Discussions about softball pitchers always return to the same long-accepted, rarely challenged theory: It's not baseball; the softball pitching motion is safe and natural; a girl can windmill endlessly without physical consequences.
"People told me, 'Oh, you can pitch, you can pitch, you can pitch, you can pitch,'" said Diana Schraer, a 2004 Paramus High School graduate and member of The Record's all-decade team. "Then one day my arm went numb and I'm like, 'Oh, I guess I can't pitch anymore, right?'"
She hadn't started pitching until seventh grade - late for most girls today - but her doctor told her too many pitches resulted in cubital tunnel syndrome that required major elbow surgery the summer after her junior year, before she rehabbed and returned to pitch in high school and college.
Schraer grew up like just about every North Jersey pitcher age 8 to 18. Her world was guided by this "safe and natural" idea that is the rationalization behind pitching one dominant girl multiple games in a day, multiple days in a row, on multiple teams in a season.
It is a myth - and a dangerous one at that, according to several sports medicine experts, pitching coaches and at least two former standout Bergen County high school pitchers.
"It's absolutely a myth," said Dr. Nikhil Verma, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who has done research on the windmill delivery. "Anything that you do that's repetitive at that level with the type of force and velocity that these girls are generating puts you at risk for injury."
No less an authority than Dr. James Andrews, renowned orthopedic surgeon to the pros, debunked it in his 2013 book, "Any Given Monday," writing, "There is a common belief that throwing underhand is a natural way to keep the player safe from injury, but this definitely is not true. . The repeated movement and velocity of pitches thrown, even in the windmill style, are now even tearing the 'Tommy John ligament,' resulting in a UCL injury. Pitching limits matter in softball as much as they do in baseball."
But pitch count limits don't exist in softball at any level. Innings restrictions put in place by some leagues are meaningless, because a player can throw any number of pitches per inning. Theoretically it can be as few as three, but girls - especially younger girls just getting started - can routinely throw 30 or 40 pitches per inning.
Sherry Werner runs the Sherry Werner Fastpitch Academy in Fort Worth, Texas. She not only coaches young pitchers, she has done research and analysis on the windmill motion, including with U.S. Olympians. She has data showing that the force on a softball pitcher's shoulder and on that of a baseball pitcher's are equivalent, she said.
"It just drives me nuts," said Werner, who has a Ph.D. in biomechanics and has held research positions at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the American Sports Medicine Institute and Tulane Institute for Sports Medicine. "Every week I hear, 'It's safe and natural.' It's just a myth that is out there, and I think the powers that be . they just don't want to hear it."
The Amateur Softball Association, the leading softball organization in the country, did not return repeated messages seeking comment.
This weekend fall ball will wrap up for most of young North Jersey softball players. Third-graders through high school seniors have spent weekends the last few months on club and town travel teams playing two- and three-day tournaments with four, five or six games for each team.
Indoor winter workouts will soon begin, with many players getting additional personal lessons from pitching coaches.
Brittany Baiunco, The Record's softball Player of the Decade for 2000-2010, started windmilling in second grade and had a pitching coach by fifth. Always a three-sport athlete, she didn't start playing only softball until after her sophomore year in high school, but by middle school was throwing at least 100 pitches at least five days a week, year-round.
The Ramapo High School star pitched in four Bergen County championship games, winning three, and led Ramapo to a state title in 2006, but during a game at the end of junior year she felt something "funky" happen in her shoulder, she says. It was her rotator cuff and posterior labrum tearing.
"I'm probably a testament to the fact that there is absolutely an effect," the 25-year-old said of being over-pitched.
She had surgery, and although she came back and led Ramapo to the 2008 county title her senior year, she says she never felt fully recovered and still struggles with pain and an inhibited range of motion today. She did not go on to pitch in college for various reasons, including feeling like she was never her pre-surgery self.
Her advice to girls now?
"I would just say take care of yourselves, know your limits and don't be afraid to speak up," she said.
Just as every baseball pitcher won't tear his rotator cuff or require Tommy John surgery, not every softball pitcher will suffer an injury either. Many try to say softball pitchers who get hurt had mechanical problems that caused the injury.
"It's not that if you had proper mechanics you'd be fine," said Dr. Stephen Nicholas, orthopedic surgeon and director of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. "But the amount of stress you place on the body is less and because of that, you do last longer before you go to an overuse situation. . To think we can pitch ad infinitum makes no sense to me."
Softball injuries are coming to light now as more girls get serious about the sport, according to Nicholas. Parents are rushing players to the doctor to get them back on the field - as they have done with baseball players for years. In the past, a girl in pain would sit out for a couple of weeks; now they often pitch through it and suffer a more serious injury, sports medicine specialists say.
