility to overcome reason.

A very successful high school coach told me recently that county teachers and coaches no longer have parent-teacher or coach conferences, but rather parent-teacher or coach confrontations.

"You see a lot more teachers and coaches wanting to get out of the profession as soon as they can because of that," said the coach, who says some parents threaten or bully teachers and coaches.

"The parents don't want to reason with you and see your side of it anymore. They come in very combative and their kid is always right, while the teacher or coach is always wrong. No wonder we are losing good teachers and coaches."

The increasing number of emergency coaches who fill jobs because in-school teachers don't want them is evidence of this.

When an athlete doesn't play enough, the parent too often gets perturbed and blames it on the coach. It never enters the parent's mind that maybe his or her child didn't earn the right to play more.

At least the high school coaches do receive some remuneration for putting up with the backlash, but think of the youth coaches.

Youth recreation coaches are volunteers, and their only satisfaction is helping kids. Granted, they are not all impeccable and some are better, some worse than others. However, I learned a long time ago that there has to be some good in anyone who gives his time to coaching kids.

Still, who in his right mind would want to coach kids if he is going to be attacked by parents who are unhappy with playing time?

If we allow the hostile surroundings that seem to dominate the news to pervade our athletic fields, our kids are going to be in serious trouble.

Part of the problem is the misconception that a lot of scholarships are waiting and that if a kid doesn't play,he's not going to get his. Nothing is further from the truth.

Kids having fun and profiting from the experience of teamwork is the more common result, not scholarships.

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