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The Inside Track | SECOND THOUGHTS

Youth Sports Is Wasted on the Meddling Adults

July 23, 2001|CHRIS DUFRESNE

What's not to like about youth sports except for virulent strains of parents who wield steel rods and play Zorro against other adults in public parks while the little tykes watch in horror?

Society dictates that elders be gatekeepers. You need parental consent to get into certain movies.

Yet, when it comes to youth sports, maybe the kids ought to start calling the shots; let the Timmys and Tommys wad up their Bazooka Bubble Gum and post signs in playing fields across America:

NP-35 (No parent allowed unless accompanied by a sedative).

Last week, the American Youth Soccer Organization banned three adults for life in response to a melee at a 14-and-under championship game between the Chino Chiefs and Palmdale Eagles.

One person needed treatment for minor cuts and a swollen eye. Another suffered a two-inch bite on his arm.

A Chino man stands accused of swinging a metal rod at the head of a Palmdale parent.

It's a jungle out there near our jungle gyms.

In the soccer incident aftermath, I sought out a Chino-area parent who might be able to dissect what's going on in the caldron of kiddie sports.

I was drawn to a man in his mid-40s, a father of three boys under age 11, all of whom play youth baseball and AYSO.

The man's 8-year-old son's team recently completed a harrowing ride through the Pony League baseball playoffs before losing, 2-1, in the regional semifinals to an Anaheim squad that appeared bolstered by former Eastern bloc science.

The parent I zoned in on nervously consumed so many sunflower seeds during the playoff run he was nearly forced into a sodium detox center.

The parent I sought out was . . .

Me.

I recently sat down with myself to answer some of the burning questions about my youth sports experiences.

Q: Did the recent soccer incident shock you?

A: No. I deplore what happened, but I know how it happens. We almost dropped gloves against Palmdale ourselves. I'm not proud of that. Look, I'm a sportswriter, trained to be impartial, you know, "No cheering in the press box?"

When my boy made all-stars, I parked my lawn chair in right field and vowed not to get involved.

Q: And?

A: Impossible. Everything changes when it's your kid toeing the rubber. One parent asked how I could remain so relatively calm, not knowing I had quietly bitten through my lower lip.

During games, I found myself inching my chair toward home plate and, by game's end, was usually within earshot of the umpire.

A: Example?

Q: Garden Grove whipped us pretty good in the regionals. The squad had three 8-year-old pitchers who threw backdoor sliders. One kid, I still maintain, was sprouting a mustache.

Yet, we mounted a rally in the home half of the sixth that ceased when the home plate umpire blew a call at first.

Some of the parents protested. I suggested the ump must have been late for a dinner reservation.

Q: What happened?

A: Garden Grove called the cops on us.

Q: Why so much tension?

A: Two words: time investment. Our kids played more road dates this summer than some rock groups. Parents made daily caravans to West Covina, Hacienda Heights, Corona and Garden Grove.

Gaskets were bound to blow.

Parents and coaches took off early from work and made serious sacrifices. We didn't invest all that time and money to get an umpire who wants the game over because he had a hot date waiting at the Dairy Queen.

Q: Aren't we putting too much pressure on 8-year-old players?

A: Sometimes we need to be reminded. During one tightly-contested playoff game, our on-deck batter was nowhere to be found.

The opposing parents started a chant to call our kid out. Our coach threw up his arms and said, "He's in the bathroom. He's 8 years old!"

"Doesn't matter," the ump said.

Bladder up.

Seconds before getting the heave-ho, our kid shuffled in from the snack shack latrine and catastrophe was averted.

Q: What about your Palmdale story?

A: OK, it's a tight game. A Palmdale batter hits a comebacker off our pitcher's head. He drops like a rock in obvious pain. The ump calls dead ball after the batter reaches first, but the kid runs to second. The Palmdale parents go ballistic when the ump orders the runner back to first.

One of our parents, correctly and vociferously, noted our pitcher may have suffered brain trauma (he was OK).

Next thing I knew, dust was flying and our parents had to be restrained from their parents.

Q: What's the dynamic working here?

A: Angst. Tension. Don't most men lead lives of quiet desperation? Who knows. It's not so much any of us expect our kids to make the majors, but the ante has been upped. Let's face it, Alex Rodriguez signing for $252 million isn't steering interest toward the Peace Corps.

The pressure is even greater on female athletes because Title IX has opened up thousands of valuable college scholarships. Parents exploit the chance to get their kid a free ride when they often could have saved enough for tuition with the money spent trying.

Q: What's the answer?

A: Straitjackets. Seriously, there's a palpable pressure mounting in our society. You sense the anger.

What began in board rooms--take this job and shove it!-- and morphed into freeway road rage has now matriculated to our ball yards.

Sometimes, it gets ugly.

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