If you missed it, make sure to click on the link below to read last week’s StarTribune editorial about the ugly youth basketball assault in Burnsville. The editorial is well written and also quotes Dan Klinkhammer, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, who calls youth sports a “recipe for disaster.” Dan has been a strong supporter of my book, BasketCases, and encourages every youth basketball association to require their parents and coaches to read the book before they are allowed to step on the court.
Archive for February, 2010
Sunday was a busy day. In the morning, I officiated a charity basketball game at Edina High School. The game, featuring men’s league players, was played to raise money for Edina A Better Chance (ABC). Edina ABC is a program that takes promising inter-city kids from New York City and brings them to better environment in Edina, where they attend high school. Many of these students go on to some of the most prestigious universities in the country. The game was fun, with the Green team defeating the Gold team 104-101. Plenty of dunks; lots of good ball.
That afternoon I worked my three regularly scheduled games for a program through Augsburg College. The program provides an opportunity for high school kids (not on their school teams) to play basketball with other kids in their Lutheran church youth groups.
I got home for an hour to see my family before heading to Target Center for my first Minnesota Timberwolves game of the season. Kenny Mauer, my friend who wrote the foreword for BasketCases, was officiating the Wolves-Thunder game along with Tommy Nunez, Jr. and David Guthrie. Kenny secured tickets for a group of us to attend the game, and we went out after the game in downtown Minneapolis. (By the way, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant is the real deal. He scored 30 points. I think it was the 28th game in which he scored 25 or more points. Incredible.)
At the end of the night, the subject turned to the ugly assault in Burnsville in which a parent and, perhaps, another individual or two, assaulted a youth commissioner following an in-house, sixth-grade boys’ basketball game. Joining Kenny and I in this discussion was Frank White, a legendary Minnesota basketball official who was elected to the Minnesota State High School League’s Sports Hall of Fame and speaks across the country about sportsmanship issues. We spent so much time talking about the problems, we didn’t have a chance to address the solutions. Some of the problems include:
* Officials who try and maximize revenue by working eight or 10 games per day for one or more assignors. These officials stop calling fouls because they need to get across town and work at another gymnasium.
* Lazy assignors who allow their officials to work more than five games in a day and don’t make that extra phone call. When I was younger, I worked eight (and one time) nine games a day. Looking back, it was wrong. Perhaps I still had the energy to officiate better than most referees working three games, but by the end of the day my mind was mentally drained, which isn’t fair to to your partner or the players or spectators.
* Uneducated parents who yell at their owns kids, opposing players, their coaches and the officials. Remember that in some instances that verbal abuse leads to physical abuse.
* School administrators who don’t control the spectators at their home games. Is it right to allow a group of students to react to an official’s call by saying “bullsh_t, bullsh_t” at the same taxpayer-supported institution that during the day they are subject to rules in school? I don’t think so. What if a math teacher told a group of students to open their textbooks to page 43, and the students react with the same cheer. I assume, or at least hope, that the behavior would not be tolerated and the students would be severely disciplined and likely suspended. The same behavior can’t be “suspend-able” during the day in class and ignored/tolerated at night in the gymnasium.
* Youth tournament directors who add pressure by telling the officials (or the assignor or both) to keep the games on time with a wink, wink. In other words, swallow your whistle and put kids at risk to maintain convenience for the fans and tournament sponsors.
* Governing bodies or officials associations who don’t help their officials improve through observation/training/feedback, but simply have a required meeting at the beginning of the year to go over logistics and pay scale.
* The obsession of winning in this country, and what that does to normally rational human beings. What is it about sports? If you don’t like a note that came out of the trombone section during a concert, would you as a parent start screaming at your son or daughter for screwing up? Would the conductor? Of course not. So, why do we accept that behavior as commonplace at our sporting events?
* Coaches who are so obsessed with winning at the elementary level that they press all the time instead of truly developing basketball skills. It’s that mortgage-the-future attitude to win at the youth level which prevents basketball from rising to a higher level.
At the end of the night, we concluded youth sports are plagued by numerous issues that are not easily solved. We adjourned and decided to come up with solutions another night.
You gotta love Google Alerts. They tip you off to what is happening before you even see it. Because of said alert, I know that Charley Walters makes a mention of me in his column tomorrow (Thursday) morning in the St. Paul Pioneer Press because I received an e-mail about it tonight. Shooter (Charley Walters) is a great guy and good friends with Kenny Mauer who wrote the foreword for BasketCases. Speaking of Kenny, I believe Dan Barriero on KFAN laughed the loudest yesterday when I mentioned that you could send Kenny Mauer, Dick Bavetta and Joey Crawford (three of the top NBA referees) to a Burnsville youth tournament and there still would be parents saying the officials are terrible.