Despite doctors reporting more and more softball pitchers as patients, there are no peer-reviewed studies showing cause and effect for softball pitchers, according to Dr. William Levine, orthopedist and co-director of Columbia University's Center for Shoulder, Elbow and Sports Medicine.
"If you have the data, you can be more thoughtful about it, otherwise it becomes more anecdotal," Levine said.
That anecdotal evidence is mounting.
"I've seen more and more rotator cuff (injuries)," said Dr. Jeffrey Dugas, orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist and managing partner of Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Ala. "I've seen more Tommy John injuries in softball throwers."
Still, softball pitchers needing surgery are not as numerous as baseball pitchers needing it, a comparison that hurts efforts to get research done that could help put appropriate regulations in place for softball.
"The problem is sports medicine injury counts tend to be at surgery centers and tend to be how many surgeries (are done)," said Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Alabama. "I think that's missing the data on softball, because those injuries aren't typically surgical injuries."
The good news is that the research is under way, according to Dugas.
"There's some really high-end research going on in the softball world," he said, citing Werner's work among others. "There's so many kids doing it and the injury risk is not really well-appreciated, and we need more data.
"We know a lot about baseball. We know a lot about football. We know a relatively fair amount about soccer. Softball, in terms of just the epidemiology of softball, we don't have enough data about that, so there are things under way that I would say over the next five years we'll probably have a lot more data that resembles what we know about the other sports that are well-studied."
They should know enough in 5 to 10 years to have an impact, Dugas said. Until then, best-guess recommendations can be put in place to help prevent overuse injuries.
"There should be some regulations for softball pitching to prevent the excess beyond common sense, an overuse injury for these girls who play this one activity year-round," Fleisig said.
But word hasn't made it to the field and pitchers continue to exert incredible force on their shoulder, biceps, elbows, wrists and all ligaments and tendons in between, often on bodies with still-developing muscular and skeletal systems.
Schraer is now a teacher who spends her nights as a pitching coach for North Jersey youth pitchers. She tries to educate parents and keep her girls from being overused.
"In tournament ball, these coaches become so obsessed with winning that they will ride a kid's arm over and over and over again," she said. "I try to educate my parents, as well as my kids, because the more they know, the more they can advocate for their kids."
Nobody has ever told the coaches otherwise, they say.
"I don't want to harm anyone," said Lee Ehlerberg, involved in Mahwah softball for nearly two decades and currently the coach of the town's 12-and-under club team. "You don't get any money for winning. It's not that important. If I was told a girl's arm would fall off or there would be medical issues like there are in baseball …"
While he knows they're out there, Dugas said he has never met a coach who intentionally does something that could injure a player - and that includes those who send the same softball pitcher out to throw three games in a day.
"That kind of stuff is unwise, but that's the industry standard and that's on us as the medical professionals," he said. "We need to prove that point, and we're in the process of getting there."
Source: The Washington Times
Spectators gasped as the baseball — thrown inadvertently off course by the pint-sized pitcher — plunked the batter high on the arm.
Charlie Martin, 7, a girl with a traditional boy's name playing in a boys' world, stood at home plate in her baggy uniform, determined to remain as stoic as a big-leaguer in front of everyone at the Towson recreational field.
"I wanted to cry but I knew I shouldn't," said Charlie, whose ponytail extended from her cap and fingernails sparkled with polish. "And even though it hurt a lot, I just tried to tough it out."
Sometimes, there really is no crying in baseball, particularly when you are the only girl on the team and bent on proving your mettle in a sport that stubbornly remains a male bastion. Baseball — whose appeal is grounded in tradition — remains in many ways an anachronism. Even as athletic opportunities for girls have mushroomed since the 1970s, an unwritten custom endures: Baseball for boys, softball for girls.
"I think the challenge is that America has accepted this myth," said Justine Siegal, founder of the nonprofit organization Baseball for All, and the first woman to serve — albeit briefly — as a coach for a major league team, the Oakland Athletics. "Many people believe they are the same sport," Siegal said. "And clearly they are not."
University of Nevada-Reno political scientist Jennifer Ring worries about the larger consequences of restricting girls' opportunities in baseball.
"A girl who has been part of a team of boys hits the glass celing and suddenly she and the boys get the message she's not good enough anymore," Ring said.
In youth leagues around the country, a smattering of girls — including Charlie Martin, 9-year-old Charlotte Glorioso and 13-year-old Grace Parcover —refuse to yield to convention.
Forgoing girl's softball, played in the nearby Lutherville-Timonium rec league, they choose instead to play in the Towson Recreation Council's baseball league, which counts about 35 girls among its 710 players from ages 4 to 15. Each of the three is the only girl on her team.
Charlie — it's her real name, not a nickname — is a soft-spoken but self-assured public school principal's daughter who doesn't see why she shouldn't play the same sport as her 9-year-old brother.
