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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

The best training for young athletes: cartoons and horseplay

Something's wrong with the direction of youth sports when parents have their preschooler competing in multiple sports, and a good high school basketball coach is forced to quit due to 'parental pressure.' Maybe the next Southern Section commissioner can help with a course correction.

March 31, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Former Brea Olinda boys' basketball coach Bob Terry in 2000.
Former Brea Olinda boys' basketball coach Bob Terry in 2000. (Geraldine Wilkins / Los…)

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

I opened the inbox the other day and found one of the most stunning emails I've ever received.

A mother wrote: "My son, who is 4 1/2 years old (4 feet, 60 pounds), plays golf, tennis, soccer, T-ball, basketball, swims and is in a running club. The private elementary school kindergarten acceptance letters came and we would love to know which of the following have the best elementary sports programs. We have to make a decision by April 12."

Sorry, I'm no help on that one. But perhaps this is an area the Internet recruiting gurus can start getting into. Or at least evaluating preschool children so the private elementary schools and junior highs will know which top athletes to offer scholarships.

Or April 12 can become the new national letter-of-intent day, when we all can turn on the TV or go online to find out which top kindergarten students announce their schools.

More disturbing was the recent news that Brea Olinda fired its boys' basketball coach of 13 years, Bob Terry.

Terry was chosen by The Times as the 2000 Orange County coach of the year 11 years ago, when he was 31. He said at the time: "We don't get big transfers here. All of our kids have grown up going to our feeder junior high and high school. We've turned kids into basketball players, and that's what we're proud of."

Unfortunately, Terry didn't get wiser as he grew older, if you believe his critics. Some parents may have complained about their kid's playing time. Others were probably miffed he didn't win enough championships against the likes of Compton Dominguez.

Terry summed up the reason for his departure as "parental pressure." He added that he has no regrets and wouldn't change a thing about how he coached.

Principal Jerry Halpin said he couldn't comment because it's a personnel matter, but emphasized that Terry was "a good man."

Terry's dismissal is another sign of how dysfunctional basketball has become in Southern California. No longer is a competent, honest coach the most desirable. More important is that a coach have the right connections — in other words, be friends with every club coach within 50 miles of the school.

The compass that's supposed to guide youth and high school sports is in need of repair. There's a lack of leadership and a lack of courage to stand up for what's right. Instead, money and influential insiders rule the day.

All this comes as the biggest and most influential organization in California high school sports, the CIF Southern Section, moves forward on hiring a new commissioner. On April 9, five finalists will be given their first round of interviews.

It must be emphasized that whoever is chosen should be a person who can speak up, speak out and offer leadership on a growing number of issues that are threatening the mission of what high school sports are supposed to be about — teaching teenagers about life and preparing them for the future.

Yes, lots of people want to turn high school sports programs into the minor leagues for colleges and even the pros. But those who go to watch a swim meet, a track meet, a wrestling match or, in some cases, even a basketball game between neighborhood schools can learn about the magic of competition without lights and cameras.

To see the friendships, the rivalries and the absolute fun — with no money changing hands and no scholarships on the line — is the essence of the high school experience that is slowly slipping away.

So this is my advice to any parent who believes their young child could be — especially at age 4 1/2 — the next big thing:

Make sure they watch cartoons and the Discovery Channel, get plenty of time in unorganized games on the playground and, most important, learn how to read, write and do arithmetic before anybody starts pondering their future in sports.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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