Here is a link to Shooter’s column on Thursday that mentions BasketCases:
I have received numerous calls and e-mails about my radio appearances on Tuesday. Thanks to everyone who reached out to me. I wanted to share a kind e-mail from a fellow basketball official, Andy Louis from Faribault, MN, who I began talking with earlier this summer as he picked up a copy of BasketCases. Andy wrote:
“The interview on KFAN was excellent. I was able to listen to the whole thing (before my game). Two minutes into the varsity game one coach doesn’t agree with an out-of-bounds call. Instead of saying her piece and moving on, she disagreed for two minutes until my partner finally Td her up. Perfect example of what you said on KFAN. If you are a coach and disagree with a call, say your piece and move on. Most BasketCases cannot. Keep up the great work, Derek. You are a great ambassador to all officials dealing with BasketCases.”
Andy, a heartfelt thanks to very kind e-mail. Enjoy the rest of the season, my friend.
One other thing I want to mention. KFAN’s Dan Barriero asked me how I deal with people who question my calls. I said on the radio that my preferred method is to out think them, which usually leaves them tongue-tied. I had a great men’s league basketball game tonight. I think the scored was 90-88 in overtime (those games are usually in the 50s or 60s). But there was one question that came up late in the game. A player wanted a minor bump called as a foul. I had just called the same player for a hand check on the other end because with two hands he was preventing a player from proceeding on a direct route to the basket. When he questioned my call, I said “I agree with you that it was a minor bump, but there was no advantage and you weren’t going anywhere. On the other end, the guy had a clear path to Main Street. You were driving down Country Road G with nowhere to go.”
The player didn’t say anything after that. Have a good night, all.
Long day, good day. Just after getting out of the shower this morning, I received a call from John Hines at WCCO. He said, can you come on with Susie Jones and me at 10:10. I said sure. I already knew I was going to be on with Patrick Reusse of KSTP-AM at 1:05. After that interview, I was talking with a coworker and my phone rang again. It was Justin Gaard (or Gaardsy as he calls himself) of KFAN asking if I could go on with Dan Barriero at 4:20. I said sure. Dan kept me on for roughly a half-hour minus a four-minute commercial break, so he enjoyed our conversation (Justin told me that extended interviews almost never happen with people Barriero doesn’t know). All three interviews were an opportunity to discuss problems in youth basketball and promote BasketCases. Not too often, does one person get to talk on all three large Twin Cities AM talk stations in one day. Let’s call it the Twin Cities Radio Triple Crown.
In case you missed the Dan Barriero interview, go to this link (It is the second on for 2/16: Note its roughly a half-hour interview that starts about the 13:00 mark):
Here is a link to the WCCO interview, which was only a few minutes.
Here is a link to the Patrick Reusse interview
And one more thing. I had to ref a B/Varsity girls basketball combo tonight. Seems like an easy assignment, right? Four minutes into the first game, we had one of many (and I mean many) jump balls. During that play, one of the players didn’t like getting landed on by another player. She responded by kicking her in the buns. Not real hard, but certainly enough to warrant a technical foul. You never know what you are going to expect when you walk onto the basketball court as a referee.
By now, many of you know that the commissioner of an in-house basketball program in Burnsville, Minnesota was assaulted following a sixth-grade boys’ basketball game Saturday. Apparently some parents were upset following a close game that went into overtime and started to go after the officials. According to a story on StarTribune.com, Jeff Shand, the commissioner of the program, stepped in to diffuse the situation. During a melee, he was hit by a couple of people and sucker-punched. He suffered a concussion, dislocated jaw and damage to his teeth.
First of all, every youth basketball official should thank Jeff Shand and people like him. If you have officiated youth basketball, a parent, coach or tournament director has protected you from abusive parents or coaches after a game. If it hasn’t happened to you, you haven’t worked long enough. I have been in the same situation multiple times, and, fortunately, it never escalated to physical violence.
I want to comment on a few aspects of this story:
* Perspective — This was an in-house sixth grade game. I understand every game I officiate is the most important game that is played that day to the players, coaches and spectators. That being said, it’s sixth-grade in-house basketball for crying out loud.
* Timing irregularities — The story notes that the parents were upset about issues with the clock in overtime. At most youth games or tournaments, the clock and score book are run by volunteers, often reluctantly plucked from the crowd just prior to the game. Many aren’t trained, and even if they were, clock issues happen. Guess what? They happen in Division II as well, particularly with the shot clock. It’s part of the game. As officials, we try to “manage” it as best as possible based on the information that we know.
* I feel bad for Burnsville — All it takes is one idiot to brand a community in a negative light. It’s embarrassing for the community and for youth basketball in general. Apparently the father lived in Minneapolis, but I’m not sure that matters in this situation. It was still an in-house program, so Burnsville is going to take some heat for this, whether they deserve it or not. I spoke to the parents of the Burnsville girls’ basketball traveling program before the season started. I covered rules, sportsmanship and my book BasketCases. The parents at that meeting were very receptive and asked good questions.
* Sixth grade — I mention in BasketCases that sixth grade is the hardest to officiate. I truly believe this. The less-talented the players are, the more difficult it is to officiate. Couple that with an obvious transition between fifth and sixth grade in which players, coaches, and especially parents, become noticeably more competitive, and that particular age is the worst to officiate.
