From Tonya Harding to youth sports

February 15, 1994

Not long ago, talk about values was mainly left to politicians on the far right and to fundamentalist Christians, most of whom were dismissed as zealots and demagogues. Now that the issue of values is coming into the mainstream, there seems no shortage of examples illustrating a need to retrieve the Golden Rule.

The Tonya Harding case, fascinating potboiler that it is, is all the more interesting for the tug-of-war it represents between crass commercialism and good sportsmanship, not to mention plain right and wrong.

But while we focus on Lillehammer, Norway, where the Winter Olympics are now taking place, we really need look no farther than our own backyards for similar overreaching. It is with anger and disgust that we note several recent incidents in which high school athletic coaches in Howard County were assaulted by students or parents during and after games.

The first reported incident occurred this past Dec. 17, when the parent of a Centennial High School basketball player punched Centennial varsity coach Jim Hill in the face during a "low-key discussion" following a game, according to the coach.

The second incident occurred about two weeks ago while Atholton High School football coach Larry Thompson attended an Atholton basketball game. Mr. Thompson rose to ask a group of parents to stop heckling the basketball coach when he was socked in the eye by the mother of one of the players.

And in another incident last month, captured on videotape, a group of Oakland Mills High School basketball players punched and kicked Mount Hebron High assistant coach Chris Robinson during a two-minute melee in which 700 spectators had to be cleared from the gym before the final few minutes of the game could be played.

This kind of outrageous conduct, often condoned by or even engineered by parents, should be dealt with harshly. Criminal charges should be brought against the offenders, while students who participated should be expelled and banned from their teams.

Culpability for these offenses is widespread, from parents who dream of seeing their offspring play in the big leagues, to students who have been taught no better, to coaches -- and we've seen some screaming their heads off at kids at the rec league level -- who put winning ahead of all else.

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