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Madden: Memo to parents -- Leave coach alone

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Football coach Jim Render and basketball coach Danny Holzer are under siege at Upper St. Clair High School, their jobs in jeopardy despite winning records and classy reputations. The reason? School board members who don't think their children were utilized properly.

Render and Holzer aren't the first top-shelf coaches to get such ugly, undeserved treatment in recent years. North Hills football coach Jack McCurry was similarly targeted. So was Penn Hills football coach Neil Gordon. Both kept their jobs, but both had to campaign to do so, which was undoubtedly aggravating and embarrassing. McCurry was helped by the fact that North Hills alumnus LaVar Arrington, now an NFL linebacker for Washington, came back to speak on his behalf (with the strong implication being that lethal-looking LaVar would crush somebody's spleen if McCurry got canned).

Parental terrorism has progressed greatly. Merely whining from the stands or angrily confronting the coach is passe. Why should a parent settle for that when he/she can get elected to public office and do some real damage (and waste taxpayers' money besides)? Imagine running for school board just to indulge a vendetta. Somebody like that is, well ... a typical politician.

Most parents need to realize one thing when it comes to their offspring's involvement in sports: Your child stinks.

One-tenth of 1 percent of high school athletes might get a shot at the pros. Three percent might get a college scholarship. The rest are just killing time and having fun, although it's a lot tougher to have fun when your parents constantly make asses of themselves on your behalf. If you're a male high school athlete whose parents are jockeying to make your situation better by openly lobbying the coach, you might as well don a tutu and join the ballet as far as your peers are concerned.

High school coaches like to win. It's how they get raises, job security, fame in the community and an occasional beer bought for them at the local watering hole. (Most coaches I know consider that last perk the most important.) To win, you play the best athletes. I've never known a coach that would sabotage his own team's chances over a personal issue.

Are wrong decisions made? Sure. If too many get made, losing follows. If losing occurs on a consistent basis, the coach gets fired. A new one gets hired. Such is life's rich pageant.

Parents who want their child to get special treatment are insidious. But there's a new breed of parents who want everybody to play. I hate them even more. Strangely, these parents never seem to have children with exceptional athletic prowess. Coincidence, I suppose. "All the kids work so hard!" these creeps bleat. "Everyone should get a chance!"

Well, assuming everybody does work hard, isn't talent the deciding factor? Face it, hard work is overrated. Talent counts. As for those poor teen-age wretches who lack God-given physical ability but try to compensate with extra sweat and toil, I can only quote Judge Smails in "Caddyshack": "The world needs ditch diggers, too." Everyone does get a chance. But sometimes that chance comes only in practice.

Parental terrorism doesn't necessarily end when Junior or Missy graduate from high school. Ron Cook recently wrote on these pages that when children go out into the real world, their parents can't interfere on their behalf anymore. Yo, Cookie, tell that to Carl and Bonnie Lindros. They've been engineering trades for their little Eric since he was a teen-ager, and they're still doing it. Eric Lindros is a grown man, a 29-year-old behemoth, and mom and dad still call his shots. Weird.

The situation at Upper St. Clair is absolutely intolerable. I don't know Holzer, but his record and reputation speak for themselves.

I've known Render for many years. He's the closest thing going to a high school football version of Joe Paterno. He holds his players to a high standard of excellence on the field and a high standard of behavior off it. Render instructs his players about a lot more than football. Players leave the Upper St. Clair football program better men, not just better athletes. And if you're concerned with results, Render has taken a bunch of soft, rich youths from a relatively small Quad-A school district and won consistently.

But last fall, Render played a school board member's son at defensive back instead of quarterback like daddy wanted. For that, he might be fired. That is pure, 100 percent idiocy.

One of the biggest lessons young people learn by playing team sports is that there's a pecking order. Not just in sports, but in life. If you find your spot in the pecking order and function to the best of your ability within that niche, you can be a valuable contributor on a winning team and in society. Should you try to rise above your niche? Yes, constantly. But do so by honest means, not shortcuts.

These days, there's another valuable lesson young people can learn by playing team sports: Sometimes you've got to tell your parents to shut up and mind their own business.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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