"Sometimes they can ask me why I'm on the team because they think only boys should be on the team," she said. "I tell them because my dad signed me up for baseball and I don't really care what you guys think, but I think I should be on this team.
"Everyone should get to do what they want to do."
The 35 girls are an intrepid group, league commissioner Chris Pierce said. He has three sons in the program.
The girls ''for the most part hold their own," he said. "There's a little mental toughness about them — they're unfazed."
More than 4 million kids from 6 to 12 play baseball, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The number of girls playing has been estimated at 100,000, said Siegal, whose organization works to create opportunities for girls in the sport.
Area youth league organizers see a familiar pattern. Girls join teams as early as age 4, and stick with the sport for several years. Then their numbers thin out, until almost none are left playing by about age 13.
Reisterstown Recreational Council Baseball counts 14 girls among about 500 players, or about 3 percent. Nine are ages 4 to 6, three are 7 to 8, and two are 11 to 12.
The numbers are similar in the Towson rec league, where about 5 percent of the players are girls. None are older than 13.
At younger ages, coaches and parents say, the girls seem to care less about who is on the team than they will later on. As preteens, when puberty kicks in, their teammates' gender suddenly matters.
Some girls become self-conscious in a male-dominated setting, and feel an increasing tug to play sports and socialize instead with female peers.
In older divisions, size can also be a challenge, as the boys mature and become more physically imposing.
Playing mostly with boys can create pressure for girls "to perform well all the time because there are enough outside forces telling them they should quit," Siegal said. "Some girls internalize that and try to prove to themselves that they belong, with every at-bat and every pitch — which I think is unfair pressure."
'I want to do baseball'
None of that seems a problem for Charlotte Glorioso, the only girl on her team, the Athletics.
"She kept bugging and bugging and bugging, and I said, 'We'll do softball,'" said Lindsay Glorioso, her mother. "And she said, 'Nope, I want to do baseball.' She has two older brothers that have played, so she has grown up watching it."
On a recent weeknight, the 9-year-old had a traditional baseball look: gray pants, high black socks and, occasionally, a wad of chewing gum stuffed into her cheek. The only things setting her apart from her teammates were a ponytail and earrings depicting tiny green elephants.
"I kept saying, 'You're going to be the only girl,'" her mother recalled. "She said, 'I don't care.'
"If she has the confidence to go play with a bunch of boys, why wouldn't we let her?''
The boys on the Athletics regard Charlotte as just "a teammate," said 10-year-old Baxter Pierce, the league commissioner's son. Her gender, he said, "doesn't make any difference."
Charlotte said she wanted the challenge of hitting a regulation baseball and overhand pitching. In her 8-9 age division, the pitchers struggle with control, and she often reaches base on walks.
"I guess I just grew up with brothers, and I kind of wanted to play baseball, too," she said.
The softball debate
Softball, with its smaller field, larger ball, underhand pitching and fewer innings, can appear to be a fraternal twin to baseball — similar, but decidedly not the same. It's played at a high level by women in college, and the Olympics — and also by older men and women seeking a slower-moving recreational sport than baseball.
To Ring, the political scientist, softball is the "culprit" siphoning girls away from baseball.
Ring is the author of "A Game of Their Own," about women who stuck with baseball.
"I know I get in trouble every time I say this, but I teach a course on the politics of sports, and I refer to softball as 'Jim Crow baseball,'" she said.
Her daughter, Lilly Jacobson, now 27, was the only girl on her high school baseball team in northern Nevada.
Jacobson was good enough to play on the mostly unheralded national team that won the 2006 Women's Baseball World Cup.
Even now, Ring said, the women's national team receives little acknowledgment. It's made up of many of players who love baseball but played softball to earn college scholarships.
While boys can receive college baseball scholarships, girls need to switch to softball to vie for the same opportunities.
Boys "can dream their baseball dreams until they figure out they're not good enough to get a Division I scholarship or make the pros," she said. "The girls have been completely shut out of that mindset. Except that I have a feeling every little girl dreams for a while that she will be the first girl to play major league baseball."
Little League, the nation's largest youth sports organization, began allowing girls in 1974. They had been sued over a prohibition against girls — the National Organization for Women helped lead the fight — and lost in court.
While there are no rules against girls in the sport now, their advocates say there aren't many opportunities, either, because all-girls teams are scarce.
About 300,000 players participate on Little League-sanctioned, girls-only softball teams. The organization says it doesn't collect demographic information on how many girls play on its baseball teams, but it's believed they are a small minority.
It doesn't offer baseball exclusively for girls.
"In the past, we have looked into developing a separate girls' baseball program," spokesman Brian McClintock said. "And while our affiliate leagues were open to the idea, they had difficulty securing enough female interest to get started."
