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Assaults by unhinged parents highlight broken youth sports culture

May 19—The incidents read like episode titles from one of those early Fox reality shows.

Call it When Sports Parents Attack!

Here are just a few real-life headlines from the past month: Coach sucker-punches parent at Michigan youth flag football game; Three coaches charged in Florida youth baseball brawl; Report: Player’s father shoots coach over playing time dispute at Ohio youth basketball tournament.

I would say the world has gone mad, but, honestly, I think we all know what these blowups really mean.

Finally, things are completely back to normal!

If anyone wondered whether the pandemic would lead to a new measure of perspective and appreciation for our games — be it at Wrigley Field or your dandelion-strewn neighborhood park — we have the answer.

It has not.

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While it should be noted that most adults act like just that at youth sports events, these outbursts straight out of Crazy Town are the latest reminders of a growing truth: There are too many reputed grownups with a sense of reality more distorted than a Lions fan who pre-orders Super Bowl tickets.

Consider the scene in Sandusky last month.

As you may have heard, a 41-year-old parent shot the coach of his son’s middle-school-aged AAU basketball team in the parking lot outside the Cedar Point Sports Center.

Sandusky police told us the incident remains under investigation, but witnesses at the tournament reportedly said the parent was upset over his son’s playing time.

Mario Lacy, of Euclid, was charged with attempted murder. The coach suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Another coach, Dennis Hopson, whose young Hopson Elite team was at the AAU tournament, couldn’t help but shake his head. On Facebook that night, he posted: “Senseless. … All over a kid not getting much playing time. I WILL SAY IT AGAIN … There are only 4,500 DI Players and 380 NBA Players. Wake Up.”

He expanded on the thought this week.

“I’m not surprised that happened,” said Hopson, the Toledo prep legend who became Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer and was drafted third overall in the 1987 NBA draft. “Everybody wants their kid to be LeBron James. If they’re not playing, they’re calling to say, ‘My son or daughter is the best player on the team. Why aren’t they playing?’ It’s never enough. They could play 40 minutes of a 40-minute game, and it’s not enough. Never.

“It’s just crazy, but a lot of people are selfish, and they want their kid to take care of them when they get older.”

He added: “And I don’t care if you write that!”

Done.

Of course, the episodes noted above are the extreme.

Contrary to belief, not every game ends with parents doing their best imitation of one of those rolling fight clouds in the Looney Tunes, as a 10-and-under baseball game in Florida did the other day.

But the eruptions are no doubt symptomatic of a perceived high-stakes climate where youth sports alone is now a $19 billion industry.

And, unfortunately, it takes but one person to lose all perspective — to have no respect for the kids who look up to their example — to stain the experience for everyone, from the players to the officials.

A few years ago, during a Northern Lakes League sportsmanship workshop, conference commissioner Richard Browne asked a group of 48 student-athletes — six from each school — how many of them have been embarrassed by a parent or adult in the stands.

Forty-eight hands rose.

As for the refs, it’s no wonder why high schools are struggling to find them.

Who wants to sacrifice family time for a hailstorm of abuse and $40 to $60 per game? Per a survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, eight out of 10 officials hang up their whistle within two years, with most citing the behavior of adults.

The OHSAA put it perfectly in its recent open letter to parents: “Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason Ohio has an alarming shortage of high school officials.”

I’ve shared this story before, but I think of it often these days.

As the coach of my Little League baseball teams, my dad held a team meeting before each season.

There were two ground rules:

1. Never criticize a player.

2. Never criticize the umpire.

These were reasonable enough life lessons to share with a group of snot-nosed, name-calling 8-year-old hell raisers (OK, maybe that was just me). There was just one small thing. None of the kids were ever there.

It was for the parents.

How times have, well, not changed at all.

From there, the adults agreed to make sure the kids had fun and the seasons went on, happily ever … ARE YOU $%&#@$% BLIND, BLUE? YOU’RE MISSING A GREAT $&%#—@% GAME!

Sorry, what were we saying?

First Published May 19, 2021, 3:42pm

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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