Little League Parents, Big League Trouble

angry parents 0919It turns out, after I detailed several of the injuries I witnessed at the middle school football games on Thursday, that I missed a second possible concussion. I missed it because the kid went off the field under his own power, but his coach told Mary (the athletic director) that he was wobbling “like a baby horse.”

The protocols are clear these days, especially when we know as much as we do about “Second Concussion Syndrome,” where someone gets their bell rung, sits out for a little bit then goes back in and suffers severe brain trauma. We have a living example of this in town, a young man who was in a lengthy fight for his life following a second blow to his head during a hockey game. So now, if a kid shows signs of a possible concussion, he sits out the remainder of the game. I believe he needs a doctor’s clearance to return.

These rules did not sit well with the football player’s father, I learned Saturday while I was at volleyball. This father screamed at Mary and the coaches for not letting his kid back into the game. Now, Mary doubted the boy was concussed, but she’s not a doctor, and when he’s “wobbling like a baby horse” and you can see the deleterious effects of traumatic brain injury from sports right here in town, why is a parent questioning the decisions of the coaches?

Because that’s what some parents do, and it points out the major flaw in kids’ activities, perhaps especially sports: parents.

Our friend Sue yesterday said one of her grandsons had taken a course and gotten certified to be a soccer official for a recreation league, but quit after one season. “Because of the parents,” she said. Then she wanted to know if I got yelled at while officiating volleyball, and I have to say, I don’t ever recall hearing anything negative. But, as I tell everyone, that’s because parents have no idea what I’m calling. It’s just me and sometimes the coach who understand what’s going on when I call an illegal alignment — the players all look at me blankly, even as I’m moving them to where they belong.

But I have been around sports a long time now, and I can give you many instances, more than you want, of poor parental behavior, some of it directed at me.

Probably the most egregious instance I can recall took place in a middle school basketball game. It was the season-ending tournament, and — let’s try to bear this in mind — this was for third place among the B (meaning, the players who aren’t as good) teams. Third place, not first. B, not A. Perhaps I’m going out on a limb here, but boys who probably aren’t ever going to make money as basketball players, even money like a college scholarship.

It was the timing that made this so much worse. Parents — from Olathe, and this could be wrong of me, but I am going to say that over all these years, if there’s a town whose parents you’d expect to make a fuss when the score isn’t going their way, it’s Olathe — waited until the third quarter to start yelling that the clock keeper and I (keeping the scorebook) had not awarded them a basket in the first quarter.

There’s a possibility they were right. The woman I was working with freely admitted to attention issues and did a lot of talking (not helpful talking, like telling me what’s going on in the game while my head is down in the book), but neither of us thought we’d missed anything, and neither official said anything at any time during the first quarter. Trying to correct an error two quarters down the road in the third game of the morning (when all the games are starting to blur together) is an exercise in futility, but that did not stop a bunch of parents from raining insults down on us. I can remember that, but not who won the game — how important do you suppose it is to those parents now?

My first experience with a “little league parent” came early in life, when a local man for whatever reason determined that his son was going to be a sports prodigy. No one asked his son what he wanted to be, and all these years later I still wonder how much this poor guy was warped by his father’s drive.

Let’s call this kid Charlie (because that was his name). Charlie spent hour upon hour every summer on the tennis court, and I doubt it was his choice. My sister Terri spent a fair amount of time on the courts as well, but that was her choice. When tournaments took place, Charlie’s dad would stand outside the fence, leaning into it and screaming at Charlie: instructions, castigations, lamentations — I don’t really recall a lot of positive feedback, but maybe my memory is just overrun by the uber-aggressiveness and never understanding why it mattered so much to Charlie’s dad.

And I mostly felt awful for Charlie’s opponents, little boys whose skill sets were picked apart for the world to hear by Charlie’s dad: “Hit to his backhand! The kid can’t return it!”

[I have it on reasonably good authority that Charlie’s dad’s boss disliked him so much that he occasionally sent out the man’s resume, trying to find him a job elsewhere. He was a sadly twisted individual, that’s for sure.]

There are many more examples, of course, the worst of which was during my newspaper days, when the high school was having trouble finding a coach for the boys’ junior varsity basketball team. At last a middle school teacher stepped forward and volunteered (and for what they get paid, it pretty much is volunteering). One night a parent who didn’t think his son was playing enough waited in the dark and waylaid the coach, slamming him up against the building with threats of bodily harm. That teacher never coached again, while the kid, whose father thought it was so important that he be given more court time, never became a basketball star.

Not all parents are like this. Terri coached some summer softball for a year or two during her college years, and she said repeatedly that she loved the job, “except for the parents.” But she had one exception, and that was Charles Peterson (no relation to the Charlie above).

Charles had two daughters in the softball program, both of them still in town, now educators with children of their own. He came faithfully to every game, sat behind home plate, and cheered his girls’ every success. He didn’t stop there, though: he cheered every girl’s success. Every girl, whether they were on his daughters’ teams or the opposition.

He applauded every good play and offered encouragement when the plays went awry. He seemed to think it was good the girls were out there, getting some sun and exercise, learning new skills and team play. Novel thoughts, hm?

I know a lot of people for whom sports are/were very important, but it crosses a huge, ugly line when it surpasses importance to become obsession, especially when that obsession gets placed squarely on the small shoulders of their children.

The man with the “wobbly colt” son is someone I know and have interacted with positively on numerous occasions. It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, to learn that it is so important to him that his son play middle school football that he’s willing to risk his kid’s brain health. It makes me think less of him.

We all have our values, but I will take Charles Peterson’s over this man’s any day. Every day.


One thought on “Little League Parents, Big League Trouble

  1. You forgot to mention that I wasrunning a junior tennis tournament and made Charlie’s father quit coaching his son or he’d have to leave. Never did know if Charlie liked tennis. And you might ask terri what her dad/I told her after she lost a match because she didn’t correct a score during a game. Lesson learned!


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