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Jul. 21 2010 — 4:32 pm | 205 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Cheerleading: not a sport

Collegiate cheerleaders perform a high splits ...

You're not athletes! (Image via Wikipedia)

That’s not me saying cheerleading isn’t a sport, even if I did type that headline my ownself.

That’s a Connecticut judge, ruling whether Quinnipiac University could count competitive cheerleading as a sport in order to meet requirements under Title IX, the federal law that prevents gender discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding. U.S. District Judge Steven Underhill, sitting in Bridgeport, ruled in favor of the school’s former women’s volleyball team, which sued after the school announced it would chop (as well as men’s golf and men’s outdoor track) in favor of competitive cheerleading for 2009-10, a lawsuit that Underhill later expanded to a class-action case.

Actually, the lawsuit looked at all sorts of questions about roster-size manipulation Quinnipiac, in the judge’s mind, made to comply with Title IX, but the headlines are uniformly about how cheerleading is not a sport. And why not, after Underhill made this statement, reported in the Hartford Courant:

“Competitive cheer may, sometime in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

The immediate result of this case is that the Fighting Pollsters have 60 days from the July 21 ruling date to get in compliance with Title IX, and specifically must bring back the women’s volleyball team.

However, while Underhill unequivocally declared that cheerleading is not a sport, no matter how much paralysis it has caused, like the current U.S. Supreme Court he made his ruling narrow enough so that everything isn’t 100 percent settled.

After all, Underhill, by saying “sometime in the future” it could qualify as a sport, ruled that cheerleading isn’t a sport not because it’s doesn’t have a ball or stick. It’s because it’s not organized enough.

So I’m thinking the takeaway for those in the cheerleading community — or the public school community — that want sis-boom-bahing declared as a sport would be: Get organized. Start leagues. Have conference championships. Get to the point where people are playing football on the sidelines to fire up the crowd into rooting harder for the cheerleaders.



Jul. 19 2010 — 7:29 pm | 343 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Youth baseball parents prove easy to sucker out of money for ‘elite travel team’

The saying is that the two dominant emotions on Wall Street are fear and greed; for parents who trades in the futures of their children, the same can apply.

It’s not just sports. Look at the advertisements in any metro area child-focused magazine, and you’ll see plenty of preschools, camps, tutors, coaches and party clowns who sell, implicitly, the promise that time and (lots of) money spent with them will send your little brat on the primrose path to Harvard. Meanwhile, if you don’t shake out all your loose change to pay for these services — well, let’s not even think about that, though let’s remind you that all of your neighbors’ 3-year-olds are getting their Harvard applications under way while you refuse to spend $2,000 on a party clown that speaks English, French, Farsi and Klingon.

So if you’re planning to scam someone out of thousands of dollars, and you don’t know how to execute a pigeon drop on an old lady, desperate, worried parents are a great target. Such as, parents in South Dakota worried that their kids, what with being in South Dakota, were never going to be found by Major League Baseball scouts.

A group of those parents is claiming they were scammed out tens of thousands of dollars by a man who said he was putting together a select team that, thanks to his major-league connections, would give their kids wide exposure to people who could put them on the fast track to Harvard, er, the major leagues. Media reports put the money lost at anywhere from $25,000 to $33,000, though I suspect that’s a bit low. A baseball camp organizer said he lost $18,500, and individual parents report paying — in cash — up to $6,300 for the travel team that never was.

What’s not low is the sense of betrayal, anger and gullibility shown by these parents, and the waste of time for children who were pulled off of other travel teams for the alleged elite of the elites, Team South Dakota.

The complaints, including a lawsuit filed by the guy running the baseball camp, are against Jason Anderson, the alleged mastermind behind Team South Dakota. Even before the complaints against him started, there were other complaints — namely, that his travel team was gutting well-established summer leagues. But who could argue against a guy who said he was a former minor-league baseball player, in the Angels’ system, and could bring Rickey Henderson to town for a camp?

What is readily apparent is that the parents (and the camp organizer) were so in love with the idea of South Dakota’s own ass-kicking, big-time youth operation that they blindly handed over money without asking who was this guy parachuting into the Black Hills with promise of future baseball stardom. Anderson has not responded to any allegations, including one I’m going to make: That he might not the person he says he is. I base this on the fact I’ve combed the Internet and cannot find a Jason Anderson who played in the Angels’ system. I can find Jason Andersons who have played for other teams, but not a Jason Anderson who played for the Angels. (Inside Dakota Sports reported July 16 that Rapid City, S.D., police have opened a criminal investigation, and that Anderson has warrants out for his arrest in Panama City, Fla., and Monroe, Mich., on fraud and forgery charges. As of now, Anderson is nowhere to be found.)

