Coaches Say Parents Driving Them From The Game
News Leader, Patrick Hite
Rob Bennett has one less job these days. The Covington High School science teacher, who is also the city's mayor, resigned as the school's boys' basketball coach in late January.
Enough was enough.
Over the past 20 years Bennett has spent time as both the boys' and girls' basketball coach and, for the most part, had support from parents and fans.
After taking some time off to get his master's degree, he returned to the bench four years ago. In the time away from the game something changed. That support he received in the past was gone. Bennett and his coaching staff were questioned by parents about something after every game.
"It was either over playing time, what I said to their child on the bench, why they didn't start, why they didn't play in this quarter, why did you play this player because he missed practice or missed 30 minutes of practice because he went to get tutored in English, why did you keep a freshman on the varsity," Bennett said. "It was unbelievable."
There were even parents who accused Bennett of allowing poor behavior and language on the team bus, accusations that were proved false with the help of videotape.
Said Bennett, "Why am I going to be miserable doing something I love to do and, for the most part, was pretty good at?"
Unfortunately, Bennett's story isn't unique. There are plenty of stories of coaches quitting because they are tired of putting up with unreasonable parents and fans.
Ironically, Nathan Hale, the Covington assistant coach who has taken over the team for the remainder of the season, has been close to a similar situation in the past. His father, Bill Hale, was driven out by parents as Fort Defiance boys' basketball coach more than a decade ago.
In 2003, Mike Hamilton, the girls' basketball coach at Rockbridge County, even went as far as suing a troublesome parent.
Go to any high school basketball game and you can't avoid it. The other night, while covering the Rockbridge County at Waynesboro boys' basketball game, I sat in front of two Rockbridge County fans who complained about the officials almost every trip down the court. I should have known what I was in for when, before the game started, one of the ladies pointed to an official and said, "That's the one who threw me out of a game at Wilson Memorial."
Earlier this year, during a Stuarts Draft-Waynesboro game, I heard a parent of a Waynesboro player wishing out loud that her team played more like Stuarts Draft, who runs an up-tempo style. I guess it didn't matter that Waynesboro has gone to back-to-back state tournaments, including a spot in last year's state championship game.
Wilson Memorial athletic director Greg Troxell has been trying to figure out why there have been so many problems with fans and parents lately.
"Is it what I call the ESPN factor?" Troxell said. "Everyone watches ESPN and hears how it should be done and now everyone is an expert. Is it parents trying to live their youth again through their kids? Is it economic pressure and the hope that their kid is going to get a full ride to college and save them money? I don't know, but it is getting worse, and the lack of respect for officials and coaches is alarming."
Steve Hartley offered another possibility.
"With so many different little leagues in the country now, parents are having to coach more than they used to," the Stuarts Draft athletic director said. "In turn, they seem to think they have more knowledge of the game."
Of course, none of the parents and fans who are actually causing problems will recognize themselves when reading this. It's probably too much to ask that all spectators cheer for their teams without criticizing officials, coaches or the opposing players.
When kids see their parents blaming everyone else for their team's lack of success, it's bound to affect them.
"The kids see this and are just a product of their environment," Bennett said. "Parents do not tell the truth to their kids like we coaches do. We now live in a politically correct world and people are not used to hearing the truth. They want to not face what is real and make excuses when things do not go their way. Rules are wonderful until they affect my kid. Then we want something else to be done."
School administrators try to solve the problems. Larry Landes, Fort Defiance's principal, said his staff has spoken in private to fans who act inappropriately. The topic is raised at all meet-the-team nights prior to the season, and administrators are at almost all athletic events, ready to step in and handle any problems.
"Use of profanity from fans, screaming at officials, belittling coaches is totally unacceptable," Landes said. "We preach sportsmanship with athletes, coaches and fans."
Not only are coaches quitting, but schools are finding it more and more difficult to get someone to coach in the first place.
Even athletes are giving up. A couple of years ago there was an athlete at Wilson Memorial who chose not to play because he was tired of his dad yelling at him from the stands. Troxell offered to talk to the father, but the kid said it wouldn't change anything.
"What parentsdon't realize is they are really embarrassing their child," said Troxell, who emphasized that a majority of fans are great, but it only takes one or two to make everyone look bad.
I've often said, only half jokingly, that high-school sporting events would be better if they were played without anyone in the stands. Obviously, no one wants to reach that point. Instead, it's time for the adults who are watching the games to grow up and actually act like adults.
"No coaches or officials are trying to cheat or do things to kids on purpose," Hartley said. "So just sit back and enjoy the game."
Likewise, they haven’t the slightest clue as to all that running a program entails. If I tried to calculate the amount of time I put into the program compared to the stipend I get, I think it works out to about 3 cents an hour. A little gratitude and appreciation would be nice but, in my case, is apparently too much to ask. I have had parents screaming at the top of their lungs about their child being pulled off the floor. Just last night, at half time of a playoff game, two of them were openly complaining about my first half strategy and decision making. This was done within ear shot of me so I could hear their disdain clearly. When we sign up, we already resign ourselves to the fact that everyone in the stands knows more about the game than we do, but every coach has a tolerance level, forcing us to ask, “is it worth it”? All the time spent away from family or not focusing on your full time job, for this? The past two seasons my answer was no until I realize that I have had a positive influence on at least one kid. As Pacino said in the Godfather III, “Every time I think I am out, they pull me back in.” The kids are the only things that keep me (against my better judgment) coming back.