Filler Poor Sports

Parental Politics Raise A Stench In The Bobby Sox League.
By Tom Danehy

I LOVE POLITICS and I love sports. But I absolutely despise the politics of sports. Throughout my life, I've generally been able to skirt around that cesspool. It's a place populated by the dregs, those who can neither play the game nor completely function as productive adults.

Danehy There is one area where I appreciate the parallels between sports and politics. The world of sports is generally very democratic. Those who work the hardest and put the most into it generally get the most out of it. Oh, there are some who are just naturally gifted and don't have to work that hard, but that's okay, too. That's just a reflection of the way society is. Life is inherently unfair.

But there are those out on the fringes who would have sports drift one way or another away from democracy. Some embrace the socialistic philosophy of all kids being the same, so let's just let them play and don't keep score or anything. Others enter the realm of youth sports with only one goal: the glorification, earned or not, of their own children and the attendant vicarious parental pleasure derived therefrom.

This has always been around, but lately it's been getting worse. I hate it, but in a small way, I understand it. Everybody wants their kids to succeed, and parents want to feel that they're doing their part toward that end. I know that I got into coaching youth sports to make sure my kids would learn to play the games the right way and would do so while stressing sportsmanship.

Even though that's always been my goal, I've somehow managed to piss a lot of people off along the way. Apparently, a man in his 40s shouldn't be able to relate that well to kids. A guy with an expanding waistline and a thinning hairline shouldn't be having this much fun at this stage of his life. And the kids who play for him, kids who laugh and joke with each other, shouldn't play that hard and win that often. There must be something wrong.

Such is the slippery world in which I must function several months each year, a world where I get along with all of the kids, but only some of the adults. A place where, in a small but not insignificant way, a battle is being waged over the meaning and direction of sports.

This never really bothered me all that much. I can handle honest criticism and I can deal with cheap shots. But last week I witnessed an example of pettiness I never would have thought possible, a cowardly attack clearly aimed at me but taken out on one of my children. It was a shameful deed, orchestrated by small people, which I will neither forget nor forgive.

It is something of an embarrassing tradition that the All-Star teams chosen at the end of a Little League or Bobby Sox season are inordinately populated by the children of coaches and managers. Many adults feel it's payment due for having "volunteered" their time. Often times the kids of coaches are the better players, partly because their parents take the time to teach them the game. But every year, in every league, there are at least a couple "All-Stars" who shouldn't be.

I've always thought this unfair and I've refused to go along with it. Darlene didn't make All-Stars the first two years she played (partly because she's a year younger than her grade counterparts), although she probably should have the second year. One year she was the only child of a coach or manager who didn't make the All-Star team.

She made it for the first time two years ago when she led her Bobby Sox league in virtually every offensive category. She's always been an outstanding defensive shortstop, with a good glove and a powerful arm. But she broke her leg right before the tournament and wasn't able to play.

Last year, despite being only 12, she moved up to the 13-15-year-old American Girl level with her classmates. She batted a mind-boggling .700, led the league in every category from batting average to stolen bases to runs batted in, and was the leading vote getter for All-Stars. (I guess I hadn't had time to anger people yet.) She went on to be the leading hitter on the All-Star team and the fall-league Super Sox squad.

This year she actually fell off a bit. All she batted was .640. She again led the entire league in batting average, hits, total bases, stolen bases, and runs batted in. On the down side, she was only second in the league in home runs. Plus, her (our) team won the championships of both halves of the season and the overall title.

But when the All-Star voting was done, she didn't make it. She didn't even come close. Not one of the opposing managers voted for her. The league president, whose job it is to stand up for the integrity and quality of the league, didn't vote for her.

She's the first returning All-Star in the history of the league not to make the team. She's the first batting champion in the history of the league not to make the team (most of the kids on the team have batting averages in the .300 range). She's the first RBI champ not to make the team, and on and on.

Darlene took it amazingly well. Without my having to tell her, she's decided to take the high road. She plans on making some posters and has told her friends on the team that she'll be there for every game to cheer them on.

As for me, I sincerely hope the team wins. The girls have all worked hard and most of them deserve to be on that team. Plus, it's our league and I'm terribly partisan. I'll be there to root them on. (Quite often, the coach of the league champs is also the All-Star coach, but darned if I didn't come in last in the vote. Imagine that.)

I plan on coaching one last year next season. Maybe I'll have my kids take the game a little more seriously. Maybe I'll have them play just a little bit harder. Lord knows I'll have the incentive.

And maybe Darlene can bat 1.000. Maybe a three-time batting champion can make the All-Star team. But knowing the people we're dealing with here, I wouldn't bet on it. TW

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