Here We Go Again…the Degradation of Officiating and Coaching in AAU (travel hoop) is Alarming

 clueless referee bad coach

I hesitated to compose this blog post because of the fact some may take it the wrong way who I certainly don’t want to.  Then I realized that is the with most everything I post so it is what it is.  This may piggyback from my post regarding an AAU parent two years back calling me “boy” and the events that ensued.  It again involves a tournament my team was participating in but this time a bit different.  I do want to say that for the most part, The Strom Classic tournament is organized and well run.  The staff has done a great job in the past…this year was a bit different, and hopefully just an aberration.

Last year at this time, my Mid Michigan Lakers U17 team was busy beating the likes of I-90 Elite, Northern Exposure, etc. en route to a second place finish in the platinum bracket in after a battle with the West Michigan Lakers.  We lost our second best player for the summer in the tournament, Markell Lucas, to an Achilles tear as well.  From that perspective, you would think that this year we would at least have a game in the main facility which would have the access to the most college coaches; nope, not one.  Seems a little disrespectful to the achievements of last year, right?  Or maybe that’s just me thinking too much.  Anyway, that is not even why I wrote this so let me work my way to the point…

After playing our third game of the tournament, we were 2-1 and in the final eight of the silver bracket (don’t get me started how we got to silver with only one loss by 6 points to a well-respected team).  We hurried over to Davenport University for our next game, but found it to be an hour behind schedule (unusual for big tournaments, especially with NO communication from a director).  Oh well, you adjust and move on.  At the start of the game, I recognized one of the officials from last year.  I knew then it would be a long night and it started right away.  When I questioned him on a series of weird calls, he told me to “move on”.  It was clear to me that he had not though.  Then inexplicably, the other official was replaced mid way through the first half by a guy who must have thought folks were there to see him.  We have played through awful officiating before (I mean just the week prior in Mt. Pleasant a ref told me that it was perfectly legal to block a shot AFTER it hit the backboard), so we play on.  Oh yeah, right here I should mention that we were playing the MPBA Elite team led by a guy (“Coach” Lee I believe) that used to be with Common Bond.  They jumped out to an early lead, then we fought back within two points at the half.  About there is where things got interesting…

After the half, the game was back and forth.  My best player, Amariontez Ivory-Thomas (Tez), did what any coach would want his best to do.  That is, lead by example and took a charge (or so we thought).  Despite a player crashing through him, there was no call.  No charge, no block.  Now there had been several already in the game so we thought a baseline was established.  Nothing but a blow to the head for Tez who was attempting to shake it off after picking himself up off of the floor.  While down, do you think the officials checked to see if he was ok? No.  But the site director decided to get the “trainer” (I really don’t know who she was) to come out and look at him which was the right call in my book.  We play on and she walks over, talks to him for a couple of minutes, then walks away.  I have to ask him what she said and he tells me she said to sit a few minutes and then he was good.  So, I put him back into the contest.  About a minute later, the director comes onto the court and stops the game saying that I have to take him out and he can’t play. 

Me: What?  Why not?

Him:  She said he can’t play

Me:  Why didn’t she tell me?  The coach?  You know, the one responsible for him?

Him:  Well I’m telling you.  He said he had a headache so she said that could be a sign of a concussion.

Me:  So could a lot of other things, but what kind of concussion tests take two minutes?

Him:  I don’t know…he can’t play.

Me:  This is ridiculous!

So, I am left without my best player for saying his head hurt after getting elbowed in it.  Whose head wouldn’t hurt?  I am one the most concerned people about concussions so if there was a need for precaution, why not tell me so that he could be evaluated at a medical facility?  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that my second best player (and other “big” man) was given a rash of fouls simultaneously.  Unfair?  Maybe, but that is the life of a coach so we play on.  I tell my team to just take the game from the opponents and the officials and they begin to do just that. But that’s when the real issue behind this post happened;

A controversial foul call in our favor prompted the opposing team to react to the refs.  I said aloud that “we finally got one and I know they aint complaining.”  That’s when this clown of a coach turns and yells at me to shut up.  Um, excuse me?  You said what?  I proceeded to walk over to that coach so he could properly say that in my face, which of course he didn’t.  He first tried to act like he didn’t say anything or that it wasn’t directed at me, but after being confronted by someone else who heard it, he decided to say it was because I said something to him.

