Mar 08, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
When New York Mills boys basketball coach Mike Adey picked up career win no. 500 last Sunday as his Marauders won yet another Section III Class D title at the Carrier Dome, he entered a territory few might ever trod upon again.
The reason is quite simple. All the available evidence of recent times indicates that it’s just too much trouble to be a high school sports coach these days. Even a tremendous amount of success does not insulate the best in the business from the outside pressures thrust upon them.
Just the last 12 months have witnessed the driving out of baseball coach Pete Birmingham at Marcellus and of softball coaching legend Kerry Bennett at Cicero-North Syracuse. In both instances, parents got mad about something, and the powers-that-be sided with them, regardless of the collateral damage.
Even a program like Fayetteville-Manlius is not immune. Paul Muench stepped away from his football coaching position despite solid success for more than a decade. The scheduling snafu that derailed the hockey Hornets may have led to Sean Brown’s departure. Even Tom Blackford talked about retiring after F-M’s boys basketball team was ousted in the Class AA semifinals.
What is going on here? If this trend continues, the question needs to be asked – is high school sports in serious trouble?
Taken by themselves, coaching ousters are easily rationalized, explained or excused. Of course there was reason to take this action – something happened that, in the minds of the kingmakers, was so reprehensible that drastic measures were required.
Put together, though, the conclusion is far different. These actions reflect a disturbing trend in our culture, where a sense of entitlement leads to a socially accepted behavior that, while negative, is more tolerated than ever.
First, let’s explain the entitlement part. When a parent has a son or daughter on a high school sports team, it’s something to be proud of. It gives them a chance to cheer on their kid at games, and share that experience with fellow parents who share the same feeling of pride.
But in recent years, a few of these parents (by no means all of them – the majority are good, supportive types) have interpreted this position very differently. Instead of taking the time to coach, they serve as self-appointed watchdog, looking for any sign of trouble that might get in the way of their kid’s advancement, regardless of what’s best for the team.
Then, if the coach makes any kind of mistake – innocent or more pronounced – the parent can run to authority figures (superintendents, or athletic directors) and cry foul.
Put on the spot, these authority figures face a choice, either to support the coach or the aggrieved parties. Often, they’ve sided with the latter, and a coach like Pete Birmingham or Kerry Bennett is doomed, no matter how well they’ve done.
All of this is a byproduct of the negative society we have turned into. Technology is great, for the most part, because now whatever happens, we know about it instantly and can comment on it instantly.
Unfortunately, it also leads to instantaneous judgments, usually offered behind a screen name or a Twitter feed, by folks who know that, the more negative, condescending and vicious they are, the more attention they will get.
We encourage meanness by not linking fair criticism to accountability. In other words, critics want their targets to be responsible for what they do, but don’t hold the same standards for themselves – the very definition of hypocrisy.
Put all this together, and it’s as tough to be a high school coach as it’s ever been. That’s not to say that everything they say and do is right. It’s to stay that, in all that they say and do, they have to act like the whole earth is covered in eggshells.
Whatever they choose to do with their teams, whether it’s innocuous or significant, has unintended consequences, if someone doesn’t like it. And once someone voices that displeasure, the spiral of accusation and recrimination is difficult to stop.
Back in 1976, a new lacrosse coach started at West Genesee. Thirty-seven years later, Mike Messere is about to be inducted into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame, a tribute to his work as a tough-minded, thorough teacher and mentor to two generations of kids.
Just imagine if Messere had started now, using the same methods. He, like Mike Adey, may not have lasted long enough to reap the rewards of a career of accomplishment. Especially if a parent didn’t like the way it was done.
That’s where we are now. Where are we going?