In Towson, Pierce said, there aren't currently enough girls to sustain a separate division for them, but that could change one day.
Siegal threw batting practice during spring training for several big-league clubs in 2011.
"I do think that Little League should offer girls baseball," she said.
Other sports, such as soccer and basketball, offer girls opportunities to play on their own teams at early ages.
Siegal's organization is trying to prove there is sufficient interest among girls to sustain baseball leagues, too.
Last year, Baseball For All organized the first national baseball tournament for girls ages 13 and under. Twelve teams participated in Orlando, Fla. They came from as far away as California.
The nonprofit is working with the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department on another girls' tournament scheduled for July.
Looking for role models
For years, baseball-obsessed girls lacked female role models in the sport.
In the 1990s, the all-women Colorado Silver Bullets, sponsored by the Coors Brewing Co. and managed by Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro, played a series of exhibition games, mostly against men's amateur, minor-league and semi-pro players.
"Girls watched it on TV and said, 'I want to do that,'" Ring said.
The 1992 movie "A League of Their Own" offered an interpretation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the real-life organization that was launched in the 1940s, when World War II had depleted the major leagues of much of its male talent.
Tom Hanks, as the alcoholic former big-leaguer who manages the Rockford Peaches, made famous the line: "There's no crying in baseball."
In 2014, Mo'Ne Davis became the first girl to throw a shutout at the Little League World Series. Her picture appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and her jersey was sent to the the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. First lady Michelle Obama tweeted about the player's achievements.
Spike Lee directed a documentary called "I Throw Like a Girl."
"I stand for girls who want to play sports with the boys," Davis said in the film.
Davis, 14, now aspires to play another sport — basketball — in college and the WNBA. Girls in Baltimore-area baseball leagues still talk about her.
"She really inspired me," said Hannah Sawa, 15, who played in the Towson rec league for eight years.
On Sunday, softball great Jennie Finch is to serve as "guest manager" of the Bridgeport Bluefish, a men's minor league baseball team in Connecticut, against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
The Bluefish are saying it will be the first time a woman has managed a professional baseball team. Finch led the University of Arizona to a national championship in 2001 and played in two Olympics, winning gold in Athens in 2004.
'It's just weird'
Victoria Ebaugh, 11, is trying to explain how much she enjoyed playing baseball — and why she no longer does.
For three years, Ebaugh was an infielder and pitcher in the Towson league. Only a few girls played in her age division.
Pierce, the commissioner, was her coach for a time.
Ebaugh "was so focused, so coachable," he said. "She just loves the game."
Seth Geller, Ebaugh's stepfather, said he enjoyed watching her mow down opposing batters.
"They thought because she was a girl, they were going to crush it," Geller said. "She would get a lot of strikeouts. All the boys loved her, but she'd still sit on the bench by herself. They'd be picking their noses and playing in the dirt."
Ebaugh, a sixth-grader, decided not to play after last season.
"It was fun and I had wanted to try it out," she said. "It's just kind of awkward because we're older. So now it's just weird" — she paused, and laughed — "with boys now."
This spring, she's playing lacrosse, on a girls' team.
Defying the pattern
Hannah Sawa defied the pattern. She played baseball on predominantly boys' teams for eight years, until she was 14.
Now 15, Hannah was among the most accomplished players in the Towson league, of either gender.
In 2009 — when she was 8 — she batted .606. She wore a confident smile in the team picture that year and was the tallest player.
Her coach signed a plaque citing her "passion, strength and ability" and calling her the "best catcher in the league."
For years, Hannah immersed herself in the sport. She played, volunteered as an umpire and watched games on television.
She lives five minutes away from Towson's six baseball diamonds, where the sounds of the sport fill the air on weeknights and Saturdays, and kids and their parents buy hot dogs and sodas from a snack shack staffed by volunteers.
Four shiny trophies and a league all-star team shirt are displayed at her home, along with an assortment of gloves, bats and balls, including some signed by members of the Orioles, her favorite major league team.
Like other girls interviewed, Hannah said she was treated well by her teammates. But she noticed that boys sometimes got embarrassed if she batted ahead of them in the lineup, or got a hit off them.
"There were some discouraging words sometimes," she said. "But I pushed through it.
"I think the reason I like baseball more is because in this society it's more of a baseball world. There aren't really softball teams that are professional. There's Major League Baseball."
This year, Hannah faced a wrenching choice — continue to play baseball with boys or switch to softball at the all-girls Bryn Mawr School.
She opted for softball because Bryn Mawr doesn't offer baseball, and she was eager to represent her school.
But she doesn't want to be away from the game. So several times a week she heads to the diamonds to help coach the team of her brother, Leo, 8. She offers instruction, shouts encouragement and helps the catchers — all boys — put on their equipment between innings.
