Dark side of youth sports
June 11, 2013
I almost couldn't bring myself to write this column. In fact, it took me a whole week to get to where I could without shaking with anger.
The topic makes me sick, but something needs to be said.
Small Boyne and I spent the first weekend of June in Denver at the Lacrosse Jamboree.
There were many highlights of the weekend: going to the professional Denver Outlaws' game with a huge group of other Vail Valley Lacrosse Club players and parents Friday night; my son scoring his first goal in a game (it was so awesome!); being with the other parents along the sidelines and seeing the teamwork the boys developed and improvements they've made throughout the season.
But a dark shadow was cast over the whole tournament that has stayed with me.
A little background information before we get to the story. There were enough 12-year-old boys playing lacrosse for the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club to field two teams in the tournaments this season, so they were divided into a red team and a blue team.
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The club emphasized that while the players are placed on teams for the tournaments based on their skills, not unlike varsity and junior varsity, the boys practice together and are one team.
It even says so on the game T-shirts they wear under their pads. One team.
All season long, we've played in tournaments primarily consisting of teams from other Western Slope communities, with all the teams playing each other.
Denver is a different animal. Brackets are set up based on perceived level of the team: the developing blue teams, the rising white teams and then the elite red teams.
Suddenly the designation of the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club blue and red teams meant something. Rather than red just labeling our A team, it made them the athletic pariah in the white bracket of this tournament — a bracket, I might add, that the tournament directors placed our team in based on their win-loss record against the teams they'd played that season. Very few of those were Front Range teams.
As Small Boyne played hard with his blue team on Saturday, winning some and losing some, I started hearing rumblings among our families about the behavior of some of the Front Range parents.
My son told me after one game that the coach of the other team screamed obscenities at one of his players for getting a penalty.
I watched shocked as a father berated his teenage son, complete with f-bombs including several "f-yous" for spilling something in the car, only to discover he was the coach of another team we played.
On Sunday morning, after our blue team was eliminated, several of the families went to watch our red team playing on the next field.
Our boys were running the gantlet each time they passed the angry mob on the sidelines that was the opposing teams' parents.
They grumbled about our team playing down a bracket just to win. There were accusations of stacking the team.
One dad yelled, "If we put red players on our team we'd win, too!" There were demands that their players "take him out so he can't play. Even it up!" They were cursing each goal, going on screaming tirades, irate.
I never heard a word of encouragement for their team come out of their mouths. Keep in mind that these were adults yelling these things at 12 year olds. Playing a game.
As Small Boyne and I sat 10 feet from these nasty parents, and a few of our families moved away in disgust, I decided I needed to say something.
I approached them in a non-confrontational manner, and in a calm, pleasant voice, said, "Excuse me? I'm a Vail parent. Can I explain how our team got in this bracket?"
They barely turned toward me. "We only have two teams. And we don't play any Denver teams during the season, so the tournament directors placed our A team in this bracket based on …"
I was stopped short by a look from a mom, which I can only describe as icy, dismissive and full of venom.
A dad said, "Whatever. Save it," and turned his back.
The Ice Queen said sharply, "Go back to your end of the field."
With shock, I realized they weren't going to hear me. I went back to my son, telling him to never let me be that rude.
"You never could be, Mom," he said with a look that reflected what I felt. As we collected our things to leave, and I was still shaking with adrenaline, another parent from their team walked up to me and apologized, stating she was embarrassed by these parents.
But it didn't end there. The mother of another player told me later that she had also tried to set the record straight and thought the other team's parent was going to hit her before telling her to go back to the mountains. They even had to have security walk the sidelines as these two teams met up again later in the day on Sunday.
Let me repeat, with emphasis, that this happened at a 12-year-olds' lacrosse game! I can hardly put into words my reaction. Shock. Disgust. Horror and dismay. Disbelief.
What is wrong with people? Were they living out unfulfilled dreams through their kids? Was it roid rage? Did they have money riding on the game? It was despicable.
We all get passionate when it comes to our kids. We want them to win, to succeed, to feel good about themselves. But what kind of example are these parents setting for their kids? And how dare they yell at ours like that! What are they teaching the kids about facing adversity, about sportsmanship, about how to treat other people, about life?
I want my son to learn to lose with grace, to recognize when he played his best and when he didn't, to acknowledge that some teams might just be better than his. I want him to use the setbacks to spark the desire to improve, to learn more, to become a better player and teammate. Don't make excuses or cast blame for the loss. Own it and move forward.
Vail Valley Lacrosse Club is in its inaugural year, but I am proud that our family is a part of it. The directors set the tone of respect and good sportsmanship from the get go and from what I saw during the season, everyone — the players, the coaches and the parents — embraced this.
I am so impressed with our athletes who blocked out the degrading, demeaning comments being yelled at them and focused on playing a fair game.
Kudos to the parents who stood on the sidelines and rose above the abhorrent behavior going on around them and did not drop to that level.
And thank you to the coaches who stayed positive, who led by example, who treated our boys with respect and who had to endure this ridiculous ridicule and treatment by the other teams.
Linda Stamper Boyne, of Edwards, can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.