Paul W. Barada
I feel vindicated. There was a time when I was terribly afraid that Rush County was the only place where the parents of children involved in youth sports took it so seriously. When our kids were growing up, I was dazzled at the life and death struggle that parents went through trying to make sure little Huey and little Mary Sue were going to make it to the pros in at least one of the youth sports we offered in this community. At the time, much as now, we offered youth football, baseball, softball, soccer, and basketball. At least in the sports in which our kids participated, I had never seen anything like it before: the swearing, yelling, arguing with the officials, the pacing up and down outside the fence, and even an occasional fight among parents and coaches. What kind of example, I recall thinking, were we setting for our children about things like sportsmanship, teamwork, trying to do your best, magnanimity in victory, and humility in defeat? Winning, at least it seemed to me, was everything; but, did anybody really care who won any sort of competition among third graders? Well, yes, the parents cared a lot! That was big-time stuff!
It would have been different, I suppose, if our community turned out a lot of athletes who went on to play major college, let alone pro, sports. The point is, we don’t. Over the years, there has been a sprinkling of high school athletes from this county who have gone on to play college sports, but Rush County simply can’t be classified as a hotbed of prospective college talent. I’m fairly sure that neither Tom Crean nor Matt Painter has ever been here to watch budding talent on the hardwood. And I’m more than fairly sure no athlete from this county, at least within the last half-century, has made it in the professional ranks. But, to the extent that “hope springs eternal,” apparently each succeeding generation harbors the dream that this generation of little Hueys and little Mary Sues are going to make the big time.
The one consolation is that I now know that it’s not just us. With grandchildren now starting to compete in youth sports in New Palestine, I’m somehow comforted to see that the parents are no different there than they are here. They’re just as loud, just as obnoxious, and just as fanatical about their youth sports as local parents were when our kids were playing. If anything, the New Pal parents of tiny footballers and itty-bitty basketball players are worse than Rush County parents in their zeal for a sparkling career for their kids in sports - but only marginally worse. It’s really no different from the days of ten-and-under basketball at the old Boys’ Club than it is in the fabulous sports complex in New Pal with it’s spotlights, snazzy uniforms, and cadre of smartly decked out cheerleaders.
One thing is certain, though, regardless of whether it’s here or there, now or thirty years ago, you can expect kids’ basketball, especially among the youngest kids, to be played the same way. Whoever gets the rebound is going to dribble the length of the court and fling the ball at the basket without ever giving a thought to passing to another teammate or even waiting for the other four kids to reach the offensive end of the court. Whoever gets the rebound at one end is going to take the shot at the other end! And on those rare occasions when a little one is being guarded by three or four other players, the parents will be shouting at the kid to “shoot the ball,” no matter what. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever yells at his or her kid to “pass the ball!” There was no glory in making a good pass to a teammate thirty years ago and there still isn’t any glory in it today.
The same is true of youth soccer, youth baseball, and every other youth sport one cares to name. The old saying, “There’s no ‘I” in team, but there’s a ‘me’” still holds true today. Are the parents to blame for any of this sort of “me” centered behavior on the court or on the field? Of course they are! For every former high school athlete or would-be high school athlete from a generation ago, now there’s a parent reliving those glory days through a son or daughter. You can see it! And you can see the parents who have already been working hard in the backyard with little Huey or little Mary Sue teaching the child whose tenth birthday is still years away to dribble with either hand, between their legs, and behind their backs. And, by the same token, you can see the parents who haven’t become irrational in their zeal for their youngster’s NBA career. Their child is the one who never gets that coveted rebound or dribbles the full length of the court, or chucks up the ball in a desperate attempt to put it through that 8’ rim.
From my perspective, the vindication is that the goofy parents aren’t just confined to Rush County. They’re apparently everywhere! So much for the fun that comes from just participating. These folks are there to win! More basically, they’re there for their kid to be a star on the third grade baseball, basketball, or soccer team. And, if they disagree with the refs call, they’re going to let him or her know about it! ‘Cause this is big-time stuff!
Worse yet, we’ve reached the point that, as early as elementary school, kids have to choose the sport in which they want to specialize. Even for the little ones, playing a sport is almost a year-round exercise!
Not too many years ago, it was reported that over 6,000 resumes, tapes, and game films had been sent to the football office of a major university. How many of those 6,000 high school stars do you think the school finally selected? Twenty-four! So, parents might do well to look at the odds of making the “big time.” If they do, they just might enjoy watching their children taking part a little more and, perhaps, even having fun.
That’s -30- for this week.