Me: I didn’t say anything to you!  I made a general statement aloud which is well within my right to do.

Him:  You said something to me!

Me:  I didn’t say nothing to you, but I am now (as I put the hat in my hand directly in his face).  Don’t you ever tell me to shut up.  My father doesn’t tell me to shut up.  I am a grown man.  I am not one of these little boys. Say it one more time.

Him: Silence

It was about then that the officials and site director made their way over to us and I reiterated to all three that nobody in that gym was qualified to tell me to shut up, period.  Especially a hot-headed, so-called coach that couldn’t stay with his former program because his attitude was messed up.  He can yell and scream at his players and tell them to shut up all he wants if his parents allow that, but not a chance in the world he or anyone else is telling me to do so.  The site director kept threatening to stop the game as if anybody cared about that at the time.  He also kept remarking how tired he was (again, who cares). The refs decided that a technical on both coaches was the answer (pointless) and that we must sit down for the duration.  It is safe to say I was fuming.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, it is my stance that telling me to shut up or calling me boy is not acceptable, ever.  We got right back into the game, then they fouled out my big fella.  You could tell the game got chippy and started getting worse because the refs were not controlling it.

With about 1:00 left, the smallest player on the court, Jacob Littles, was hit in the nose at half court by a blatant elbow from the opposing team…right in front of their bench and an official.  The official proceeded to do nothing.  No call. No stoppage.  No nothing.  Jacob staggered down to the court.  Meanwhile, the coach tells his player that he did nothing wrong.

That, as they say, was the end of my rope.  I draw the line at putting my kids in the line of fire for injury.  Especially when a “coach” is instructing his players that what they are doing is ok.  I got up, picked Jacob up off the floor, and pulled the rest of the players off as well.  There was no way I would let them continue playing under those circumstances.  I have to answer to their parents for their safety and will not take unnecessary chances where I can help it.  And you know what?  Yes I made the kids shake their opponents’ hand despite their reservation.  I know those other kids were influenced by their leader so it is not entirely their fault.  We were losing at the time and likely were going to lose the game, but that had no bearing on my decision.  I did the same thing last year at a tournament in Macomb County that we were winning.  Wins and losses are ultimately not the point of travel basketball and my goal is not to win at all cost.  One goal is to win, but do so the right way. 

I know this, unless tournament directors start holding officials responsible at travel basketball tournaments, things will only get worse.  There is absolutely no accountability and the main directors rarely travel to their tournament sites away from the hub more and more it seems.  I honestly have to take this into consideration when deciding where to take my teams to play.  The situation sped out of control because no one established order.  Should I have gotten in the coach’s face?  Probably not, but I also don’t regret it.  I do not pretend to be perfect.  I am a Christian man, but was a man first, so don’t tempt me with foolishness.  There are lines that are not meant to be crossed, that’s one of them.  I did not curse at him throughout.  I did not touch him.  But I did let him know in no uncertain terms that I am not his child.  Too often, perhaps because I am younger, these officials and such think that I must be based on how they talk.  I am not, and they will understand that in time.

Opinions Not Wanted?

Who really does?

Who really does?

It has been quite some time since I last posted here, but a situation has prompted a great deal of thought.  I wrote an editorial column about a basketball game for another site and didn’t think twice about sending it to the editor for publishing.  It is something I have been doing for years, so it was old hat at this point.  The article was posted, but then taken down the next day.  My editor gave me an explanation, but in my mind it was not acceptable.

Let me point out here that my editor and I are very close and that has not changed.  He explained to me that one of the coaches in the game was upset with something I wrote and he asked that it be taken down, he given an apology, or to not cover his team at all moving forward. He argued that the piece was “completely false” and irresponsible at best.  Fearing that he may not have read my piece thoroughly, the editor took it down to quell what backlash he saw coming.

