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Friday, September 15, 2006
Do We Take Youth Sports Too Seriously?

In the spirit of Keith Olberman's nightly "Worst Person in the World" award, I bring you Mark R. Downs, Jr.:
UNIONTOWN, Pa. -- A baseball coach accused of offering an 8-year-old money to bean an autistic teammate so he couldn't play was convicted Thursday of two lesser charges against him, and evaded more serious charges.

A jury convicted 29-year-old Mark R. Downs Jr. of corruption of minors and criminal solicitation to commit simple assault, Fayette County authorities said.

Authorities said Downs offered to pay one of his T-ball players, Keith Reese, $25 to hit Harry Bowers, a 9-year-old autistic teammate with a ball while warming up before a June 2005 playoff game.

Earlier in the trial, Reese testified about Downs' offer, saying he purposely threw a ball that hit Bowers in the groin, then threw another ball that hit him in the ear on Downs' instructions. Bowers also testified about being hit by the balls Reese threw during pregame warmups.

Witnesses previously testified that Downs wanted to bench Bowers so that he could win a youth baseball playoff game.
Aside from bringing to mind Geoff's great post last week on little league ethics, this story reminds me of Shawn Phillips, the Pennsylvania policeman who in 1999 gave a 10-year-old pitcher $2 to hit a 10-year-old batter with a fastball in a little league game. Phillips made the payment behind a local school's bike tracks, and then watched his hit man (or I guess I should say "hit boy") drill the other boy in the knee. Phillips would later be convicted of corruption of a minor and solicitation to commit simple assault and he would serve time behind bars.

Now, I haven't played T-ball or little league in almost 20 years, and I haven't coached them, but have they become overly competitive or too intense, or are these stories more like isolated incidents?

And what, if anything, might the current "Youth Baseball Culture" say about our country in general?


Have these activities become too intense and competitive? Sadly, yes they have.

The good news is that this kind of "adult behavior" is way out on the fringe of the bell curve. There aren't thousands of parents/coaches out there plotting how to injure kids on their team in order to win games. Hopefully the publicity and the punishment here will have some deterrent effect?

However, the tactic of "losing" a less than talented player is not a new phenomenon. I officiated basketball for 37 years and did a lot of time in youth recreation leagues. There was a coach in one of the leagues who - when his team had to play one of the "good teams" in the league - would call his two worst players and tell them that the site of the game had been changed to a gym in another part of the town. The kids would go to "the other gym" and miss the game. So, he would not have to play them. When the league director caught on, he "fired" the coach and got someone else to do the job.

The major problem with youth sports is the adults who are involved - - not the kids.

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 9/14/2006 11:42 PM  

One thing I have learned from the USA Hockey Coaching Education Program that is in direct correlation with your post is that 70% of youths drop out of their organized sport by the time they are teenagers.

There are many factors as to why this is, but one of the main ones is because of parents. Unfortunately, more than half of my seven hour class had to deal with "parental control" because the sport of hockey is losing so many participants due to the conduct of parents.

During the class, we viewed a PowerPoint presentation that showed an annoying amount of headlines, from various sports, which dealt with parental violence in sports.

I hope and assume that other sports are doing as much as USA Hockey is doing to derail this problem, especially after last week's incident in a youth football game.

Blogger WMUpsci_student -- 9/15/2006 5:59 PM  

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