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Monday, August 27, 2007
The Best and Worst of Organized Children's Sports

Each year, the final week of August reminds us about the best and the worst that organized children's sports has to offer.

Yesterday afternoon, at the finals of the Little League World Series, grace and innocence was personified by 12-year old Dalton Carriker, who hit his opposite field, game-winning home run to help his team from Georgia to defeat a group of boys from Tokyo, Japan. When interviewed after the game, Carriker gave the kind of quote that only a teenage boy could give after one of the greatest moments of his life. Unabashedly he admitted, "[m]y adrenaline was about to go crazy ... My legs were about to fall off. I really thought I was flying, like Peter Pan."

It is the pure bliss of being part of a team that makes playing sports so sacred. Just helping children to reproduce those Peter Pan-like moments is what made me want to spend my college summers working at a sports camp and then my adult years working in the sports industry. It is moments like this year's Little League World Series that makes me generally thankful for adult involvement in children's sports.

Sadly, however, not every child gets to feel like Peter Pan. Not only does today mark the end of an exciting Little League World Series, but it also marks the four year anniversary of a high-school sports travesty in my hometown, Merrick/Bellmore, NY. On this day four years ago, a local football coach at Mepham High School took his team on a week-long trip, during which time he failed to impose proper supervision. During the trip, three of the older players tied freshmen (ages 13 and 14) to the ground and merciless rammed golf balls, pine cones, and broomsticks into their rectums. The freshmen's cries for help went unanswered by the team's coaching staff.

I do not know where the survivors of the Mepham High School attack are today. Presumably, they are now freshmen in college, and hopefully they are doing well. Due to callous school leadership, these survivors unfairly had the Peter Pan-like feeling that all children deserve ripped from their very core. Whereas children like Dalton Carriker will always associate sports with pride and accomplishment, society's hazing survivors may view sports as a source of terrible pain.

Over the years, I have written extensively about how to prevent hazing in high school sports. My first article on the topic appeared just months after the Mepham hazing incident, in Pace Law Review. It was a very important piece to me, given my closeness to that situation, having graduated from a school in that same district.

As I performed my research, I learned that hazing rarely occurs as an isolated incident, but rather as part of a pattern of abuse, and that coaches of teams with hazing are often just as culpable as the perpetrators. It made me come to terms with a lot of what I had seen at my own high school. Hazing is a viscous cycle, and if someone wants the joy of working with kids, that person needs to take the responsibility to break the hazing cycle, not exacerbate it.

Today, while we are still all feeling giddy from yesterday's Little League World Series, I hope that we can take a moment to make sure the children around us have a safe, protective environment where they can grow up loving sport. Not every kid can hit a game-winning home run in front of a big crowd like Dalton Carriker, but every kid can at least get to play the game free from the fear of physical and mental abuse.


Hazing in the NCAA:

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/27/2007 11:37 PM  

I just discovered your blog. It's great. I tend to view the LLWS as a joke these days; perhaps I am just too cynical. I think the wall-to-wall tv coverage has helped ruin the sport, with generous contributions from overzealous/insane/greedy parents.

Your comments on hazing are right on. I look forward to reading your journal article.

Anonymous muze -- 8/28/2007 12:05 AM  

I really enjoyed you comment on the LLWS. I really enjoyed watching the kids from a little town in GA. The team spent very few minutes celebrating and then went to the losing team.

My son played Little League and there was always the obligatory line up to shake the hands of the losing team. What I saw made me so proud. No handshakes or limp mid-fives (as opposed to high 5s). All the Georgia kids HUGGED the Japanese players. I saw some the the Americans kids taking the time to cosole their opponents. It was so touching. They took their time and did not rush to their deserved celebration. Great kids!

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