YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

PREP EXTRA / A weekly look at the high school sports
scene in the Southland | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Football Incident Is Latest Indication That Parents Are Spinning Out of Control

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 South Torrance High football Coach Brett Peabody 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 postgame handshake ceremony.

This incident occurred some 10 minutes after the conclusion of 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 South Torrance running back John Martinez Jr., 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 country involving adults fighting over sports-related issues dealing with youth and teenage athletes.

Last July in Massachusetts, for example, a father was charged with manslaughter in the beating death of another father over a kids' pickup 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 police officers working the World Series between the New York Mets and Yankees. The Pacific 10 Conference requires each school to have uniformed police 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 underway 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 at games.

At the high school level, the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of prep 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 more positive atmosphere for athletic competition among athletes, parents, spectators, officials and coaches.

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

"Never blame a parent for being prejudiced toward their youngster," former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said. "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."


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at his e-mail address:

Los Angeles Times Articles