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Column: A Message to Sports Parents

Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014 5:58 am | Update: 6:01 am, Fri Jul 11, 2014.

COLUMN: A Message To Sports Parents

JJ Fiddler

"The inmates are taking over the asylum."

That's what a Moore League coach said to me earlier this year after another high school coach was fired because of parent complaints. By my count, seven Long Beach area coaches lost their jobs during the 2013-14 sports season because of booster influence on the school's administration.

Every year, more money is made by and spent on amateur athletics. And every year, I hear more parents yelling at coaches during games. It's only getting worse. One local baseball team had a disgruntled group of parents and players flood every online story with negative and offensive comments about the coach and the program This pattern isn't good for anyone.

I believe that high school sports are supposed to be an extension of the classroom where young student-athletes learn life lessons though healthy competition. Most youth sports fans would likely agree with that, in theory. However, when it comes to their children, parents and boosters easily lose that perspective.

Many schools deal with these issues and Long Beach Wilson High knows them all too well. Last month, the Bruins hired new head coaches for their softball and boys' soccer programs. Jamie Browning will be the fourth Wilson softball coach in the last six years and Ceaser Ortega will be the fifth boys' soccer coach in the last six years. Unfortunately, the former Bruin softball and boys' soccer coaches have a novel’s worth of stories about unrealistic parents and the inevitable fallout that followed.

"There's a lot of politics involved," says Mike Hunter, who was fired in May after players and parents sought out Wilson administration and expressed concerns. Wilson teacher Chris Leveque was the softball coach before Hunter and struggled to keep his team happy while making the playoffs and winning the Moore League for the first time in 20 years.

"Parents think that the grass is always greener," says Leveque. "Finding a quality coach who will work for $3,000 for 11 months of work (5-6 days a week) is not realistic, which is why you need on campus coaches. But, who wants to deal with these parents who are generally, while they won't admit, only concerned with their child's status? This is becoming a major problem that is driving quality coaches away."

"I'd say one out of every three parent complaints we get are valid concerns," says Wilson golf coach and girls' athletic director Jeff Evans. "Parents have very high expectations but chirping in the coaches ear is not ok, and when it comes from a winning program it's unjust. The kids hear it too. I just hope for positive parents, which always helps the program. If it’s a positive experience for the student-athlete, no matter how good they are or how much they play, there are always fewer complaints and problems."

Obviously, there are as many bad and unrealistic high school coaches as there are overbearing parents. So, what can be done to restore order and repair the future relationships between coaches and their players' parents? "We're having a meeting next week," says Ortega, who played soccer and graduated from Wilson in 2001. He won't hold official tryouts for months but wants to fire a preemptive strike and let everyone know that it's a new program.

"Athletics is a reward for doing well in the classroom," says Ortega, who added that he dealt with his share of "involved" parents while coaching at Cerritos High. "I know what Wilson can be like but I'm not worried about it. Everyone will know what to expect. The rules about grades and discipline will apply to everyone. I don't want to just win, I want to leave my mark and get this program back to where it was." Browning is also calling a summer meeting for parents and players months before the season begins.

"We're all going to be on the same page," says Browning, who is coming from South Torrance where parent involvement comes with the upper-middle class territory. "We need parent support to be successful but they also need to respect my philosophy. It's all about communication and trust."

This issue will never be completely solved. Sports have a way of bringing the best and worst out of people and overzealous boosters will always overshadow good, supportive parents. My advice for a parent who doesn't want to cause waves, but still wants to be supportive of their children, is to listen to the "I'm Telling You For The Last Time" standup comedy special from Jerry Seinfeld and heed his advice.

"What is extra strength?" he asks. "What were people asking for? 'Give me the maximum possible human dosage! Find out what's going to kill me, and then just back it off a little bit.'"

Pull back, parents. Your children will thank you.