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Not Worth It 

Parents living their sports dreams vicariously through their children do them a disservice.

Laura is a teacher at a public school here in town. A couple weeks back she took a Friday off to drive her daughter (we'll call her Lacey) up to Phoenix for a basketball tournament. It wasn't a high school tournament because that season ended a couple months ago. Instead, it was one of those godawful AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) things, the kind that are run by unscrupulous organizers for the benefit of vicariously living parents and college coaches who have taken advantage of the vices of two aforementioned groups to make recruiting a risk-free and soulless proposition.

Oddly enough, that same day, a bunch of kids were caught ditching school and just hanging out at the Tucson Mall. They were rounded up, taken to a central location, then made to wait around while their parents were contacted at work or wherever and forced to go down to pick up the little delinquents.

Now, in my mind, the only difference between the kid who went to Phoenix and the ones who went to the mall is that Lacey's truancy featured parental supervision.

Make no mistake about it, she was truant, which is defined as "absent from school without permission or good reason." She obviously had permission, but not a good reason. That any parent would take a kid out of school to participate in a ridiculous ritual like this is appalling. That a teacher would do it is absolutely indefensible.

There are only four good reasons for a kid to miss a day of school. They are:

1. If he's sick, and not Ferris Bueller sick, with fake sniffles or a sleep-deprivation headache. He has to be sick to the point where he won't be able to function and/or will cause others to get sick.

2. A school-sponsored activity, like field trips to the museum, school sporting events, academic decathlon, etc.

3. The funeral of a close relative.

4. His own funeral.

That's it, folks. All the rest is just wanking. It's showing disrespect to your kid as well as to the educational system from which you claim to want him to benefit. You can't take 'em out because Grandma is in town and wants to go shopping. You can't have them stay home because you're not feeling well. And you can't have them blow off a week of school so y'all can go to Disney World in the off-season. Any parent that does that needs to get slapped by Mickey and Goofy.

This abomination that Lacey and her mother went to is a sadly predictable manifestation of a society where it's no longer good enough to have one's kids simply learn how to play a sport and then participate in it for fun. No, they have to be separated from the masses, told how "special" they are and then made to take part in one bogus tournament after another, ostensibly to showcase their "talents," but in reality, designed to drain their (all-too-willing) parents' pocketbooks.

The other day, the morning paper ran a listing in the sports section that said that a local squad was accepting signups for an "Under-10 All-Star basketball team." First of all, a person should not utter the phrases "Under-10" and "All-Star" in the same month, let alone the same sentence. How in the hell can a kid under the age of 10 be an All-Star in anything except soiling his underwear?

More importantly, this team is accepting sign-ups for these All-Stars. This means that the parent(s) must make the determination as to 9-year-old Wilbur's All-Star status and then must keep the checkbook open for the next nine years or so to maintain the validation of that All-Star-iosity.

For the most part, these kids aren't stars and never will be. They're the children of parents willing and/or desperate enough to pay huge sums of money to often-shady characters in a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt to get their kid a college scholarship.

A series of articles in the Los Angeles Times a couple years ago told of families mortgaging their homes and often their futures so that kids can play on these squads. One family spent nearly $200,000 so that their two daughters could play high-level ASA softball. But by the time they got out of high school, the elder daughter was burned out on the sport and just enrolled at Cal State-Fullerton, while the other accepted a position as a walk-on at a junior college.

The parents lamented that they could have saved all that money and sent their kids to Ivy League schools, for which their daughters qualified academically, but to which the parents could not afford to send them.

Kids are usually forced to give up other sports and activities to concentrate on the one sport. Their "coaches," who are often people who don't meet the requirements for coaching in the school system, make large amounts of money from these kids' parents and they do so in a system where there is little in the way of supervision or oversight.

In case I've been too subtle, let me sum up by saying that I HATE these teams and the concept behind them. I despise the coaches and the tournament organizers. And I loathe the parents who willingly buy into this nonsense. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to play ball for their school teams and if they want more, they can play at the park or the playground without (gasp!) adults trying to "organize" things and making money off it.

I asked Laura if she thought it was OK for her kid to miss school. She said, "It was only one day." The phrase "only one" has got to be among the devil's favorites.

So what if Lacey doesn't get a basketball scholarship and the school she misses messes her up academically. After a pause, Laura said, "That's OK; it will have been worth it."

Really? To whom?

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