Crossing The Line

As high school sports continue to grow, parents take a more vocal -- and confrontational -- role in coaches' lives

April 18, 2001|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN STAFF

Dirk Rinehart should've been happy.

Last month, the South River High coach took the school's girls basketball team and elevated the program from its .500-record status to a 17-8 mark, which included appearances in the Anne Arundel County championship game and the Class 3A East Regional semifinal.

But rather than bask in the afterglow of a season that exceeded nearly every expectation, Rinehart has been the target of an anonymous letter-writing campaign aimed at forcing him out of his coaching position.

The dispute? Playing time for certain team members.

"It never stops," said Rinehart, who is weighing retirement rather than defending himself. "I'm looking at myself in the mirror and asking, `Do you want to do this?' "

Rinehart's experience illustrates a trend in high school sports. As more and more teen-agers participate in high school athletics, parents are becoming more vocal and involved with teams, coaches have said.

Sometimes, the parents get carried away. Although somewhat isolated, incidents like the following have occurred:

After guiding the Severna Park girls soccer team to a state championship last season, the coach quit last month, citing what he called parental meddling in his program.

A Massachusetts father of a high school hockey player allegedly pushed the assistant coach of an opposing team into a metal door in January. The parent has been charged with assault, and a trial is pending.

A California football coach was beaten and kicked by some family members of one of his players after the running back carried the ball three times in a game in October.

The Mount Hebron athletic director said he has received more than 200 complaints about coaches since September.

The River Hill girls basketball coach bought a Caller I.D. box five years ago to screen late-night phone calls from parents.

School officials - ranging from athletic supervisors to coaches to ADs - agree that the number of cases involving aggressive behavior from parents is growing, and that they haven't seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

"I've had parents stalk coaches, send in videotapes of coaches, talk about their personal lives," said Don Disney, coordinator of athletics for Howard County. "It has absolutely crossed the line."

The topic of parental pressure in high school sports is relatively new. Many coaches and athletic directors interviewed for this article said when they were playing sports, their parents never dreamed of confronting their coaches.

But those same people agree that sports has assumed a larger role today as the number of youth leagues to shape the next generation of Mia Hamms and Michael Jordans has exploded.

Last year, the National Alliance for Youth Sports estimated that nearly 20 million youngsters are involved in leagues.

Higher expectations

"Right now, more and more children are playing in rec leagues and joining travel teams," said Atholton boys basketball coach Jim Albert. "Many times, that child may be one of the better players, and when he or she reaches the high school level, their parents expect similar accolades. When that doesn't happen, they're frustrated and angry, and they're looking to place their blame somewhere."

Another factor is the lure of college scholarships. Title IX, a federal law that requires gender equity in athletics, has created more opportunities for women. And with that, the availability of scholarships for girls has become irresistible to some parents.

But the perception that any athlete - properly trained - can attain a scholarship is misleading. In October, Disney compiled a report showing that in Howard County 46 athletes among the 2,759 graduates (1.7 percent) from the Class of 2000 received scholarships.

"In reality, the amount of college scholarships out there and the ability of their kids to receive one is far less than what they perceive," said Marlene Kelly, coordinator of athletics in Anne Arundel County. "I think parents overestimate the ability of their children to get scholarships. So that trickles down to: `Well, if my child played more, he would be getting a scholarship.' "

Chris Robinson, Mount Hebron's AD, said the number of complaints tends to mirror the success of a program.

"When a coach does well, the community can be overwhelmingly supportive and can be a great asset," said Robinson, who estimated he has received a complaint a day from parents in the Mount Hebron community. "On the other hand, if the expectations are extremely high and a coach is struggling, the community can be the worst enemy."

Playing time

One parent was driven to harass River Hill girls basketball coach Teresa Waters about his daughter's minutes.

Thankfully, Waters said, her Caller I.D. helped her avoid his phone calls.

"It was a pain in the butt, to be honest with you," Waters said. "They don't care if you win or lose. They just care that their kid is playing."

Playing time wasn't the problem at Severna Park. Who deserved to play on the varsity team was.

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