Politics. Spend any amount of time attending high school or youth sports and you are bound to hear the word uttered. Just the mention of the “P-word” rankles the emotions of most, often with negative connotations, and with good reason. Congress currently has an approval rate of 13%, so you get the picture. So what do politics have to do with youth sports? In too many cases, plenty.
Often when the word politics is uttered it frequently has a nebulous meaning, void of any specifics. Simply put, politics infiltrate sports when those in power use their positions to wield outcomes that are not based on merit. An example of this would be for a school board member to demand certain squad members who were cut by the coaching staff to be reinstated following team selection.
Believe me, this has happened on more than one occasion. In one instance, a number of years ago, a well-respected coach was presented with this scenario by his superiors following the try-out period. The coach didn’t acquiesce to their demands and walked away immediately, leaving the administration and school board with egg on their collective faces. The coach in question wasn’t out of coaching long as he landed a position at a local school the next year.
So why are we so bothered when things like this occur? We rail against the NBA and the narcissistic nature of the athletes. We shake our heads in disbelief when a highly gifted athlete is allowed to take five steps to the basket and no travel is called. Major college sports have became a de-facto minor league system for the pros, where the term student-athlete in many cases is a farce. Those of us who follow high school and youth sports on a continual basis do so because we believe it to be the last bastion of purity in athletics. We are disturbed because it goes against our innate notion of fairness.
We want to believe in the educational value of high school and youth sports and we enjoy the excitement these games bring. Behind the bright lights of the courts and the green grass of the playing fields lie an ugly underbelly. A coach of an Eastern Maine Championship team told me the calls he received from parents this season were unbelievable, just pure pettiness. The climate has changed. The investment made by many parents prior to high school for their young prodigies can be astronomical.
That being said, the word “politics” gets thrown around to the point where in many cases it’s lost its meaning. It is often a catch-all euphemism used to explain some perceived slight. Better to scream “politics” than to admit that gee, maybe I’m not as good or my son or daughter isn’t as good as I thought. “Politics” in most cases has become a convenient alibi to gloss over ones shortcomings. Any coach I’ve known is competitive and wants to win and is going to put the players on the floor, ice, or field who they believe can best accomplish that objective. Do coaches play favorites? Absolutely. Usually their favorites are those who listen, put forth great effort, and are in general good teammates.
Next time you attend a youth or high school game and someone says something like “the politics in this town are unfair”, ask them what specifically they mean by that. Many times you will get some rambling, ambiguous answer, often from a parent disgruntled about their child’s role in the program.
Leaders must take a vigilant role to see that high school and youth sports are kept in their purest form. Incidents as I described are not the norm but they are becoming frequent enough to make many stop, pause, and take inventory as to their role in athletics. As fans of the games, we must also show discernment that everything which appears to be so, isn’t always so.
The Press Box would like to congratulate John DeRaps on being named the new girls varsity basketball coach at Sumner Memorial High School. DeRaps previously coached at Narraguagus High School of Harrington, where he led the Lady Knights to the tournament. DeRaps, whose wife Marianne is Sumner’s principal, will bring a high level of professionalism to the post. I first met Coach DeRaps while he was serving as an assistant coach for Ron Brown with the Narraguagus boys in the mid-2000’s. Sumner will be well-prepared for every game and will be led by a first-class individual.