Parents sap games' spirit
Printed in the Burlington Hawk Eye online July 22, 2004

The bread–and–butter of our sports section has always been our coverage of local and area high schools.

Because Iowa chooses to plays its prep baseball and softball in June and July, that gives us about 10 weeks out of the year when we have a respite from high school sports.

It gives a chance to rest, regroup and plan for what comes next.

It also gives us a respite from parents.

I've used this space before to talk about the conduct of parents at high school sporting events. Usually there are two reactions — you hit the nail on the head or you don't know what you're talking about.

The hit–the–nail–on–the–head people are the ones who face the brunt of this on a daily basis — the officials, who put in the time and the effort and are constantly berated by the know–it–leasts in the crowd, and the coaches, who work on a nightly basis wondering who they'll have to confront after the game because someone didn't get enough playing time.

The you–don't–know–what–you're–talking–abouts are the ones we actually are talking about.

To be fair, it is not just parents in southeast Iowa and western Illinois. One of the things I found at the Associated Press Sports Editors seminar I recently attended is that while the names are different, the voices are the same.

The voices are getting nastier every day, and they are sapping the spirit of the games that are being played.

The age of communication has improved so much, it has made it easier for people to express themselves, in most cases anonymously.

You can now leave voice mails without having to leave a name. You can get on Internet message boards without signing your name. You can now send e–mails without signing your name.

(Side note — my favorite e–mail this summer was from the mother who signed her message to me "A Parent." Smart enough to try to be anonymous, but dumb enough to forget that her name was listed on the e–mail as it popped up on my inbox.)

Our staffers — writers and photographers — have come back from several games this year telling of how, in the process of doing their job, some parent, or even grandparent, has sat nearby and said things about our newspaper loud enough for us to hear, but not directly to us. Or, they sit in the stands and badmouth the coach or an official.

Listening to such abuse, sadly, is common in jobs where what you do on a daily basis always seems to aggravate somebody.

But lately the abuse has gone beyond those in the media, those who coach and those who officiate.

Some of these comments go directly at the kids playing the games.

In the last few months, some of the e–mails we have received complaining about this or that have also contained negative comments about other teams. And, in some cases athletes, kids, from opposing teams.

It's sad that some parent feels the need to make insulting comments about a teenager. A kid who, if he or she wasn't wearing the uniform of an opposing team, would be someone that a parent could like or respect.

Actually, it's not sad, it's pathetic.

It used to be that the parents of the sports with the younger kids — Little League, soccer, softball, flag football — were the ones that got the bad rap.

Today, it is the negativity at the high school level that is especially distressing.

To be fair, we are speaking about the few and not the many.

But the number of the few is increasing, the number of the many is decreasing.

My hope is they don't switch roles.

That hope dwindles every day.

Reprinted with permission of the Hawk Eye sports editor (Bohnenkamp) July 26, 2004.