* Who is guilty? — Look around, look in the mirror. Why are there so many issues in youth sports? It’s because this country is absolutely obsessed with winning. We are all guilty of fostering an environment of winning. Remember 20 years ago when “professionals” from other countries defeated the Americans in the Olympics? What did we do? We abandoned our values of having amateurs compete in the Olympics and created the 1992 Dream Team that featured Jordan, Barkley, Bird, Malone, Magic, etc. Why was the Miracle on Ice the most compelling sports story of my lifetime? Because amateurs defeated professionals.
I play “baseball” in my basement with my four-year-old son almost every day. I make sure to “win” the game approximately once every four times. I want to teach him how to lose, which isn’t easy for him. He has an occasional meltdown, but I would rather have that in private with me in the basement than with neighbor kids in the yard. When I come home from reffing, he wants to know which team won. He’s only four and he’s already picked up from me my focus on having my “teams” win.
* Circle of Dysfunction — As I note in BasketCases, there are deep issues with the three primary groups involved with youth basketball: officials, coaches and parents.
Officials — There is way too high of a percentage of officials who don’t hustle, don’t care, don’t know the rules, try to maximize their revenue, aren’t properly trained, think they are big shots when they put on a uniform, have inflated egos and are abusive to coaches and parents who often ask them a simple question. I’ve worked with plenty of them. Remember, the majority of officials working youth basketball try their best to be accurate and consistent, but many officials are a big part of the problem.
Coaches — There are plenty of coaches who mortgage the future development of their players to win at all costs at a younger age. For example, they will press like crazy until they no longer can by rule. The coaches think they are geniuses until they run into a team that is bigger and stronger. And then they get destroyed by an opponent because they don’t know how to run a set offense since they score all their points of turnovers caused by pressing. Too many coaches scream at their kids or the referees and totally lose sight of their primary responsibility — to coach. A small percentage lack any sense of sportsmanship and don’t know when to “call of the dogs.”
Parents — Wow. Where should I begin?. Don Henderson, the athletic director at Triton High School in Dodge Center who has won two state football championships, perhaps said best a couple of weeks ago when he told me that basketball parents are by far the worst when it comes to over inflating their knowledge of the rules. “Anybody who has thrown a ball at a peach basket thinks he or she is an expert on all the rules,” he told me. “It’s by far the worst in basketball. I’m glad I coach football. The parents are far back and I can’t hear them most of the time anyway because I have a head set on.” Not knowing and understanding the rules (and more importantly how game officials apply them) when they think they do is just one problem with parents. Other issues: overvaluing the talent of their own children, becoming too emotionally invested in the outcome of a junior high game, yelling at players, coaches and officials despite the fact that they are annoying every parent on their own team and completely oblivious to it, coaching from the sidline, putting too much pressure on their kids, cutting down their children’s teammates in front of them, doing everything ethical or not to try and give their own kid an advantage, etc.
Here is where the Circle of Dysfunction comes into play. Many parents and coaches don’t like the officiating at the youth basketball level, even though many parents and coaches don’t know the rules (but think they do). Those parents are often verbally abusive and, in rare cases, physically abusive to officials. Those officials decide “Why in the world would I do this?” (Including many high school and college officials, by the way), so they quit officiating youth basketball. Which brings on new officials who don’t know the rules because they aren’t properly trained. Those officials generally start at the youngest ages where they can’t do too much harm. The officials make incorrect calls, which the parents assume are correct, which leads to the bigger rules issue. This Circle of Dysfunction does not end.
I can’t ref every game. I can’t speak to every parent group. I can’t take back a bad call that I make or one of my partners make. The only think I can do is to teach parents and coaches how to enjoy the youth basketball experience by educating them about rules, sportsmanship and how game officials apply black and white rules to gray situations. So, if you know a youth basketball parent, coach or an official who hasn’t read BasketCases yet, please get them a copy and help lower their blood pressure. The Jeff Shands of the world and all the officials will thank you.
I will be talking with Patrick Reusse on KSTP-AM Radio 1500 at 1:05 Central Tuesday, Feb. 16 to discuss the ugly basketball incident Saturday after a youth basketball game in Burnsville, Minnesota. If you haven’t heard this story, a dispute happened at the end of a in-house sixth grade boys basketball game in which a parent became abusive. When the commissioner of the league tried to calm her down, he was assaulted by her husband and, perhaps, two others. The commissioner suffered issues to his jaw and teeth. In addition to the penalties that this BasketCase should receive, perhaps a reading and comprehensive test of my book “BasketCases” is in order. Paul Walsh of the Star Tribune reports in the link below. Note the comments section.
Here is an article I recently wrote for Sporting Kid Magazine. This magazine goes to parents, coaches and sportsmanship advocates across the country. The magzine is published by the National Alliance for Youth Sports. The article is based on excerpts from my book “BasketCases: How Youth Basketball Parents Can Lower Their Blood Pressure and Keep Their Sanity.”
Article Link (PDF): Sporting Kid Magazine Article