After I got finished expressing to him that what was accused was indeed not true, he read it again.  He agreed that he could understand why the coach would be upset, but also see that it was blown out of proportion.  For the record, I told him I could see why he would be upset too and I was ok with that.  It was not re-posted, but nor was a retraction.  At that point it was agreed that he would agree to disagree with the coach and let it be. Well, at least that was my editor’s idea I believe. 

For me though, it was and is a matter of principle.  As a columnist, I report facts, but also factual-based opinions.  That’s why I took the column in the first place.  Much like this blog, no one will read it if there are wild inaccuracies and conjectures, but if they can see thought and processed ideas, even little ol’ me can have an opinion people may want to consider.  I love sports.  I love helping kids.  I love giving them exposure.  I also love to express a slant on things that many can’t.

I have been coaching for the better part of 21 years.  I am also a writer.  I have also been educated at one of the highest institutions of higher learning.  That is not said to brag, but rather to show the unique perspective.  Columnists have it hard though.  Even national ones get backlash from what they write in many cases, but a true columnist I think welcomes that.  That affords them more opportunity to explain their words.  Opinions to columnists are golden.  They are what drives a column in a nutshell.  But I find it amazing how many want to give you theirs without receiving yours. 

When I write, it is to inspire thought and hopefully discussion.  I am not looking for fans or people to “like” me.  I am expressing myself through written prose.  A coach that expresses a dissenting opinion was able to get my article removed.  Since then, an AD and a principal has also expressed “interest” or maybe “fear” that it would make someone or some people look bad or draw negative attention to their facility.  While I am not going to use this space to reposition the article, I will ask this; why is it such a big deal if the fact-based opinion of mine had no validity?  Even more so, why not read it first (I can tell that they did not based on what they said it contained)?  But even beyond that, why not realize that your own opinion isn’t the only one out there?  Every individual’s perception is their own reality.  Often, people’s perceptions coincide based on similar beliefs. But even then differences arise. 

So, what do you do?  Welcome a different, perhaps even more unbiased opinion than your own?  Maybe you fight against the idea that anyone would dare to challenge you.  Then again, you may choose to ignore anything that is not like yours.  You could attack the dissenting person.  You could attack whatever entity is connected that person.  You could do a whole bunch of stuff.  But the reality is people say they welcome another opinion, but that is often only when it matches their own.  Whatever you express, you should understand the possibility for rebuttal.  I do…How about you?

Coaching Pressure: Ramped up to Never Before Seen Levels

Right now there is so much weighing heavy on my mind.  But at the forefront is one in particular.

Coaching….yes, coaching.

I am not talking “new” Flint city coaches Lamont Torbert (NW) and Garner Pleasant (Northern).  Nor am I speaking of Nate Brown (SWA girls), Jeff Whitely (NW girls), or Shalana Taylor (Northern girls).  What has really got my mind moving is a number of old coaches that is making it incredibly more difficult to be a coach in this day and age.  I am talking about Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Fine, Robert Dodd, and Graham James.

I know the last two names may not have rung many bells, but let me introduce you to them.  James was arrested and convicted in 1997 of sexual abuse as it related to young boys the Canadian junior hockey leagues, including former NHL players, Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy, hundreds of times over seven years.  What was his penalty? 3.5 years in prison.

Robert “Bobby” Dodd is the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) president/CEO who was also a former coach now accused by at least 2 men of molesting then as adolescents.  One of the men, Ralph West, was featured on an “Outside the Lines” show on ESPN and said that Dodd would sneak into his room at night on road trips to tournaments.

Bernie Fine is the now ex-assistant coach at Syracuse University for the men’s basketball team.  His accusers (one even has a taped phone conversation allegedly with Fine’s wife) are former ball boys who for some strange reason were taken along on road trips with the team and allege Mr. Fine molested them as kids.  Some of the alleged molestations took place at his home and some on those road trips in hotel rooms. Although the statute of limitations has passed on his crimes, the accusers are now suing the university and more specifically the head coach (Jim Boeheim) for defamation of character when they released the accusations publicly and he came out on the defense of his long time assistant and friend (He has since apologized for his statements).

