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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Coaching Is Hard Enough Without Sucker Punches

October 26, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Do high school coaches need state troopers to escort them on and off the playing field as protection against overzealous fans and parents?

It's a legitimate question in the aftermath of the alleged assault on Coach Brett Peabody of South Torrance High last Friday by family members of a senior running back. They reportedly were upset over his lack of playing time.

Extra security is usually provided at rivalry games to prevent trouble in the bleachers between fans and to watch over players during the customary post-game handshake ceremony.

This incident occurred some 10 minutes after a game against host North Torrance as people were departing. Peabody was allegedly confronted by John Martinez Sr., 34, and his brother, Anthony Martinez, 23.

Martinez Sr. is the father of running back John Martinez Jr. of South Torrance, a senior who had been losing playing time to a sophomore. Peabody was struck in the jaw. An assistant coach suffered a black eye.

The confrontation was another in a series of incidents that have taken place across the the nation involving adults fighting over sports-related issues dealing with youth and teenage athletes.

Last July in Massachusetts, a father was charged with manslaughter in the beating death of another father over a youth hockey game.

There's no simple solution for trying to deter the sometimes uncontrollable anger that erupts during a sporting event. Rational people suddenly become irrational. It's one reason security has been tightened at college and professional sporting events.

Look at the hundreds of policemen working the World Series between the New York Mets and Yankees.

The Pacific 10 Conference requires schools to have uniformed police officers escort officials at the end of football games.

Has anyone noticed the security escort around UCLA basketball Coach Steve Lavin before, during and after games?

"Sports is a microcosm of society and in society right now we have violence that is pervasive," said Drew Yellen, a Northridge-based sports psychologist and former football coach at Van Nuys Grant. "If you don't like something, by any means necessary, change it. You have a whole bunch of wannabes who have their egos involved and are more interested in saving their egos rather than looking out for the best interest of their children."

Media attention is growing because the violent attacks are seeping down to the high school and youth sports levels, causing anguish and soul-searching.

There are efforts under way to change parental behavior. In youth sports, some leagues are requiring parents to sign contracts promising good behavior. Others ask parents to attend a mandatory meeting that reviews parental conduct.

The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of high school sports in the state, has joined the Josephson Institute of Ethics in a two-year-old program, "Pursuing Victory with Honor."

It is designed to create a positive atmosphere among athletes, parents, spectators, officials and coaches.

Vigorous parental involvement and support in a child's sports activity remain desirable.

"Never blame a parent for being prejudiced toward their youngster," said John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach. "They're not seeing their own youngster through clear eyes. I hope I felt the same way through my own."

But using violence to settle a sports dispute is unacceptable and has become too common at all levels. It shouldn't be tolerated and must be condemned no matter what excuses are offered.

It hasn't reached the point where every high school coach needs a security escort, but Jeff Halpern, an administrator in the City Section commissioner's office, cites a growing unease.

"When we get to that level," he said, "we need to stop playing."

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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