Under different circumstances, she said, "I would have loved to play baseball for another year."
With Hannah gone, Grace Parcover — a tall 13-year-old who likes to play infield and hopes to pitch one day — is the league's most senior girl.
In Grace's family, she said, baseball has created a bond. Her brothers, ages 11 and 9, play the sport, and "me and my dad and my brothers always talk about the Orioles," she said.
"Baseball is my passion and I love it. I'm going to stay with baseball as long as I can."
Source: Baltimore Sun
What had been a wicked storm left behind an angry cell on Saturday.
Fans of high school softball — heck, Kansans who follow sports at any and all levels — were still bewildered and upset over a ruling Friday from the Class 5A tournament.
Officials from the Kansas State High School Activities Association went by the book.
To be precise, Rule 4-2-2b was imposed from the National Federation of State High School Associations softball manual.
The rule disallowed two runs Andover scored in the top of the seventh inning to gain a 4-3 lead in its semifinal game against Shawnee Heights because the game was stopped and could not be resumed within the required timeframe at water-logged Two Rivers Youth Complex.
This rule was made to be broken, but KSHSAA officials chose to ignore common sense.
What was outlined in a manual — with numbers, hyphens and small letters — did not account for the emotions, sweat and athleticism a team displays.
Particularly when the outcome resulted in a berth in a state championship game, something many great athletes never get to compete in during high school.
Try this. Explain the circumstances to a pal who did not hear of the decision the KSHSAA levied Friday, when it reverted back to the completion of six innings, deemed the 5A semifinal official and declared Shawnee Heights a 3-2 winner.
If informed about Andover's rally in the top of the seventh, most anyone would tell you the game should have been suspended at that point, then resumed when conditions allowed, even if the completion of the game was pushed into Saturday.
The ruling issued applies to all games, the KSHSAA contended — regular season, postseason and potentially glorious seasons.
Exceptions, however, should be made.
Games at state should not be treated with robotic insensitivity.
Hopefully, the rule that will pain the members of the Andover softball team for some time, and will become a story for its players to incredulously share forever, was at least outlined in softball rules meetings the KSHSAA conducts with coaches.
If not, it better be in the future.
Scratch that. The rule better be changed.
Not only was it unfair to Andover, it was unfair to Shawnee Heights as it advanced to the championship game after falling behind in the seventh inning of a semifinal game.
When Seaman homered for the decisive run in its 3-2 win Saturday against Heights, a group of onlookers beyond the fence cheered. They were wearing Andover shirts.
Is this what the KSHSAA wants to promote by strictly adhering to a letter of law rather than recognizing a labor of love?
Before the championship game, Heights players and coaches were left to discuss their feelings. The T-Birds held strong as they rallied with two runs in the fifth before falling.
"(Players) talked about it all day long,'' Heights coach Steve Giddens said. "It was like, 'We deserve to be here. Let's go out and show Seaman what we're made of.
"We talked about (the controversy) with them for about five minutes and we said, 'Look, you can understand if you're on the other side of that situation.'''
As fans arrived Saturday, one mentioned how solemn the facility seemed. Another mentioned how fallout from Friday's events could tarnish the achievements of both finalists.
There was no admission charged, no sale of programs or T-shirts. It was hard to detect a state championship was at stake.
At least until the game got going. Then, spirit flowed and emotions escalated.
Consider this: Did the National Federation recommend that Kansas schools be separated into as many as eight classes, with a possibility afloat for that number to grow to nine?
A different matter, sure. Yet proof the Kansas State High School Activities Association can be flexible on some, if not many, issues.
That flexibility needs to stretch into sensible decisions on the playing fields too. Not only as they relate to safe conditions, but also to equitable competitions.
Source: Topeka Capital-Journal
They weren't spirit-of-the-season carolers banging on the door of Mike Randolph's home one Christmas, but rather inebriated hockey parents hell-bent on expressing their displeasure with the Duluth East coach, who was in the middle of a holiday celebration with his family.
Following a 2011 loss, Kurt Mattila, who lost his job as Ely boys hockey coach last September after a months-long and often-combative saga, was "slammed through the door, thrown in the hallway, getting railed on" by a father of one of his players. The man eventually was charged with two offenses; he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct while a fifth-degree assault charge was dismissed.
Randolph and some of his counterparts on Northland hockey benches — Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Dave Esse and ex-Grand Rapids coach Bruce LaRoque, to name a couple — survived parental plots to have them ousted.
Others were less fortunate.
Former Carlton boys basketball coach Adam Bailey's three-year tenure with the Bulldogs ended ugly in 2014. Dick Swanson, currently the Duluth Denfeld softball coach, pulled the plug on his 22-year Hall of Fame career with the school's girls basketball team in 2008 after friction with parents made the post unpalatable.