So what you get are heartbreaking stories about a mom bringing her kid and her family to a park for a tournament, and finding out they were the only ones there.

On the other hand, my heart breaks less because the parents let their fear (of their kids being left behind) and greed (this guy is our ticket to stardom!) overwhelm their good judgment. If you want to spend thousands of dollars for your 9-year-old to play travel baseball, there are plenty of outfits whose only fraud is promising you that they can make your kid a major-leaguer. At least they’ll offer actual practices and tournaments. Best you put your fear and greed in check before draining your bank account for the promise of sports stardom. Otherwise, you may well just hire that multilingual party clown.

(Hat tip to SportsJournalists.com for alerting me to this story.)



Jul. 18 2010 — 4:25 pm | 357 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Dad sues after his kid hit by a pitch — why, yes, the dad IS a lawyer

I’m not knee-jerk about taking the opposite position when everyone else is decrying something as another brick in the wall that is the pussification of youth sports. And it’s pretty easy to jump on a lawyer who sues over his son getting hit by a pitch, especially because he wasn’t there to see what happened.

On the other hand, if there is no other mechanism to punish coaches who intentionally call on their players to hurt the opponent in the name of competition, in flagrant violation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, then a lawsuit there must be. In the major leagues, players and managers get kicked out games and fined for throwing at players, so why should there be no repercussions in youth baseball?

So often, a violent act such as intentionally throwing at a batter begets more violence.

The situation: Michael Connick, 13, was trying to bunt with the bases loaded in a 13-and-under game in the travel Great Lakes Baseball League, which covers Northeast Ohio. What’s not in dispute is that the first pitch to Michael was way high and inside, and on the second, he was hit by the pitch, breaking his left hand. What is in dispute is whether the opposing coach ordered the pitcher to hit him intentionally.

From the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio:

Tom Connick, who also is an attorney [note to lawyer haters -- not just an attorney, but a trial lawyer], filed a lawsuit this week in Lake County Common Pleas Court claiming Scott Barber, an assistant coach for the Titans, committed assault and battery against his son during the game at Haven’s Baseball Complex in Jefferson Township.

According to the suit, Barber ordered his pitcher on the mound to “throw at” Connick’s son, which resulted in the boy “severely” breaking his left hand.

“Immediately after (Michael) fell to the ground, and while writhing in pain, defendant Barber again yelled from the dugout, ‘Good!,’ thus confirming and ratifying his order to ‘throw at’ and intentionally and recklessly … hit the plaintiff,” Tom Connick stated in the suit.

Connick claims that even after Michael left the field for the hospital, Barber encouraged other reckless and/or negligent physical play, including instructions to run over players on the opposing team.

How did Connick know this, given neither he nor his wife were at the game? I’m not sure. The story doesn’t explain. I presume the other parents on his team angrily and breathlessly told him what they saw happen on that fateful June 24. And then Connick responded by suing the coach and the league, which he said failed to discipline Barber, even though state youth baseball rules say intentionally throwing at a batter is illegal.

Connick and his wife, Corrina, are seeking more than $25,000 in damages, lost wages and attorney’s fees [Note: I presume lost wages are for Connick missing work, not because Michael already has a job. Or maybe he's mowing lawns for pay already].

In addition, they want Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. to ban Barber from coaching or participating in any youth sports for at least 15 years.

Michael’s father … stressed that his family is not suing for the money.

“Anything he gets will go toward his medical bills, then a college fund through probate court,” Connick said. “I’m a lawyer, but I’m also Michael’s father. I don’t want people thinking I’m some scumbag attorney.”

Too late! From “The Slapper,” run just as it was typed, in the Herald’s comment section:

There are risks in every sport, and if the parents don’t like it, then too bad. It’s people like this attorney that give try to live through their children. People like this ruin it for everyone. Everything is a law suit. Quite being a cry baby and deal with the fact that your poor little baby got hit by a ball. If he doesn’t know how to get out of the way, then maybe he shouldn’t be trying to bunt. I feel bad for the kid, but there are a lot of hurdles throughout life that everyone has to deal with. Keep parents like this off the baseball fields. They’d be safer in the library. I would hate to see this kid play football, and the coach say sack him. This attorney would be suing for that!!! “

Although to be fair, plenty of commenters showed support for the lawyer, given all of the out-of-control behavior from coaches they said they’ve witnessed. Also to be fair, Barber — varsity baseball and golf coach, as well as seventh-grade boys baseball coach, at Jefferson Area Junior-Senior High in Ashtabula County, Ohio — has not responded to the allegations, and the league backs up him as a good and decent coach.

