Demands on coaching another threat to HS sports

Categories:  Opinions    Sports
Friday, September 27th, 2019 at 11:38 AM
Demands on coaching another threat to HS sports by Richard Scaletta | General McLane School District Superintendent

Last week, we began to look at school athletics. We noted a purpose statement for athletic programs: “Our purpose is education. It’s human growth and development of the inner lives of kids.” Operating from the position that the purpose of athletics is noble and schools should continue these programs, we turned our attention to things which may threaten their existence in the future.

We looked at the shortage of game officials for which we cited evidence that poor fan behavior is a root cause. At GM, we’ve experienced a game delay due to the official shortage, but we’ve been able to deal with fewer officials by working with the league to schedule games carefully around availability. Rather than all schools playing all the soccer games, for example, on the same night, they are spread out over the course of the week so fewer officials can cover more games.

This week, I’d like to look at another potential threat to the continuance of school athletics: demands on coaches. Some of these demands are self-imposed by coaches based on their personal standards, but some of the demands are not and have grown over the years to unreasonable levels.

Some parents think their child is good enough for a scholarship and expect the coach to help that happen. School athletics do not exist so a student can get a scholarship, and it is not the coach’s responsibility to do so.

If that was the purpose of school athletics, it would not be worth the investment. For example, in 2014, the NCAA reported that there were 7.7 million participants in high school sports but only 2% are provided college scholarships annually. Thus our investment for 2% of our athletes would not be cost effective. Of course, some parents are certain their child will be in that 2%, and the pressure is there for the coach to deliver a program that will make it happen.

Like officials, coaches sometimes have to deal with significant abuse from fans and parents. In some areas of the country, this is out of control. Defamation lawsuits have been filed by coaches against parents. Here are some:

— Connecticut (2009): A varsity girls swim coach won an $88,000 judgment against a swimmer’s mother who, through emails, made false allegations of abuse.

— Illinois (2005): A head baseball coach was awarded $800,000 for libel after a disgruntled parent sent out fake press releases claiming the coach was being investigated for inappropriate coaching practices.

— California (2005): A baseball coach was awarded $700,000 for malicious prosecution and slander by a father who had circulated maliciously negative statements through the community about the coach’s mistreatment of players. He then filed a lawsuit against the coach, claiming impairment of his son’s opportunity to earn a college baseball scholarship and to become a professional baseball player.

These court cases are extreme but give evidence of the degree of pressure some coaches face from parents. In some schools, parents have been banned from attending sporting events due to incidents like:

— A Michigan father berated a high school basketball coach — who was at a restaurant with his family — about his daughter’s playing time.

— An Illinois parent confronted a middle school basketball coach during a game about his son getting more playing time.

— The father of a high school hockey player repeatedly shined a laser pointer in the eyes of the opposing goalie.

There have been instances in southwestern Pennsylvania where fan behavior has caused significant reaction. In one case, no spectators were permitted to attend the game because of problems experienced in previous games. In another instance, a game was scheduled for 4 p.m. and only parents were permitted to attend; however, one mother kept berating an official and her husband eventually went onto the floor and struck the official, causing him to be hospitalized. The parents were arrested.

Fortunately, what we have experienced here is nothing so extreme, but there is constant pressure that coaches have to deal with. Next week, we’ll take a look at more potential threats to the continuance of school athletic programs.

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