By Jackie Burrell
Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 at 6:00 am in Sports.
There’s a tempest brewing in California High’s baseball dugout, after a San Ramon Valley family accused coaches of giving members of their year-round, non-school team prized JV and varsity positions that left other players out in the cold. In essence, coaches were playing favorites, the family charged, with players who’d paid to play.
Frankly, it’s a common complaint, particularly in prosperous suburban areas where kids play high-octane, year-round ball, and their parents routinely hire private pitching/batting/whatever mentors to help their kids excel. In this case, school officials investigated and found no evidence of preferential treatment, but one of the coaches was removed halfway through the season, so commence with the dot-connecting.
Having had four kids play nearly every kind of aquatic and field sport for the last decade and a half, we’ve heard similar charges lobbed every time someone’s kid gets cut from a varsity team or doesn’t get as much playing time as mom or dad expects — and we have to say, this is a complicated issue.
On the one hand, it’s unreasonable to expect a coach who makes peanuts directing public high school athletic teams – $500 to $2,000 for a four-month coaching position whose hours make it incredibly difficult to hold down a day job too – to turn down the supplementary income that comes with high-powered, ultra-competitive “rec” teams. And what coach turns down the chance to train “his players” 12 months a year and reap the glory of a state championship? Truth is, rec teams often become feeder programs for high school sports. When it comes to team sports, most high school athletes prefer to train with the teammates and coach they’ll be playing with during the Big Season. And for a coach facing the task of building a championship varsity team, his year-round players become a known quantity. The kid who played frosh/soph last year? Not so much.
So, it’s certainly understandable that farm team-heavy varsity squads have emerged. Is the system ripe for abuse? Well, of course.
Naturally, you want to advocate for your kid. Thing is, every parent thinks his kid will get that full ride athletic scholarship, go to the Olympics, play major league ball. And years of teeball and everyone-gets-a-trophy sports just feed that fantasy … until you really, truly believe your kid is God’s gift to high school sports. But JV and Varsity sports is where the rubber hits the road. Not everyone makes it. And those two San Ramon brothers didn’t. Were they varsity level? Who knows?
At some point, you have to trust the coach – and the school’s athletic director, principal and superintendent who ultimately oversee it all. And at some point you have to stop and ask yourself this, is the coach playing favorites or is the “favorite” Chris Blackwood?
So here’s the cautionary tale: Miramonte High basketball coach Tom Blackwood led his team to 27 winning seasons, six league titles, and a North Coast championship, only to be forced out by team parents who accused him of favoritism toward his son at the expense of their, well, vastly more talented children, right? Only thing was, Blackwood wasn’t playing favorites. His kid was the real deal. After his father’s ouster, Chris Blackwood transferred and led rival Campolindo High to victory after victory, including a thorough thrashing of his old team that had sports columnists crowing about karma and parental sports hubris.
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