Between the Lines: Create consequences for parents’ actions
Sports parents have demonstrated that there are few lines they won’t cross. The most aggressive of the bunch will vandalize property, physically assault coaches and petition to have team leaders fired from their jobs. What’s equally as concerning is that only a small number of coaches ever push back against the barrage of attacks.
That wasn’t the case this summer in New York, where high school basketball coach Mark Storm won a $50,000 defamation settlement after accusations from a group of parents cost him his job. According to the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, disgruntled parents wrote a letter to the superintendent, claiming the 31-year coach was abusive to athletes and had a drinking problem. The school board responded by not renewing Storm’s contract.
It could have ended there, but it didn’t. Storm was fed up with the parents, so he decided to do something about it.
“My hope (with the lawsuit) is people will at least start to think about what they’re saying, think about what they do before they send that email,” Storm told the newspaper. “Enough is enough. I wanted to do something for other coaches.”
Robert Zayas, the executive director of the New York State Public School Athletic Association, said he couldn’t think of another example where a coach sued a parent. The truth is that too often stories like this end with parents getting their way and coaches getting their walking papers. Storm coined them “lawnmower parents” — they mow down everything in their way.
This needs to change, but it can only do so if we create consequences for parents’ actions. I’ve had too many conversations with coaches who received threatening letters or intimidating visits from parents only to have those same individuals back in their seats at the next game or practice. We can’t allow that to happen.
Start by getting support for a uniform policy in your athletic program. That includes the superintendent, principal, athletic director and other coaches. Without administrative support, any effort to establish consequences is doomed — you need a unified front. Follow by educating your parents about the policy, and enforcing the rules at all times. It’s easier said than done, but you’d be surprised at how few schools have standing guidelines on consequences for parental interference.
Pushback doesn’t have to be in the form of lawsuits. Suspend them from games and practices. Require them to take a course on proper fan behavior. If necessary, involve law enforcement. Those who habitually cross the line will only stop if something or someone stands in their way. There’s no excuse for doing nothing.
Kevin Hoffman is the editorial director for Coach & Athletic Director magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].