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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
An ugly incident took place on the grounds of the Skyway Athletic Complex in Tampa, which boasts manicured baseball fields surrounded by trees.
Here in this pristine environment, police say, Daniel Mangru, upset that son Matt had been benched for a game, punched Oldsmar Christian baseball coach Jim Woolever on April 14.
"You never expect something like that, " said Woolever, who is in his first year as coach of the program. "I was an umpire for 10 years and I saw people get mad but never to this extent."
This year, there has been a noticeable rise in sideline fights involving parents, the most serious with people like Mangru, who was charged with battery on a specified official or employee, a third-degree felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of five years in Florida.
The Florida High School Athletic Association started tracking incidents involving spectators this season and reported about 50 ejections. Nationwide, incidents of violence among youth sports quadrupled between 2000 and 2005, according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
"It seems as if there is more involvement between parents and fans in a negative way, " said Laurel Ring, communications coordinator for the FHSAA. "I think we notice it more because we're doing a better job of reporting those infractions."
There are other egregious offenses involving parents in the Tampa Bay area within the past five months, making the games students play look like dress rehearsal for the Jerry Springer Show.
- In February, Sickles softball coach Angela Irwin was confronted by a disgruntled parent who had to be escorted off the field by police and was banned from all school activities.
- That same month, Howard Behlau, 51, of Odessa was charged with simple battery after police said he roughed up his 12-year-old son's baseball coach.
- In April, a 15-year-old baseball player at Countryside was charged with misdemeanor battery after he confronted an assistant coach. According to Clearwater Police, the boy's father encouraged him to pick a fight with his coach.
The rash of incidents is taking a toll.
Countryside baseball coach Darnell Coles resigned midway through the season, citing "out-of-control parents."
Irwin resigned for "personal reasons" two days after her run-in with a parent.
"It's become bad this year, " Coles said. "I don't know when it will end."
Bad attitudes and money matters
Some experts attribute the misbehavior to a general moral decay in American society.
"We've lost respect for people of authority, like a coach or teacher in the classroom, " said Duke University professor Greg Dale, a sports psychologist and author of The Fulfilling Ride: A Parent's Guide to Helping Athletes Have a Successful Sports Experience. "Years ago, we might have had those thoughts of accosting a coach on the field, but we never acted on it because of that level of respect."
Others say more parents are living vicariously through their children or their self-esteem is too closely tied to how their children perform.
"Sports is very public, said Dr. Richard Ginsburg, a sports psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of Whose Game Is It Anyway? A Guide to Helping Your Child Get the Most from Sports, Organized by Age and Stage. "We want to see our child do well because it's a reflection of us. I think parents are sometimes competitive with each other, too."
Coaches and experts point to another factor as the cause of confrontations between coaches and parents.
With college costs swelling and the competition for admission to the most select institutions escalating, parents have zealously pursued athletic scholarships or the perceived edge a top athletic resume can bring.
"Parents now, and not so much at my place, look at their kids as a meal ticket, " Tampa Prep boys basketball coach Joe Fenlon said. "They put the kids in AAU, in Legion ball, club swimming, club volleyball and they want to see a payoff at the end."
Punishment for unruly parents
The vast majority of parents still comport themselves with restraint and civility at games, but it is impossible to ignore or wave away the loud, critical parent in the stands who believes his or her kid is the next Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning.
"For the most part I think parents behave themselves, but there are some who won't hesitate to shoot off and e-mail or talk to a coach the minute something goes wrong, " said Frank Trump, who has eight children, including two incoming junior Phil and incoming freshman Nick who currently play football for East Lake.
"Parents sometimes have tunnel vision and they start kids real young. I think sometimes they can take the fun out of it."
There are groups in the state working to curb violence and encourage mature behavior at games.
- A soccer league in Weston has implemented a "Silent Saturday, " a program in which coaches are asked not to coach and parents are asked not to cheer or guide their children in any way.
- In Naples, parents can draw fines as high as $45 every time they open their mouths.
- In Duval County, parents, players and coaches all sign a sportsmanship contract before the season begins.
"The contract is not an end-all, be-all solution with parents behaving badly, but we think it is a start, " Duval County athletic director John Fox said. "We need everyone to be civil or it will be the end of us."
Experts also are trying to find ways to get parents to back off from their kids' games and give their children the freedom to be children.
"Parents need to realize it's a privilege to be on a team, " Dale said. "We need to check our egos at the door. It's not about us. It's about our kids."
In no particular order, the following are five common-sense rules for parents of high school athletes.
1. Make a point to attend any preseason team meeting or at least thoroughly read any paperwork distributed by the coach regarding his/her rules and philosophies.
2. If you're upset about your child's playing time, discuss it first with your child. He/she may not necessarily agree with you. "At the end of the day, those kids are in practice every day, " Tampa Prep boys basketball coach Joe Fenlon said. "They know where they stand."
3. If you're upset with a coach, never approach him/her right after a contest. Allow a cooling-off period of, say, 24 hours.
4. Keep in mind high school athletics is not Little League. Not everyone is assured playing time.
5. Avoid calling a coach at home unless it's an emergency. If you have issues, arrange to meet with the coach during his/her 14- to 16-hour workday.