One question I’ve seen from some commenters is, why didn’t the umpire say anything after the first pitch? First, the umpires for these events are low-paid drudge workers, so they’re not necessarily training their ears to know if something scurrilous is going on. Second, with it being 13-and-under baseball, no umpire would believe a pitcher has enough control to throw at a batter, accurately, especially twice in a row.

Third, these low-paid drudge workers want to get home without fighting with anyone, so they may take the path of least resistance — which means not throwing out a coach who obviously is doing wrong. The other day my daughter’s 10-and-under travel softball team was called out for not touching the plate, not because the ump saw she didn’t touch the plate, but because my daughter’s team was up 10-0, the other coach was screaming (as he had all game), and as the ump told my daughter’s coach, “I just wanted to shut him up.” (The lost run turned out not to be an issue, but my daughter’s coach was a bit perturbed that he essentially was penalized for being a nice guy. To digress, this call had the effect of teaching the girls to make sure they hit the plate. My daughter touched it twice the other day when she scored, just to be careful.)

I have no sympathy for any coach who tells anyone to hurt someone intentionally. It’s one thing to hurt players if everyone is playing hard — say, a collision at the plate between the catcher legitimately trying to block it and the runner legitimately trying to score. But if this coach really was demanding his pitcher throw at another player, and the league and his club fail to take any action, then I don’t blame Tom Connick for doing what he knows, and suing the bastards into compliance.

Even those who don’t care much for trial attorneys might agree that a few lawsuits might dial down the number of grown-up coaches who seem to get their competitive jollies over telling one kid to hurt another.



Jul. 17 2010 — 4:01 pm | 113 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

United Nations identifies new violent hot spot: youth sports

UNICEF Flag

Image via Wikipedia

Judging by the report put out by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre (it’s based in Florence, hence what would otherwise seem like a comical Italian name), you should expect to see the blue-helmeted forces of the United Nations keeping the peace at your kid’s next ballgame.

The center (I’m spelling it the American way, damnit) took the time for its usual work of researching the most desperate regions of the world to check out the most desperate parents and coaches in the world — those involved with youth sports in so-called advanced nations. Its report, released in mid-July, is reassuring only in that the United States isn’t the only nation where everyone goes overboard about kids’ athletics.

From the report, titled “Protecting Children from Violence in Sport,” just in case you wondered what the researchers’ conclusion would be:

During recent years, however, it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking.  Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport.

The report is chock-a-block with examples from all over the world regarding abuse of children in the name of sport, and that’s without bringing up the name of a single gymnastics coach or tennis dad.

By the way, the United Nations does not define violence against children in sports (yes, the United Nations passed a resolution to define violence against children in sports) as merely physical, sexual  or mental abuse from a coach or parent, or overtraining a kid to the point he gets Tommy John surgery for his bar mitzvah. The definition includes hazing, peer pressure from teammates to drink or do drugs, the use of performance-enhancing substances, and — in what is sure to arouse the ire of Dave Cisar — sex as a prerequisite to participation.

This passage about organized sports being a political process, rather than a physical one, will get a hey-yeah from anyone whose obviously talented child was cut in favor of the coach’s spazz son:

Street play and other forms of adult-free recreation may be the only situations in which children have autonomy over their sport (although even then, they are often being closely observed by parents or othercaregivers). In contrast, children in organized, competitive sport usually lack authority; they are excluded from decision-making and may have their voices silenced by coaches, assertive parents or caregivers, or by senior athletes. In these instances, participation in sport is therefore a physical but not a political right. As a consequence, children are rarely allowedto shape their own competitive sporting experiences and may be subjected to violence if they fail to comply with the wishes of sport authority figures. This exclusion from the right to participation as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child leaves children vulnerable to types of violence that range from bullying to sexual abuse and commercial trafficking.

So if your child gets cut, make sure to cite the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in your argument to the coach. It’s your ace in the hole.

