C'mon - these are just games aren't they?

This is a vintage Riff that was never published. I wrote it in March of 2005 and my editor said - nope, can't publish that Cliff. I was cleaning my computer today and came across it and decided I still agree with every word I wrote three years ago:


When did high school sports get so serious? How have we let it happen? Who is more to blame, the coaches or parents?
I’m not talking about good competitive rivalry here, but I would like to address the emphasis on winning at all costs. One of the latest examples to come to light in this neck of the woods is the possibility that a “parent and sports booster” gave rent free homes as an inducement to get some talented high school athletes into the school district for which he is a “sports booster”.
I am very much in favor of sports programs for kids. Sports can and do teach young people a lot of very important life lessons and skills. What exactly are the kids learning in the current win-at-all-costs atmosphere that prevails?
In the past few weeks I have heard some stories that have me really upset. Varsity wrestlers who violate their schools no tobacco policy and join the tennis team so that they can sit out tennis matches and not wrestling meets as part of their mandatory punishment. Isn’t that obeying the letter of the law and missing the intended spirit of it altogether? A high school varsity coach who purposely withheld entering his son into school for an extra year so he could be one year older than his classmates and therefore stronger with better athletic skills for all 12 years of school.
We all scoff at the alleged “amateur” status of college athletes who receive cars or apartments along with payment for jobs and credit for courses that they never show up for as payment for them lending their talents to a certain school. Am I the only one who sees the same thing creeping into our high schools? Has anybody else out there heard or know about kids exercising their right to choose schools by attending a faraway school only because they have a strong program in a particular sport? Are we safe in assuming that such choices were made with no financial inducements of any kind to the parents or kids?
It is really great to have the best football team in the state, but when high school athletes are turned into football players 12 months of the year we might be doing some of them a disservice. Many schools encourage athletes to specialize in one sport all year long in order to build a program into a dynasty. Hello – sports in school are supposed to be fun, part of producing well rounded young people who are future well rounded adults.
When we encourage kids to bend or ignore rules and manipulate the system then we had better not be shocked when they grow up to gulp enhancement drugs or engage in less than ethical business practices just to beef up the bottom line at the expense of others. The neat little plan to keep the tobacco using wrestlers from missing any meets also sends a pretty crappy message to the tennis players at their school: “Hey, your sport is not as important as ours so we want to use it to further our cause.”
What came first here – the parents demanding a winning program or coaches who want to put their schools on the map and build a dynasty? Believe me; I am as competitive as the next person. If I play a game I will do whatever I can to win it, but I also recognize that winning every game is not a realistic expectation. The vast majority of us will not win at everything in our lives and unbeaten seasons usually don’t happen much in our adult lives.
Parents, you need to get off the backs of your coaches and your kids. Check to see if your motivation for your son or daughter to win isn’t coming from some desire to live out your life in their experiences. Coaches you need to lighten up, put some of the kids in from the bench even if it might upset the parents of your team hot shots. Athletic Directors, you need to direct the tone and tenor of your athletic departments. Take the lid off and release some of the pressure on kids and coaches. These are games played by children in high school. The two words to emphasize are GAMES and CHILDREN. What say we adults back off a little and let the games begin?
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