The Lady Eagles played hard on the basketball court; however, the eighth-grade team had a few embarrassing moments.
The blonde kept running her mouth every time the opposing team made it to the free throw line. The one with the gold necklace got frustrated with the officiating, stomped her feet and shrilly exclaimed, “We need new refs!” The guy who wore his Oakleys on his baseball cap yelled every time he disagreed with a decision on the court and didn’t stop his tantrum until the officials changed the call in his favor.
Life can be tough when you’re a middle school girl; it can be even tougher when a bunch of parents choose your basketball game to act like a pack of rabid dogs.
Welcome to the intersection of youth sports and parental failure, the spot where moms and dads feel like they can berate or threaten anyone who dares to stand in the way of their athletic prodigy’s chance of getting a college scholarship or going pro – at 13.
I spent most of my weekend stuck in this intersection, enduring a group of parents that revved up for multiple hit-and-runs aimed at other families, game officials and teenage girls dribbling a basketball. We were brought together by our city’s annual invitational basketball tournament, an event that unites more than 30 local middle school teams for two days of competition.
My daughter represented her school on one of those teams. Our school district takes that representation very seriously and has an athletic code of conduct that addresses issues such as academic standards, behavior, appearance, commitment and character. All student athletes are required to adhere to it. The school district also has a parental code of conduct that all athletes’ parents are required to sign. The document includes statements such as:
- I will always model good sportsmanship at competitions by the way I treat all athletes, coaches, officials and other fans.
- I will always remember that while I am not an athlete, I am representing my child’s team at competitions.
- I will insist that my child always demonstrate good sportsmanship and treat other athletes, coaches and officials with respect.
- I will always teach my child how to win and lose with grace by the way I act in each of those situations.
Apparently a few of the Eagles parents didn’t have the same document. Roughly a dozen of their moms, dads and other family members
violated annihilated the code during their girls’ semi-final game against the Gators. The crew yelled “Miss!” when the Gators took free throws. The blonde loudly criticized the female referee and when shushed by another parent, she defiantly refused to be silenced and bellowed, “I want her to hear me!” A man near her decided the female referee needed to hear more so he added, “Stupid b-tch!” to the shouts. The same decency-impaired group smiled and smugly clapped when a player shoved another girl from behind and snuck in a covert punch.
My family, along with other families from our school, sat wedged in the bleachers between the Eagles and Gators sections. Our girls’ game was next, and they were in the stands with us watching the game. The adults’ conduct made them very uncomfortable. The situation grew progressively worse as the minutes went by, and things threatened to get really ugly when the Eagles started losing their lead in the fourth quarter. A mom from our group decided it may be a good time to find the police officer who was assigned to the event. He came in a few minutes later and stood in front of the offending section. The crew was uncharacteristically quiet for a beautiful four minutes. Four minutes of real basketball. Four minutes of reasonable behavior. Four minutes of bliss for everyone in the stands and on the court.
When the final buzzer went off, the dozen grumbled. Despite all the yelling and negativity they directed toward the officials and opposing team, their girls lost the game. Imagine that.
I overheard a muffled conversation behind me. Apparently their girls could have won, but the evil referees kept making bad calls against them, and it was totally unfair that roughly 20 percent of the team fouled out during the game.
A grandmother of a Gators player, who sat on the opposite side of the gym, grinned. “It’s a game,” she added. “Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. It’s competition; it’s nothing personal.”
She shook her head when she heard about the feedback from the other end of the bleachers. “Children look to adults to see what to do,” she said. “We lead by example. What kind of example was that?”
Indeed. What kind of example was that? Based on today’s parental behavior, the girls learned:
- It’s okay to call a woman a b_tch when you disagree with her.
- It’s okay to punch someone when you get frustrated. Mom and Dad will smile – just don’t get caught doing it.
- Mom and Dad will never let anyone tell you that you did something wrong. They’ll blame it on another kid or take it out on the adult (referee) who dares to say you’re not perfect.
- Yelling at or criticizing another person makes you look smarter and more powerful. (Reality check: You look like a bully, and you’re reinforcing the behavior with your child.)
- Adulthood and maturity are two entirely different things.
Stay classy, Mom and Dad. You’re making the most of life’s teachable moments and providing your daughter with some outstanding lessons about sportsmanship, character and honor. Thanks for inspiring me.