By the way, if you’re like me — and thank whatever god you worship if you’re not — you did a stop on “commercial trafficking.” You mean, like how strip clubs get their dancers from Eastern Europe? Well, maybe not a large extent, though you can argue the system that rewards street agents to deliver under-18 baseball players in Latin America to Major League Baseball teams is child trafficking of a form. Heck, you could extend the definition to Clark Francis’ Hoop Scoop rating fourth-graders for the pleasure of college coaches, given how far the United Nations extends its definitions of violence against children.

Trafficking in the context of sport involves the sale of child athletes, usually across national boundaries and for profit. This has been described as a new form of child slavery that leaves players in a precarious legal position. There are known cases of trafficking in baseball and football, but finding systematic data on the practice is a challenge. Unofficial, and therefore unregulated, football training centres test young players, who are then recruited or discarded. These players may become involved in illegal migration or be traded from club to club. Research for this report found very few references to trafficking of children in sport; most references concerned children working as camel jockeys.

The Innocenti Research Centre, like any UN peacekeeper, doesn’t have a magic bullet that can end all the violence. The conclusions of its report talk about having more research into exactly how many children in sports are affected bv violence, and what kind; more training and awareness programs by sports organizations; turning over anyone who commits criminal violence against a child to authorities rather than handling it internally (ahem, USA Swimming); and otherwise making it clear to all involved that violence is something you have to worry about.

This report focused only on the industrialized world — not the places where, since the turn of the millennium, the United Nations has launched sports-based programs to help impoverished children in war-torn lands. After all, like most of the rest of us, while the report saw problems in youth sports, it acknowledges it can have great benefits, and that many children enjoy them. The United Nations’ goal, it appears, is to ensure that blood diamonds exist only inside a youth sports complex.



Jul. 14 2010 — 12:50 am | 108 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Youth baseball team trip put at risk by coach’s arrest, checkbook’s seizure

I’ll get the happy ending out of the way. The Taylor, Pa., 15- to 18-year-old American Legion baseball team will make it to a tournament in South Carolina after all, despite the arrest of its coach, thanks to a $1,000 donation July 13 from employees at Semian Real Estate Group.

The community at large has raised another $1,000, but maybe the Semian employees felt a little bit worse about the possibility the team couldn’t travel. After all, it apparently was their co-worker who put the trip at risk.

Phil Godlewski, 27, was head coach of the team until getting arrested July 9 on charges relating to his alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl. Maybe this with the first time police got involved, but Godlewski’s job as a high school baseball coach ended when the victim’s mother (apparently of the same girl at the center of the criminal investigation) complained to school officials about alleged inappropriate contact with her daughter.

According to police, the relationship started when Godlewski helped the victim cope with the death of a boyfriend. “All right, the boyfriend died! Now I can make my move!”

(As an aside, in so many of these coach-player relationships, the player and the coach have gotten closer because the coach is helping the player through a difficult time, anything from a death or a divorce to a hangnail or a mosquito bite. If your child is seeking the counsel of a coach for deep conversation and coping, immediately remove that child from the team. Trust me.)

So after Godlewski’s arrest, he was suspended from coaching the Legion team, under that organization’s rules.

One problem: the $2,000 for the team’s South Carolina trip was in Godlewski’s personal bank account — not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, though for many reasons it’s probably better the money is kept in a separate, team account. (As another aside, Godlewski was in hot water with Legion authorities over having scheduled an out-of-state trip to a non-Legion tournament while his team was scheduled to play Legion games, which under league rules would have forced Taylor to forfeit those games.)

However, no one from the Legion team can get to the money (one of the many reasons it’s good not to have it in someone’s personal account). Police seized two cars, as evidence, in which Godlewski and the girl were alleged to have sexual contact. The cars contained bats, balls, equipment — and Godlewski’s checkbook.

Hence, why the team had to scramble to raise $2,000.

Fortunately, the people of Taylor, Pa., have come through, in particular Godlewski’s co-workers. They just need to make sure the checkbook for the account doesn’t end up in the wrong, well-worn back seat.


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    A youth sports blog written by Bob Cook. He contributes to NBCSports.com, or MSNBC.com, if you prefer. He’s delivered sports commentaries for All Things Considered. For three years he wrote the weekly “Kick Out the Sports!” column for Flak Magazine.

    Most importantly for this blog, Bob is a father of four who is in the throes of being a sports parent and youth coach in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago. He reserves the right to change names to protect the innocent and the extremely, extremely guilty.

    You can follow me at facebook.com/rkcookjr and twitter.com/notgoingpro. I'm endlessly fascinating.

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