Mid-Atlantic rec agencies align against poor sports

Troublemakers banned from practices, games

August 15, 2004|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

More than two dozen recreation and parks agencies in Maryland and Northern Virginia have begun enforcing a regionwide ban for anyone - adult or youth - deemed guilty of extreme poor behavior during amateur sports games and practices.

Names of troublemakers banned from one agency's facilities for more than a year are being shared with other participating agencies, who then bar the individuals from their fields, gyms and other sports facilities as well.

So far, 18 people, most of them adults, have had their names put on a regionwide banned list, said Dennis Callahan, director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks and the concept's originator. More are expected, he said, because a number of agencies are still adjusting their internal procedures.

The standards of good sportsmanship apply to parents, coaches, players and officials.

Acts that merit banning include assaults, fighting, foul language, berating coaches, abusing players and taunting game officials and players. Undesirable team behavior, such as stealing another team's players or systematically harassing officials or opponents, is being watched in addition to individual acts.

"We're trying to hold people to a standard of good sportsmanship that crosses county lines," said Michael Milani, a sports supervisor who deals with community groups for Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks. "We want people - anyone involved in any sport in any way - to be more accountable for their behavior."

The idea of the list was born out of a 2001 incident in Crofton, when parents complaining about bad calls in a girls' soccer game harassed and threatened a 16-year-old referee.

"After the Crofton incident, we realized there was no mechanism for us to deal with such things," Callahan said. "We, as a department, didn't even know of that particular team's existence, because while it was using our field, it wasn't part of our department's program."

Callahan invited officials from neighboring jurisdictions to talk about what seemed to be increasing numbers of unsavory incidents. About 20 took part initially, and more have since joined. Bylaws were adopted this spring, and officers are expected to be chosen this year.

"We came to realize the ultimate [enforcement] `hammer' for us is that we schedule fields and gyms," he said, leading to the concept of applying regionwide bans.

The Anne Arundel County rec department serves as clearinghouse for what has been named the Mid-Atlantic Recreation and Parks Sports Alliance.

Milani said that while tens of thousands of adults and children participate satisfactorily in amateur sports, trouble can occur at any level.

The mixture of competition with short tempers, unrealistic parental expectations and attitudes and ill-trained and inexperienced coaches and officials can yield a volatile brew. The Howard department started using the alliance this year, Milani said, and is dealing with "two or three" pertinent cases a month.

The Howard department, he said, like most, has had troubles that range from fights in an adult flag football league to, most recently, a teenage baseball player shoving an umpire.

Callahan said that in his experience, the most serious complaints seem to come from football - "and I love football," he said.

Rec departments in all Central Maryland counties, except Prince George's, have affiliated with the alliance. So have rec agencies for Baltimore City and, as of this month, Washington. So, too, have city governments that include Alexandria and Herndon, Va., Annapolis, Bowie, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Ocean City, Rockville and Westminster.

Four Eastern Shore counties - Queen Anne's, Kent, Talbot and Worcester - and St. Mary's and Charles counties in Southern Maryland have joined. Arlington County, Va., is also participating.

The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which has facilities in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has joined, as well.

Additionally, two national sports groups have affiliated themselves with the alliance - the National Softball Association, one of several large sanctioning groups in that sport, and U.S. Lacrosse, that sport's national governing body.

Steven B. Stenersen, executive director for U.S. Lacrosse, which has its headquarters in Baltimore, said his organization is noting the alliance's work in training materials provided to lacrosse coaches and groups nationally that total some 170,000 players, about two-thirds of them age 15 or younger.

"We'd like to raise the bar in terms of sportsmanship in our sport," he said, "because we know, unfortunately, that lacrosse, like all sports, has parents and others who aren't focused on the most important reasons for competing."

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