Opinion: Behavior Among Young Athletes Worsening

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The New York Post


Here, there, everywhere.

Last week, with the Little League World Series underway, we heard from Bill Henel, a 20-year Brick, N.J., LL umpire - eventually its chief umpire - who'd had enough. The kids exhibited less and less sportsmanship, while increasingly mimicking the all-about-me behavior borrowed from TV's aggrandizement of the excessively immodest.

And now we have learned that the bucolic seaside and forested inlands of Maine also suffer from borderline sports psychosis.

In the midst of ESPN's pressure - producing coverage of 12- and 13-year-old Little Leaguers having their pitch selections, pitch speeds and swing planes analyzed, and their stats compared to MLB's leaders - Paul O. Dillon of Corinth, Maine, sent along a piece from the Bangor Daily News that seems important to share.

It's about youth sports in Maine, specifically a shortage of umpires, referees and other game officials driven out because they no longer can suffer the abuse from coaches and parents. Here, there, everywhere, and now, in Maine, here we are.

"We've had officials who have done one season then they're out because of the way the crowd or the coach has handled them," said Barbara Snapp, 28 years a girls' lacrosse and soccer official.

Doug Ferguson, a Bangor-region sports official who teaches a course on game officiating, said: "We've had a tough time retaining officials, and the feedback I've gotten is that they all work youth games early and some have had some pretty poor experiences with parents and, unfortunately, some of the youth coaches haven't been very civil."

"It takes dozens of games for officials to become proficient; hundreds to become expert," said Wayne Sanford, who assigns Maine's high school lacrosse officials. "New officials learn to officiate on lower-level games, where players and coaches are also unskilled.

"Unfortunately, parents and coaches expect flawless officiating and too frequently become verbally abusive. This is a huge problem with respect to retention."

Is it mere coincidence that most of these coaches and parents likely are in their late-30s to mid-40s, and thus grew up in the 1990s as TV already was in a sustained attack on sports, selling trash-talkers, mean-mugging camera stare-downs, images of rank immodesty and teams' most conspicuous me-firsters as the preferred sights, sounds and stars of our games?

Another problem the Bangor Daily News cited with high school sports is the dubious win-at-all-costs "recruitment" of superior athletes to schools they otherwise wouldn't attend. Yep, Maine, too.

But the most dubious recruiter in the state is the University of Maine, a taxes-funded college that recently had to cut $26 million in overhead by reducing faculty in both pay and population.

Ah, but even in Maine, there's always a bundle to spend on sports.

Maine's women's basketball program annually looks like a foreign exchange school taught in a gym. Its full-scholarship roster since just last season has included players recruited from Italy, Croatia, Israel, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Austria. They must have been drawn by that winter climate in Central Maine.

At the same time, the men's basketball roster has included full scholarship recruits from England, Serbia, Turkey, Latvia and Brazil.

Clearly, then, there's a critical shortage of kids in Maine who played high school basketball and sure could use a scholarship to earn a college degree.

The psychosis that has left our sports gasping for clean, fresh air seems hopeless, untreatable unless we can transport people back to a place they never have been. And the sickness now starts with tee-ball, Pee Wee football, sixth-grade basketball and, last but foremost, turning on a TV.

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August 28, 2017


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