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Bad Acts In Youth Sports: Third Quarter 2009

Here's a list of some of the worst, most violent behavior in youth sports from July to September 2009:

  1. The worst incident in this quarter was also the most unusual incident. A player in a Chicago youth league designed to keep troubled teens off the street shot his coach. The coach's sin? He removed the player from the game. Playing time disputes have reached depths that none of us could have imagined. While coaches are not generally shot over their substitution patterns, this is an extreme illustration of the pressures that coaches are under over playing time.

  2. The Chicago coach wasn't the only coach involved in the awful mix of playing times, gangs and guns. In July, a Memphis football coach tried to do the right thing by asking a player to remove a gang-related shirt. The player refused. Think the coach was too sensitive here? Think he might have been intruding on some student right? Well, maybe the coach had a good sense to know who he was dealing with. The student who denied that his shirt was gang related attempted to dissuade his coach of that notion by pulling a gun on him!

  3. Of course, there were more run-of-the-mill acts. Rancho Murieta, CA literally had a "Little League Parent" incident where parents from rival teams started fighting in the stands after a Little League baseball game in July.

  4. In Oxnard, CA, a 20-year-old man left the stands at a youth soccer game in August and attacked a 13-year-old. The blindsided kid ended up in the hospital. The 20 year old man was arrested. If you're wondering why a grown man would do such a thing, well the man's brother was playing in the game and at the end of the game a fight broke out between players on the two teams. The man may have had good intentions, but he lacked the skills and judgment to properly break up this fight. More importantly, he lacked the authority. Spectators are best advised to stay in the stands; spectators are not participants. Let the coaches break up fights.

  5. The most unprofessional bad act occurred in Victorville, N.Y. In July, a Victorville youth baseball coach was accused of screaming profanities at and shoving a 13-year-old player at a baseball practice. This is about as unprofessional as it gets. Last year, we saw some coaches in Chicago involved in bad acts where they paddled their players for bad plays. If anything, this may have been worse. The Chicago coaches were engaged in an intentional, thought-out attempt to motivate players. Their actions were ill-advised; indeed, they were flat-out wrong. However, there once was a time when coaches and teachers used corporal punishment. There has never been a time when a coach or a teacher was allowed to simply lose control and launch what was effectively an attack on a player or a student. The Chicago coaches were Neanderthals, applying a standard from years gone by that we no longer tolerate. This New York coach acted in a manner that never met any standard. The Chicago coaches and the New York coach were both wrong, but I'd rather be wronged by a professional than by an out-of-control loose cannon.

  6. If a bad act could ever be refreshingly old-fashioned, the Cottonwood vs. Pine View football game in Utah fit the bill. These two schools squared off in September in a fight-marred game. However, the brawl was limited to the players on the field. The parents didn't get involved. The spectators didn't charge the field. The players didn't attack the coaches, and the coaches didn't attack the players. Better yet, the coaches acknowledged that there was a standard and that the players didn't meet the standard. Acknowledging a standard is the first step. Hopefully, these coaches can teach to the standard so their players can consistently meet it. These schools have a "fighting" chance to get it right.

As in my prior listings of "bad acts" I balance them out by pointing out a good act, program or organization. This time I want to give a shout out to two instances of good sportsmanship.

First, California's Blossom Valley Athletic League is taking a strong stand for sportsmanship. In 2002, the BVAL decided that sportsmanship was important enough to merit a special annual conference where players could meet, learn from, and discuss sportsmanship with referees, coaches, administrators, fellow students and others. The league just held its eighth annual BVAL Honor The Game Conference in September.

Second, you may have heard about Thamail Morgan of Cave City High School in Arkansas. Thamail understood that a small gesture in a football game could demonstrate empathy and help with the healing process at his opponent's school. A car accident killed one member of the Yellville-Summit High School football team and injured four others one week before Yellsville-Summit faced Morgan and his Cave City team in September. After deep reflection, Yellsville-Summit decided to play its game against Cave City. Yellsville-Summit did not play well.

Cave City dominated the game, leaping out to a 21-0 first quarter lead. Then Cave City did the right thing, subbing liberally, playing everybody and not running up the score. Yellville-Summit scored with 21 seconds remaining, making the score 34-16. The competitive portion of the game was over. When Yellville-Summit kicked off with 21 seconds remaining, Morgan got the ball. Morgan cut through a gap, had an open-field and pulled up short, kneeling at the five yard line and refusing to score out of respect for the game, his opponent and the tragedy that marred Yellsville-Summit's week.

Sometimes good sportsmanship requires having a sense of the moment. Thamail Morgan had it - even better he intuitively felt it. He didn't have time to think about the right thing to do; an unexpected flash opportunity arose to do the right thing and Morgan seized the moment. Thamail Morgan showed that, at his core, he has character.

Created December 21, 2009