By Ken Reed
I devoted a chapter in my book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan, to our country’s need to replace abusive, militaristic-style coaches with more humanistic coaches. I’ve also written columns about the need to rid sports of coaching bullies — e.g., Bobby Knight types — especially at the youth and high school levels.
However, I also believe there’s a troubling trend in high school athletics today of parents illegitimately forcing coaches out of jobs (often due to playing time issues involving their kids). Athletic directors and principals are too often caving into parental pressure and firing coaches without strong evidence of any wrongdoing.
Recently, a long-time Honeoye Central High School coach in New York won a defamation lawsuit against over-the-top parents who pushed him out of his coaching job. Storm was awarded $50,000. The parents targeted in the suit had written a letter to the school superintendent claiming the coach, Mark Storm, was abusive and had a drinking problem.
The school district conducted an investigation and cleared Storm of wrongdoing. Moreover, the superintendent recommended to the school board that Storm be retained as a coach. Nevertheless,the board voted 5-2 to no longer keep Storm as boys basketball coach.
Of the nearly 20 emails and letters obtained by the newspaper the Democrat and Chronicle regarding the Storm case, the vast majority were supportive of Storm.
Former Honeoye Central basketball coach and athletic director Bil Saxby wrote a letter of support for Storm. He also warned Superintendent David C. Bills about letting parents run the show.
“Once you have gone down that road, you have publicly defined your philosophy,” he wrote. “Be sure that you are the one running the school, not a vigilante group.”
Storm calls these type of sports parents lawnmower parents.
“They just mow everything down that’s in their kid’s way,” he says.
It’s impossible to know exactly what the situation was in the Honeoye Central case. However, while it’s clear there’s no room in high school sports for abusive coaches, it’s also clear that parents upset with playing time shouldn’t be empowered to make coaching personnel decisions.
Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.