When parents go out of bounds

Anne Arundel: The dispute over a youth football group accused of cheating highlights what experts call a rising trend.

April 24, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

About this much, everyone agrees: Some adults got a little too involved in Anne Arundel County's youth football league, shifting the focus from first downs and fake field goals to false addresses and fake birth certificates.

During the past two seasons, Anne Arundel parks and recreation officials say, they have linked players, coaches and board members of the Laurel Football Association to rules violations in the county-sponsored football league.

Noting two forged birth certificates and numerous falsified player contracts, the county recreation agency has barred the fledgling association from ever participating in the county-sponsored football league.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's editions of The Sun gave incomplete information about false addresses provided to Anne Arundel County for Laurel Football Association players. County officials say that at least eight Laurel player contracts were submitted with Anne Arundel County ZIP codes attached to out-of-county addresses. The Sun regrets the error.

The association has appealed that ruling. And tonight, the county's Board of Appeals - a panel that typically rules on appeals of planning and zoning decisions - will hold a hearing to determine the future of the 120-child association.

Some say the controversy is another example of parents taking their children's games too seriously, even in a setting as far from fame and glory as a county-run recreational league for 6- to 15-year-olds.

The association's leaders said they prevented all of the falsifications they could, but they just can't stop every parent who tries to cheat.

"There were falsifications," said parent Raymond P. Kempisty, an attorney for the association. "But whenever they were discovered, the issues were resolved.

"These infractions were not organizational infractions, they were individual infractions."

Youth sports advocates say parental meddling is becoming increasingly common.

In 2001, Danny Almonte moved from the Dominican Republic to New York, his father shaved a few years from his documented age, and Almonte gained national attention for leading his team to a third-place finish in the Little League World Series. Last year, a father filed a lawsuit in Canada seeking $300,000 in damages because his 16-year-old son wasn't named Most Valuable Player of his hockey league.

Both parents had dreams of professional riches for their sons, but the missteps of parents from Laurel show just how far the bad behavior has spread. Rec league winners don't end up on television or advance to a national tournament. The players aren't on the brink of receiving professional contracts.

"We just want kids to play football," said county recreation administrator Franklin Chaney.

But too often, some parents want more.

"Is this commonplace? Yes," said Rick Wolff, chairman of the Center for Sports Parenting, an Internet-based initiative. "The parents still have those dreams that maybe their child will come out of the rec program and be a star."

Laurel association leaders said they suspect the cheating parents just wanted their kids to be able to play football with friends who lived nearby but in a different county or in an age/weight group where the players were closer to the kids' size.

The association was formed by a group of parents in the Laurel area before the county's fall 2001 season. The goal was to offer coaching from former college players. The coaches included a few lesser known former University of Maryland players, Kempisty said.

"This is something we found the people in the area were hungry for," association President Winston Lowe said.

They began enrolling their teams in Anne Arundel's football leagues, which offer eight age/weight classes. In all, about 170 teams participate from 23 associations across the county.

For Laurel, trouble arrived before the first kickoff. Initially none of the association's six teams met the county's requirement that half of the players live in Anne Arundel County, Chaney said. By the time the season started, however, the association had formed three teams with enough players from the county.

Though Laurel actually is in Prince George's County, the surrounding area covers parts of Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Howard counties.

Anne Arundel recreation officials check players' residency based on ZIP codes, Chaney said. At least eight Laurel player contracts were submitted

The county did not release the names of the players involved.

County officials said they linked a Laurel coach and two board members to the falsifications. Each of the three was suspended for a year.

Last fall, "a lot of the same thing happened again," Chaney said. The association enrolled teams for seven weight classes, Chaney said. At least three had too many players from outside the county, he said. Another roster was illegible.

Then, county officials said, they discovered more serious falsifications.

During the season, two forged birth certificates were discovered.

In one case, the player was too old to participate. But only the player was suspended because the county did not believe the association was aware of the forgery. In a second case, a player was attempting to play in a lower age/weight class, county officials said. The player was suspended for two years, and an assistant coach was suspended for five years.

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