Joe Wicklund recalled, from his first season guiding the Duluth Marshall baseball team, a father of one of his players approaching the third-base coaching box mid-game as Wicklund was giving signs.
"If you don't put my kid in, I'm going to pull him" off the team, Wicklund was told.
Wicklund responded by asking, "Do you want me to get him for you?" When he called for the player, the dad slinked away.
An area boys basketball coach, who requested anonymity, discussed a petition his parents circulated seeking nonrenewal of his contract, while also "calling former players to get dirt on me." Parents with another area boys basketball team reportedly met at halftime of a game this past winter to strategize the coach's removal.
Over the past several weeks, the News Tribune spoke with coaches and other athletic officials across the region about what has become a disturbing trend — the seemingly increasing power wielded by parents of prep athletes.
John Erickson, executive director of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association, says the issue isn't new.
Regardless, it's never been this extreme, many say.
"The parental pressure is, to me, much more intense, much more open and visible than what it used to be," Erickson said.
Most caught-in-the-crosshairs coaches who reach out to Erickson sing the same tune.
"Most calls I get are relative to, 'A parent wants me out of here,' " he said.
Complaints overwhelmingly stem from playing time and wins and losses.
And they're dramatically altering the landscape of a part-time profession with full-time pressure.
Tensions either mushroomed this spring or recent coach-school divorces were simply higher profile across the state.
Maybe both, but the separations have been increasingly toxic.
Tony Scheid defiantly stepped down as girls hockey coach at Stillwater Area High School. Announcing his resignation via a news release, Scheid said he was "subjected to an unrelenting and vicious personal series of verbal attacks from a group of parents of intensity unlike any I could have imagined, much less seen before."
Despite a lackluster 9-16-2 record in 2015-16, Scheid's credentials would appear to warrant some leeway. In 14 seasons, he was 260-112-21 and led the Ponies to a pair of state titles.
In his letter, addressed to Stillwater's superintendent, Scheid said "much of the joy" from coaching was sapped "by the need to defend my own family from these vicious attacks, which would seem to be channeled to and through your office."
Success couldn't save the boys basketball coach at Mankato West High School, either. Tom Boone was fired after 18 seasons leading the Scarlets, who dipped to 10-17 this past season. They won a state title under Boone in 2004 and finished second in 2009. Parental complaints were rumored to be the crux of Boone's undoing, according to the Mankato Free Press.
A volleyball coach at Lakeview High School in Cottonwood, Minn., took a swipe at parents when she resigned after three seasons.
"If I could coach the kids and have no administrative or parental involvement, things would be different," Hayley Fruin told the Marshall Independent.
At Worthington High School, Brad Grimmius said the decision to retire as football coach after 14 seasons was made easier by the "constant criticism and negativity from parents and lack of support from some administrators," according to a statement he gave Worthington-based Radio Works.
Grimmius continued: "I will not miss the constant complaints from parents whose kid did not start, or did not play that much, or did not earn a scholarship. Each year this seems to increase more and more. I would like to tell them, 'Here is my whistle — knock yourself out and give it a try.' "
A contentious relationship with parents reportedly led to the resignation of St. Louis Park High School boys hockey coach Terry Keseley.
All of this comes three years after the adoption of a state statute that stipulates "parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a board not to renew a coaching contract."
Coaches of Minnesota schools are at-will employees who work under one-year contracts. They are reviewed annually. If a contract isn't renewed and a coach requests the reasoning, the board must comply, in writing, within 10 days. Coaches then can request an opportunity to respond at a board meeting, to be open or closed at the coach's discretion.
It's debatable whether the 2013 legislation has enough teeth. Around the same time it was passed, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that, over the preceding five years, 110 boys hockey coaches left their teams and "at least 38 of the departures — about 35 percent — involved parental complaints," according to Mike MacMillan, executive director of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association.
Erickson says if a district wants to terminate a coach, it will find a way. What's to stop a school board from saying it simply wants to go in a different direction?
"Which would be the thing that people say 99 percent of the time," Cloquet athletic director Tom Lenarz said.
Kevin Merkle, associate director for the Minnesota State High School League, expressed skepticism that the law is a strong enough deterrent.
"It's there in principle, but you can always find another reason," Merkle said. "There's kind of a way around it."
'DREAM JOB' BECOMES A NIGHTMARE
The law didn't help Carlton's Bailey or Ely's Mattila.
Bailey graduated from Carlton in 2002 and scored a program-record 1,702 points for the Bulldogs.
"I bled blue my whole life," he said.
Those feelings were muted when Bailey departed in 2014. While he officially resigned, he admits, "to be quite honest, I don't know if I would have been brought back."
