Archive for Thursday, June 8, 2006

Wristen: Parents must keep priorities in check

June 8, 2006

A fun-filled Sunday afternoon of Little League baseball came to a screeching halt May 14 at Basehor's Field of Dreams.

Check that. "Screeching" probably isn't the right word to describe how the action halted. Perhaps shouting, cursing, revolting or violent would be a better way to put it. Those are all words that describe the misbehavior of parents of two 12-and-under teams from the Kansas City area that caused an umpire to stop a game.

Although the incident took place May 14 - Mother's Day - it took two weeks for the story to grow legs on Kansas City area sports radio programs. It has been a hot topic ever since, and rightfully so.

Parents behaving badly at youth sporting events is nothing new. We're just not used to seeing it at this magnitude here. Or maybe we are, but we've just pretended it didn't exist.

It's hard to ignore this story, though. Basehor Sentinel reporter Andy Marso looked into the event. His story appears on page 3B of today's Current. I've read the story about a half-dozen times in the past week, and every time it gives me chills.

In a nutshell, here's what happened:

Two Kansas City-area teams - the Wildcats and Cardinals - were playing. There was a close play at the plate where a base runner collided with the catcher. The runner was called out.

That's when things turned ugly. According to the story, "The umpire was faced with several angry protesters, including the Wildcats' third base coach, who ran at (the umpire) screaming obscenities."

The melee didn't stop there.

The coach was ejected from the game. That's when parents joined the fracas. The umpire called the game out of fear for his safety - and rightfully so. While the umpire waited in the concession stand for police to arrive, Wildcats parents banged on the concession stand windows and doors, uttered obscenities and threats and demanded that the umpire come out to see them. They also allegedly threatened tournament organizer Jeremy McDowell and the other team's players.

As nauseating as it was to see Los Angeles Lakers fans riot after winning NBA titles or watching University of Maryland students loot stores and destroy police cruisers after losing in the NCAA men's basketball Final Four in 2001 and winning the title in 2002, the behavior by the Wildcats' parents that afternoon at Field of Dreams is even more deplorable.

Resorting to unsportsmanlike behavior or violence after a victory or loss isn't acceptable at a college or professional sporting event. It's even less tolerable when it happens at a youth sporting event such as a 12-and-under baseball game.

We may think this is the first time this type of issue has hit so close to home in our community - Field of Dreams is just five miles away and dozens of our community's children play there in the summer - but it's not the first time we've seen such behavior.

Anybody who attended the Lansing High girls basketball game against Santa Fe Trail saw a SFT parent throw a plastic bottle of Diet Pepsi onto the court in response to an official's call. The bottle missed striking the official by about three feet.

Anybody who attended the LHS boys and girls basketball games at Basehor-Linwood High School had to endure the non-stop screaming by a few dozen Basehor parents who were allowed to harass the referees from start to finish in the junior varsity girls, varsity girls and varsity boys' games.

Here in Lansing, we're not guilt-free on this issue either. Police were called to a youth flag football game at Lansing City Park last fall to deal with a parent who shouted obscenities at officials. For those wondering, most flag football players are six or seven years old.

I believe most parents, no matter what age their children are or what school they attend, have the best of intentions when they attend their child's sporting events. They want their son or daughter to have fun, and they want them to succeed. It is once the game begins that the line between being supportive and being abusive sometimes becomes blurred.

Part of my job as a sports reporter is keeping stats. In addition to points and rebounds, I oftentimes have considered keeping track of how many times certain parents argue calls compared to how many times they utter words of support for their child. I'm sure you all know somebody like this. Maybe you are that person.

This isn't a fun topic to talk about, but it is one that we must address as a community because it impacts us. It also offers a quick reality check as the summer youth sports seasons get under way. We can be part of the problem or part of the solution.

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