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ISSUE 115 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 4/26/2002

Die hard parents on the rise

By Julie Gunderson
News Editor

Friday, April 26, 2002

It’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air, baseballs are beginning to fly, the green pastures of melting snow are budding into fields of dreams, and the crisp sound of the crack of a bat echoes throughout suburban America.

The cool springtime breeze is the signal that calls thousands of Little Leaguers around the country to pick up their bats, dust off their gloves, and come running, donning those horribly stiff baseball caps that sit high and flat on top of their heads right above their toothless grins.

Little League baseball is an American tradition—a rite of passage for many boys and girls. It is the place where every child longs to be on a lazy summer afternoon—chewing grass in centerfield, spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout, kicking over anthills and popping bubble gum sitting on first base.

What could possibly deter from this glorious youthful experience? In short, parents. The parents of America’s youth have barged into the peaceful bastions that once were the playing fields of tranquility and exuberance, making them into battle fields where over-bearing parents prey on coaches, officials, and even their own children.

The classroom of athletics that once taught our children the values of hard work, fair play, and sportsmanship have been corrupted by parents whose disgraceful behavior has undermined these principles.

How harmful have they become? Consider these disturbing incidents: a Florida father doesn’t like the umpire’s call at his son’s Pony Little League baseball game so he attacks the umpire, breaking his jaw, a California mother slaps a 14-year-old referee at her daughter’s soccer game; a Michigan father knocks down and kicks a baseball coach unconscious after he chose not to select his son for the all-star team; and then there is the infamous Massachusetts hockey father who was convicted of manslaughter after beating to death another child’s father, ironically over an argument about the practice becoming too violent.

When did it all go wrong? Not so long ago, it was considered a blessing when a child’s parent would take enough interest in their child’s life to show up and support them in their athletic endeavors. Every child treasures it when their father or mother gets to witness their first homerun or see them score their first goal.

But the new beast that now roams the sideline in the disguise of interested and involved parents is not what anyone bargained for. The joy that children were once able to extract from playing childish games has been drained by parents whose hypercompetitive and ultra- aggressive appetites have consumed youth sports.

Where is all this rage coming from? Why are so many parents out of control? Perhaps, it is because parents are trying to live vicariously through their children. The over-bearing parents are most often the ones who got cheated by that coach who refused to put them on the team, or by the bad official who prevented them from receiving their victorious due because of a bad call when they were kids.

The escalating bad behavior by parents can be contributed to something even more disturbing—money. Parents are chasing elusive scholarship dollars as they tote their children to practices, lessons, and games. They have dollar signs in their eyes as they equip their children with bats, balls, gloves, sticks, helmets, uniforms, and cleats—investing their time, energy, and money into their child’s athletics, falsely believing that profitable rewards await their efforts. What parents don’t realize is that there is no pot of gold waiting at the end of every child’s athletic experience. Only a small percentage of elite athletes garner scholarship money. Most children are never able to meet their parents’ unrealistic expectations. They exit the playing field empty handed, no scholarship money, no joyous parents approval, and most of all no fun and fond memories.

The damage that parents administer to their children’s psyches extend well beyond their sideline antics. Children don’t play sports for the fame and fortune that it may bring, they play for the pure enjoyment of it. The mounted pressure that parents put upon their children to succeed in athletics destroys this innocent pleasure.

What’s to be done? Is banning parents from ballparks the solution? Maybe the extreme solution. In practical terms, all across the country coaches and youth organizers are instructing and lecturing parents on proper behavior, a kind of Sports Ethics 101. Will it work? We must wait to see, but for the sake of the children we can only hope. It’s wistful thinking, but the ultimate resolution to unruly parents lies in the dream of children reclaiming the ideals of sport. To restore the purity of sports means disassembling organized youth athletics—dismantling scoreboards, vanquishing nagging parents, emptying bleachers, and removing expectations. A return to the childhood glory days of summer bliss, when neighborhood kids all gathered at the local sandlot playing for the love of the game will make sports ideal once again.

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