Bailey is unapologetic about the way he coached — "hardcore, a little bit in your face and had high expectations." He is animated, and it's apparent he wears his emotions on his sleeves. During a conversation last month, he talked candidly, the edge in his voice unmistakable.
During his first two years as coach, the hard-charging style ruffled a few feathers, but Bailey felt secure in what he called his "dream job." It's no coincidence Carlton was competitive those seasons — 9-15 and 12-14. But the situation deteriorated during a three-win 2013-14 season.
Complaints and anonymous letters from parents, including at least one who was on the school board and "hated my guts," Bailey says, took their toll. Bailey says almost all the grievances, whether they were masked as concerns about his vocal and sometimes in-your-face coaching or the Bulldogs using a practice to fundraise, dealt with playing time. At one of his meetings with parents, it was suggested that minutes be evenly distributed.
Bailey refused that notion. He also refused one year to take part in a review process in which parents were among the reviewers.
"There's absolutely no business being reviewed by parents," Bailey said.
The tipping point, Bailey says, likely came when he abstained from nominating any of his players for postseason Polar League awards in 2014. The Bulldogs were 3-20, and "I didn't have a kid that deserved to be on the first or second team," said Bailey, who was pilloried by players and parents alike on social media.
Some of the posts were raunchy and profane. In one, Bailey was called a "fat ass."
Two years later, Bailey admits there were times he caved to parental pressure and was "playing kids that had no business being on the court." That's when he realized it was time to move on.
MATTILA BEMOANS RAW DEAL
While Bailey resigned, Mattila was hip-checked from a position he says he took 10 years ago when nobody else would coach the Timberwolves.
His status became uncertain in April 2015 when the Ely School Board tabled an administrative recommendation to keep Mattila "after hearing from parents who asked that the board further explore the matter," according to the Ely Echo. In May, it appeared he was out after a 3-3 board vote thwarted the recommendation. Mattila appealed in June, responding to criticism that his program didn't win enough and that it lacked discipline. In late July, the post was opened for applicants — Mattila reapplied — and in September, Ben Johnson, who played hockey at Duluth East in the 1990s, was hired.
Between April and May, Mattila, a 1995 Ely graduate, said unhappy parents banded together and wrote letters advocating for a changing of the guard.
"It was political. A couple parents got together and they had as much power as I did persuading the school board," said the colorful Mattila, whose oldest son, Nick, a freshman, continued to play for the Timberwolves this past winter.
Mattila doesn't feel the need to defend his win-loss record. In his final three seasons, the Timberwolves won seven games combined. Mattila, who had little coaching experience when he took over the team in 2005, said parent expectations were unrealistic at a small school like Ely that boasts little in the way of hockey tradition.
More than anything, Mattila was wounded by what he sees as a raw deal. He stepped up to the plate a decade ago, filling a void and providing stability to the program. He spent copious hours at the rink and on buses from November until mid-February over the ensuing 10 years, all for what he said was a $3,200 salary.
"In return, this is the 'thank you' you get," Mattila said.
When the school board voted to commence the hiring process for a new coach, board chairman Ray Marsnik said he would "go along with the posting as long as Kurt Mattila has an equal opportunity to apply and that he be treated like any of the other candidates," according to the Echo.
Mattila said that wasn't the case.
Johnson, whose coaching resume includes time at East, Shattuck-St. Mary's and at the junior level, was hired by a 5-1 board vote. The move was recommended by a five-member search committee, which included new athletic director Tom Coombe.
Hired in late July, Coombe was an observer for much of the soap opera, covering it for the Echo, where he remains editor. He disagreed with the assertion that parents in the hockey program had too much power.
"At the time this was me from the outside looking in, and I didn't see a situation where you could say Parent A and Parent B vented and therefore the board took this action," Coombe said. "I think there was more to it than that."
ESSE, RANDOLPH SURVIVE CEC's
Esse had heard horror stories from colleagues across Minnesota who were the targets of parental subterfuge.
Prior to February 2013, he says, "I kind of thought that'll never happen at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton."
But it did, just ahead of the Section 7AA playoffs, when a complaint filed by parents of former and then-current players accused Esse of bullying, intimidation and violating the MSHSL's code of ethics. The uprising was led by a youth hockey coach in Cloquet who had three sons on the 2012-13 team.
"It all revolved around playing time, and then they tried to branch out and bring up all kinds of issues and twist things," Esse said. "It was actually kind of comical. It was unbelievable."
Esse ultimately kept his job following a six-week investigation spearheaded by Lenarz, the Cloquet athletic director. But not before Esse endured what became a public trial of his character, not only as a coach but as an elementary teacher at Carlton. His credibility was assaulted.
In a high-profile role like head hockey coach at CEC, Esse understands there will be detractors.
