Youth sports parents get a bad name these days, and some parents deserve it. Every week seems to bring new headlines about out-of-control fathers and mothers who verbally (and sometimes physically) assault officials, coaches, other parents, and even other youngsters.
The violence is real, but headlines about a few unhinged parents at games played each year by more than 30 million boys and girls can make the sports scene appear much worse than it really is. In the 42 years that I coached youth hockey, troublesome parents were the exception and not the rule.
Each December, I present the year’s “top 5” news stories about young athletes who did something special. The stories change each year, but the parents’ role remains the same. Once again, the young stars in this year’s top 5 could not have inspired us without first learning right from wrong at home. Most parents do it right.
5. Middle Creek High School (Apex, N.C.) football star Rashawn King missed his junior season while battling leukemia. After winning all-conference honors as a senior, he wanted to thank everyone at school for their unwavering support during months of intensive care — the “Pray for Ray” football games, the fundraisers for medical bills, and the friends who flooded the hospital with messages and camped out in the lobby.
Rashawn’s struggle caught the attention of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills the dreams of children who face life-threatening illness. Rashawn’s wish? To treat all his classmates, teachers and staff members to lunch in the school cafeteria because “they cared for me.”
“We’ve never had anyone who wanted to share his wish with this many people,” reported the foundation’s local president before serving all 1,900 guests.
4. Eleven-year-old Matt Woodrum finished a distant last in the 400-meter race in the Colonial Hills Elementary School field day in Worthington, Ohio. As Matt struggled to complete the course, he won classmates’ cheers, encouragement, and high-fives.
Matt has spastic muscular dystrophy, which creates stiffness that limits movement and mobility. Bullies often target vulnerable classmates who appear “different,” but Colonial Hills students know right from wrong. Matt’s mother says that his classmates “treat him like every other kid . . . and they’re like a second family to him.”
3. Soon after 12-year-old hockey player Mark Mannarn (North York, Ontario) lost his grandmother to pancreatic cancer, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mark and his father created “Feel Like a Pro Day,” which enlists former National Hockey League stars to coach and scrimmage kids who secure sponsorships for the Canadian Cancer Society. Mark’s ambitious goal was to raise $100,000 for research in the first year, but corporate donations doubled that figure, the largest amount ever raised by a single event in the society’s history.
2. After winning the state title in the 1,600-meters, West Liberty-Salem High School junior Meghan Vogel was in last place in the 3,200-meters final at the Ohio state track and field championships in Columbus. Just 20 feet from the finish line, she had a chance to pass a competitor who had collapsed on the track.
Meghan instead helped up the competitor and supported her across the finish line. Meghan also assured herself a last-place finish by making sure that the competitor remained a split-second ahead of her.
“She was in front of me the whole race,” said Meghan, “so she deserved to finish in front of me no matter what it took.”
1. Halfway through the race, Cooper Yeshiva High School (East Memphis, Tenn.) cross country runner Seth Goldstein was in the middle of the pack, with a good chance to win or place high. With runners passing him, the senior stopped to save a rival’s life. The other runner had collapsed, with his lips turning blue and his eyes rolled back in his head.
Because the runner was bleeding profusely from the mouth after biting his tongue, Seth turned him on his side so that he would not choke or asphyxiate. Seth then summoned a parent to call 911 and reassured the other runner until emergency medical technicians arrived.
Then Seth returned to the course and finished the race that everyone else had finished minutes earlier.
After watching Meghan Vogel’s noble gesture, a local track coach put youth sports in perspective: “We hear about the bad stories all the time, but good sportsmanship is still the norm.” And good sportsmanship begins at home.
Douglas E. Abrams is a law professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia.