A public service message to youth sports parents

Try to keep a little perspective, folks; remember what it was like to be a kid

Frank Handley

Frank Handley (Baltimore Sun / May 15, 2013)

The good news is that, in seven years of umpiring amateur baseball games in the Baltimore area, Frank Handley has had to give the thumb to only five adults. The bad news is he had to do it again a couple of weeks ago. But we're going to turn a negative into a positive today. We're going to get the message out — a reminder, really — that parents need to keep the ugly under control and set a good example for children.

And parents who see and hear another behaving badly need to speak up.

The story comes to us from Nancy Turner, who was so upset at what she saw during a Baltimore County recreational baseball tournament that she wrote me a detailed email about it.

The game, on a Sunday morning in May, was for 11- and 12-year-olds. One team was from Harford County, the other from Baltimore County. Handley was the only umpire.

"I don't claim to be an expert on baseball," Turner wrote, "but I am fairly familiar with the game, and this umpire, who was working alone, did a great job. His strike zone was consistent and he hustled out from behind home plate in order to make accurate calls on all the bases."

Apparently not everyone shared this opinion.

"One parent [from the Harford County team] got kicked off the premises because of his terribly foul language and threats to the umpire," Turner reported. "The umpire had to be escorted to his car at the end of the game because this irate parent claimed that he was going to be waiting for the umpire in the parking lot. Once this parent was asked to leave, he was so angry that he yanked on the leash of his dog so hard that I literally cringed. The dog flew in the air. A bystander confronted the man on his abusive treatment of the dog, and the man said it was his dog and he could do what he wanted."

Turner's account was verified by Handley and by the Middle River Recreation Council.

Handley said there had been a lot of chirping by some parents throughout the game.

"In the bottom of the sixth," he wrote in his report of the incident, "there were runners on first and second and it was a tie game with one out. A [Harford] player hit a pop up to left field and the runner on second did not tag the base. The throw beat the runner back to the bag and it wasn't even close, so it was a double play to end the inning."

That, says Handley, is what provoked the dad, who blasted him with profanities. Handley ordered the man to leave, and there were more profanities.

"At the conclusion of the game," the umpire wrote, "a gentleman in the crowd heard the threats and escorted me to my truck to ensure there wouldn't be any problems."

Turner noticed something else during the game: A coach loudly criticizing one of his players for being called out at home plate. "The player ended up so hysterical that he could not continue playing in the game," she said.

Handley also noticed that depressing moment, and Mike Schneider, community liaison with the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, confirmed Turner's account. Schneider said disciplinary action has been taken against the ejected parent and the team.

"The behaviors are not acceptable under any circumstances," Schneider said. "We know full well that adult role modeling has a huge influence on the youngsters participating in all activities."

Turner was shocked: "Have recreation sports gotten so competitive that an 11-12 baseball game results in cursing, verbal threats to the official, animal abuse, and humiliating children? Is winning a game that important?"

Of course not.

In the clear light of reason and wise perspective, all parents would remember the admonitions about sportsmanship, civility and supportiveness at all times. Dads, in particular, like to think we are reasonable men, never succumbing to the dark angels of macho competitiveness, always encouraging fair play. But, in my experience — including 10 years as a volunteer youth sports administrator — guys caused the most problems, presumably on behalf of their children.

They end up humiliating their children, and embarrassing themselves.

I've had my brush with stupid-dad stuff in youth sports, and regret the slip to this day.

There's a cure for stupid-dad stuff: You have to remember what it was like to be 11 or 12, trying to prove you could handle a hard ground ball or make it all the way from second to home on a line drive to right. Out or safe, win or lose, the last thing you wanted was your father sucking the air out of the infield.

Kids are forgiving, but they also scar easily. They need examples of civility, not ugliness. They need to be supported, not belittled.

This has been a public service message of Nancy Turner, Frank Handley, the Middle River Recreation Council and this columnist.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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