"But when you attack people, like in my instance where they went after me as a teacher and they went after me as a coach," he started. "They talked about I falsified records to be a teacher. Someone said that I was abusing kids at the elementary, where the police had to show up. Are you kidding me? They said I falsified my master's degree from the College of St. Scholastica, they said I didn't graduate from college. So the Minnesota (Department of Education) had to show up at my elementary. That's crazy. That's nuts."
Esse, who recently completed his 17th season leading the Lumberjacks, credited his administration for standing behind him.
Erickson, with the coaches association, says Esse's was one situation where the 2013 legislation worked in that it prevented a coach's firing based strictly on parental complaints.
The longtime coach says there was some initial trepidation about returning to coach CEC after the ordeal. He had job opportunities elsewhere and discussed them with his family.
"I'm getting paid $5,500 — is this really worth it?" said Esse, who recently was a finalist for the Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey coaching job. "Like I told my wife, my two favorite stores in the world are Menards and Sears. I can work there part-time and make a heck of a lot more money and not have any issues.
"Just very disappointed in how people acted and how it came about."
Randolph can relate. Whether it was complaints from parents, selling Christmas wreaths or political maneuverings by administrators that led to Randolph being forced out for the 2003-04 season, it was messy and highly publicized.
Randolph was rehired in the spring of 2004.
"They had a year to search for what I did wrong, but I didn't do anything wrong," he said.
Over the years, one of Minnesota's most successful coaches — Randolph has won 579 career games and a pair of state titles with the Greyhounds — has joked that at his preseason meeting with parents, he tells them not to talk to him again until March.
Despite the constant winning, there still are rumblings from parents. That's never changed. It was true even in 1995, in the aftermath of East's first title since 1960, when Randolph walked into a celebration at the team's St. Paul hotel following the Greyhounds' 5-3 win over Moorhead. He was greeted coolly by some parents, who were chagrined over a perceived lack of playing time for their children, or who didn't like all the attention bestowed upon the team's stars, such as Dave Spehar, Chris Locker and Dylan Mills.
"I said to my wife, 'If looks could kill I would have been dead on the spot,' " Randolph said.
Rumblings surfaced again in 2014-15, which concluded with East making a surprise appearance in the championship game at its seventh consecutive state tournament. In reality, at a traditional power like East, complaints are probably always there.
The grousing, Randolph says, is almost always about a lack of playing time.
He will meet with parents and listen to their objections until, hopefully, a middle ground is established. But he has a couple rules. Randolph won't interrupt a parent and, in return, he doesn't want to be interrupted. There can only be one coach. If he smells alcohol, the discussion is terminated.
And the biggie.
"Please respect my time on Sundays," Randolph says before a grin creases his face, "and on Christmas."
Source: Duluth News Tribune
As a now part-time sports reporter who spent 15 years as a sports editor at a weekly newspaper and the last 15 as a high school coach, it's not difficult to figure out how I like to spend my free time.
Watching sports, of course.
So when the chance came to check out yet another reality show, this one about youth football in Pittsburgh, it seemed like a fair way to spend a night.
But it didn't take long to figure that "Friday Night Tykes" displayed very little of what is good about youth sports and mostly all bad.
If it wasn't for the use of bleeps and dead air, there would be more foul language than clean on every episode.
Now, before you claim I'm just being soft or too politically correct, I'm not too naive to know that coaches tend to get a little bit excited from time to time.
I'm guilty as charged — and not real proud of it when it happens.
But these are 10-year-olds we're talking about. Children just a few years removed from sucking their thumbs, and there are scenes in this show when the adults swear a blue streak because a kid didn't run a play correctly.
Hard coaching can almost be forgiven. It's perfectly OK to push kids, to expect them to reach for greatness, to be all that they can be.
But when it borders on abuse in the name of winning some 10-year-old city championship in Pittsburgh? That's crazy.
It's really an hourlong, weekly documentary about screaming.
The season finale was Tuesday night, so once again, I tuned in to see what this train wreck would look like.
Of the two teams in the final, one had a coach who seemed to be in it for the right reasons; the other fit the description above to the letter.
Unfortunately, "evil" won over good. It was a disappointing finish to a show, as it almost would have been poetic justice to see the most over-the-top of youth coaches finally have to eat a little humble pie.
But instead, he was able to walk off the field with a trophy taller than him and proclaim himself as the champion, that he won the ever-important city title.
Hurray for him.
But if this is what youth sports have come to, then we as a society have more problems than we think we do.
Teach your kids the game. Get them to be disciplined, respectful soon-to-be teenagers. Show them right from wrong. Prepare them for a positive high school experience.
That in a nutshell should be the focus and not on wins and losses.
And certainly not on what this show was about — overbearing, nearly psychotic parents and coaches living out their dreams through 10-year-olds.
Source: Kenosha News