Finally, Jerry Sandusky is the former Penn State University assistant football coach that is accused of not only molesting young boys on the college campus by using his influence as a coach, but also the influence gained by his foundation for underprivileged young men by luring them into situations that they were vulnerable to his predatory advances.  He was observed by a fellow member of the coaching staff in the shower with a young boy. His story is the reason why some of these other victims even have the confidence to speak out and tell the world what is an embarrassing story to most.  Right he faces a trial with various counts of illegal sexual acts that can land him in prison for the rest of his days.

I will spare you all with any more details and most have heard them anyway, but the point is that all of these examples have made an already difficult job even harder.  Coaching youth is far more than drawing up plays and blowing a whistle in practice (at least for real coaches).  What many people don’t know is that statistics show that the second most influential people in kids’ lives according to them are their coaches.  During the sports’ seasons, you often spend more time with the team and coach than with many members of your own family.  A true coach is a teacher first, before a technician of X’s and O’s.  Many youth that may not have strong males in their lives may look to that male coach as a role model and confidant.  While coaching at Flint Northern, I once had a player tell me that I was the only male role model he had…the only one.  That is a huge statement and even bigger responsibility for any person to have, let alone a coach.

There used to be a time where I coached young ladies and was warned many times to be very careful about the way I talked, responded to, and acted towards them.  One accusation can ruin a career and worse, a reputation.  I made it a point to have a good relationship with all of their parents and was open, honest, and upfront right from the beginning and even still one can never be too careful.  In fact, interaction between a male coach and a female player cost one of my coaching brethren in the area not too long ago.  During that time that was all the warnings we would get regarding coaching relationships.

Now it is a new day and coaching young men brings about the same warnings.  The unenviable task of gaining the trust of your players is made much more difficult by the walls they will build to help protect themselves.  Parents put their complete faith in coaches as they take their children all over the road to different locations and that trust may now come into greater question.  Don’t get me wrong, parents should be trying to get to know the coach before just letting a child go with them out of town anywhere.  It is a responsibility that I have always taken very seriously, especially after I started coaching on the AAU circuit.  I have had some summers where I never even seen a parent of some kids even once from March-July.  Then I have had years like this one where my parents were so involved that it was just a beautiful thing.  I have been fortunate to communicate with many of the parents throughout the year so the summer became just like old times.

For the life of me I cannot understand what a grown man finds attractive in a little boy or any little kid for that matter.  It is a sick, twisted, and disgusting idea and that makes it very difficult to talk about for victims and even for me as I write this article.  That said, it is fortunate that it has gotten so much attention so that those who have fallen prey to these criminals can and will come forward to expose them.  It is the best way to prevent them from hurting any other children and ultimately adults as those kids fight to eliminate the emotional damage their ordeals had on them as they grow up.

What I do know is this; the job of coaching is not for the faint at heart.  It is harder than it has ever been, but it is also more important than ever before.  True coaches serve as teachers, role models, leaders, father/mother figures, and even confidants and they frankly have not gotten the recognition for handling such difficult tasks as they deserve.  The problem today is that we have so many pseudo coaches in these important positions that are distorting what it really means.  So many of them do it for themselves and care little about the kids they are coaching.  The acts mentioned above are extreme examples of that selfishness.  Anytime a coach will do something to purposely hurt a kid to promote themselves, they don’t deserve to be there in that spot.  I’ve heard of coaches that gave minors alcohol on road trips and kept them out all times of the night.  Our jobs as coaches are tough enough without the added pressure of having to defeat the ideals set in place by these frauds.  I feel it is more important now than ever for the true coaches such as myself to stay in the game as much as possible.  Those in control of hiring really need to consider history more and more as well.   It is a shame to see any kid damaged by what is supposed to be a person that helps them grow.  Expose the bad ones so the good ones can rise to the top.