The County's Full Of Little Tonyas

COMMENT

February 20, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

Don't worry, Tonya. You are not alone.

When it comes to winning no matter the cost and brazen displays of poor sportsmanship, you have company.

In fact, there is a legion of little Tonya Hardings right here in Howard County.

From little-league coaches to star high school players to the parents who encourage their bad behavior, there is plenty of evidence that something has gone awfully awry. Whatever is prompting recent displays of Tonyaism, it is not a welcome development.

Witness these recent events:

* A Centennial High School varsity basketball coach is punched in the face by the parent of a Centennial player after a game last December.

* An Atholton High assistant football coach attends a basketball game and, while attempting to stop a group of parents from heckling another coach, is punched by a player's mother.

* An Oakland Mills High School basketball player punches and kicks an opposing team's coach, which leads to a melee that forces officials to clear the auditorium of spectators.

I am convinced from personal experience that these types of incidents occur more frequently than we like to admit. I also believe that parents are largely to blame for poor sportsmanship because they either encourage it, look the other way or -- and this is the most confounding -- actively participate.

Recently, I attended one of my daughter's basketball games, sponsored by the Columbia Basketball Association. The JTC competing teams were composed of eight- and nine-year-old girls.

Judging by the behavior of the opposing team's coach, however, it might well have been a National Basketball Association championship playoff game.

This coach literally screamed from beginning to end.

He screamed at his players.

He screamed at the opposing team.

He screamed at the referees.

And I'm not talking about the normal shouting that coaches engage in during the heat of a game. This coach was out of control.

I approached him at the end of the contest with only one message. If my daughter were on his team, I told him, I would pull her off.

"Oh, no you wouldn't," he said, still drenched with sweat. And then, in an attempt to justify his actions, he told me that he knew coming in that my daughter's team had better players.

When I told him that his team had several very good players, he responded that I was wrong.

And he said all of this within earshot of his own girls.

That's not the only incident I've witnessed.

I've seen soccer coaches verbally abuse their teams, parents driven to hysteria in the stands, and players under 10 years of age acting inappropriately without anyone telling them to stop.

At a recent basketball game in which my son played, the parent of a player regularly shouted "miss it" just as the opposing team's player was about to take a foul shot. The husband of the same woman threatened a referee with bodily injury because the official failed to immediately notice that the man's son had been injured on the court.

That same weekend, a friend related a similar story.

After a player attempted to choke someone on the other team, my friend approached officials to ask why the child had not been removed from the game. She got a response. But it was from the mother of the offending player, who defended her son by saying she had taught him to do exactly what he did and she was proud of it.

I asked school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey what he intended to do about the recent assaults on high school coaches and players. His response was that one offender had already been disciplined and other action is being considered. That might not suffice for some, but it's fine with me.

The problem revealed by these incidents has no business being dumped on the school system.

Board of Education member Sandra French recently suggested the school system use scarce resources for sportsmanship education, about as nutty an idea as I could imagine.

No, this is a situation where the education truly must begin at home. If it's not learned there, let the criminal justice system take over. A few assault cases brought to court and you would be surprised how quickly good sportsmanship catches on.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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