In my opinion

Parents behaving badly in youth sports - shame, shame



In the two years since my youngest left for college, taking both cheer and mayhem in his luggage, there are a few cherished things I have missed. The same longing holds true for his older brother, who, I hope, is also shoulder-high in books and classes.

I miss their friends. Their boisterous entries and departures. Their music. The anticipation before one of their high school football games. The way they simplified the strange, new world of technology for their clueless mother.

What I don’t miss? The ridiculous, over-the top behavior of other sports parents, adults who acted like bullies, who flipped enthusiasm into a soul-crushing sickness.

The latest incident, one that is as confusing as it is horrid, involves a Miami soccer team that played an Orlando squad in a championship match of the Disney Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Though the match was played last weekend and the ensuing fracas was covered by the media, the truth of what happened has remained elusive, with conflicting stories from each side.

Both teams, however, agree on one fact: Parents participated in the melee. Which team’s parents — Orlando’s or Miami’s — remains undetermined.

According to the Orlando team, its goalkeeper was pummeled by two or three Miami players, who had just lost a hard-fought game. Matthew Feinberg, the parent of the 16-year-old goalie, says his son was treated at a hospital for a concussion and other injuries. Feinberg described the fight as “a riot” to an Orlando Sentinel reporter.

“What made this insane was that the parents cleared the bench,” he said. “The parents on their team helped their children. They even hit some kids on our team.”

Feinberg claims an Orlando grandparent was punched in the chest and his pacemaker turned off.

Exaggeration? Who knows? An Osceola County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said her office didn’t have any evidence that the incident approximated anything close to a riot.

Interviewed by Miami’s NBC station, WTVJ/Channel 6, the Miami team had a different version of events. It was one of their players who, having dropped to the ground to cry over the defeat, was kicked repeatedly by the Orlando goalie, they claimed. Miami’s center back, Jesus Albornoz, sported a swollen eye and a scratch on the side of his face. On camera he said he hit an adult only after that man, an Orlando supporter, struck him.

The sheriff and state attorney, who are investigating the incident, have their job cut out for them. Rabid parents, whether from Miami, Orlando or Seattle, are notoriously bad and biased witnesses.

Sad to say, parents behaving badly transcends sports and generations, even gender. I spent thousands of hours in the bleachers while raising five sports-crazed children, and though nastiness was not an every-game occurrence, it was common enough to warrant endless pre-season meetings by league officials who were desperate to cajole adults to act like … well, like adults, like role models. Despite these pleas, a loose cannon invariably shot off at some point in the season.

A parent who cussed at the ref. Who belittled an opposing team player. Who ran onto the field after a bad call. Who was ejected by an umpire. Who threw a punch at another parent.

These crazy parents turned what should have been a fun event into an embarrassing spectacle. Too bad they’re still around, ruining things for others.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

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