Parents in charge marginalize coach


October 29, 2006|By MILTON KENT

The next time you wonder why it's so hard to attract and keep good coaches on the high school level, think of Nancy Nibarger.

When practice for the Castro Valley, Calif., girls basketball team opens, Nibarger, who has taught for 20 years, will not only have an observer watching every practice, but she also won't even be able to select her team.

Instead, Nibarger will have to coach a team selected by a committee, all, likely, because a group of parents placed the interests of their individual children ahead of the welfare of the team.

Nibarger's story, first detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle, isn't a new one, but the latest and more bizarre turn in an increasingly depressing development: parents who don't know how to keep from intruding in areas where their "expertise" is neither wanted nor needed.

Nibarger, who is starting her third year at Castro Valley, ran into opposition after an 11-15 season last year, which followed a year in which the team made the area playoffs. A group of parents complained that the program had gone rogue, though an attorney hired by parents acknowledged that Nibarger had not physically abused the players, wasn't screaming at them and wasn't playing favorites.

Rather, the parents said their complaints were over matters of "communication" and "utter vindictiveness," that Nibarger threw the players out of the gym when a practice went badly, that she didn't show up for picture day and that she cut playing time for players who complained about the way she coached the team.

It bears noting that the school's athletic director received no complaints from anyone during the season but got a formal letter after the final game.

The school's principal investigated the complaints and found there was no reason to take action. The parents appealed that ruling to a district level, only to get the same result. Finally, the school board heard the appeal and decided to bring in the practice observer, as well as to form a squad selection committee that will include Nibarger and parents' representatives.

Nibarger's assistant coaches, one a member of the University of California women's basketball Hall of Fame and the other a local police officer, were precluded from returning this year by the school board, despite the fact that no one uttered a complaint against them.

As is often the case in these matters, the kids have unfortunately been thrown in the middle of this mess. While the parents' attorney noted that half of the 14 players on last year's team signed the complaint letter, Nibarger pointed out that all but one of last year's players signed up for this year's tryouts.

Nibarger, who played in college at Kansas State and was an assistant coach at Cal and Kansas, eschewed the obvious solution, to quit and let the parents have their way.

"Some of the kids who chose to back me, and even some who decided to stay out of it altogether, are kind of being bullied," Nibarger told the Chronicle. "That's one of the reasons I decided not to quit. It seemed like the right thing to do."

Today's high school coaches are increasingly caught in the midst of an unfortunate confluence of events. The onslaught of club and Amateur Athletic Union teams and the rising costs of college have had a less than savory effect on parents.

In previous years, parents might have expected the school coach to teach their kids lessons about sportsmanship while training their bodies at a higher level than gym class. Instead, they now expect a coach to get their kids ready for a college scholarship, at the least, or for a professional career, at most.

Of course, not every coach is perfect, but most of them shouldn't be hearing from parents unless there are legitimate concerns about a child's on-field behavior or their safety. It's too bad Nancy Nibarger didn't get help tuning out people she shouldn't have had to listen to in the first place.

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