Parents who coach

Team leaders may demand more of their own children

Team leaders may demand more of their own children

June 09, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

As a coach, Dan Kerns treated his sons differently than the rest of the team.

He said there was reverse favoritism on his Hancock High School baseball teams - he chewed out his children more often than he did other players.

"I probably embarrassed them," he said.

Not that Mickey, Brian or Jonathan Kerns lagged as ballplayers - all three were good, and Mickey and Brian received college athletic scholarships - or that they always deserved the blame.

Like other parent-coaches mindful of bias and perception, Kerns held his children to a high standard.

"That's always in the back of your mind," Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School baseball coach Dennis Etherington said.

The solution, he said, is to treat every player the same. Etherington said he did that when his son, Brian, played for him from 1997 to 1999.


And he did that when his son was a student in his eighth-grade science class.

Vicki Ritchey has coached volleyball in the Greencastle-Antrim (Pa.) school district for 16 years. Leery about how she and her daughters might get along as coach and players, she considered stepping down as they got older. She decided not to.

Instead, when her older daughter, Jessica, reached the age where she could play for her mother, Ritchey cautioned her, "I will be extremely hard on you."

Dan Kerns remembers one particular ground ball hit to Mickey at shortstop. The first baseman mishandled Mickey's throw to first. Kerns came down on Mickey, though, and pressed him to make a better throw next time.

Mickey remembers another play, in which, as the cutoff man, he was to catch a throw from the outfield. The throw was well over his head, but his father gave him grief for ruining the relay. Almost 20 years later, Mickey still believes he was in the right spot and the throw was too high.

Mickey Kerns said it was difficult as a Little Leaguer to play for his father and be singled out, but he learned to handle it better as a teenager.

"As I got older, you knew it was just frustration coming out," he said.

His father made up for a sharp word by apologizing at home.

Last month, the school board in Upper St. Clair, Pa., near Pittsburgh, voted to ban parents from coaching school sports teams if they have a child on that team, according to The Associated Press.

Director Jeff Joyce was quoted as saying the prohibition was to "generate fairness."

None of the three Tri-State school systems contacted for this story weeds out parents that way. Each had several recent examples of parents coaching their children.

In fact, in Washington County, banning parents might mean eliminating sports teams.

Eugene "Yogi" Martin, the district's supervisor of health, physical education and athletics, said the state of Maryland used to require coaches to be school district employees. The rule was relaxed to allow parents or other people to be coaches in emergency situations.

In 1987, about 70 percent of Washington County's coaches were teachers, Martin said.

"Now, we're hovering at about 20 percent," he said.

Without sports enthusiasts from the community, some teams would have no coaches and would be forced to fold.

Asked to explain the drop-off, Martin said, "Because of the extra work that's involved. ... We require teachers to do an awful lot today."

Besides, the pay for coaching isn't great, Martin said.

On the other hand, school district employees might have an advantage in keeping track of players' attendance, disciplinary records and grades. All must be good in order for a student to play sports.

Martin said he would have his players stop by his office with their report cards when he coached high school sports.

Dan Kerns, who is retiring this year after 20 seasons as baseball coach, said the joy of working with his sons was "to be able to see them develop as ballplayers and young men and watch them succeed. To just be there and practice with them."

After a regular practice was through, Kerns' sons would say, "Throw me some extras" or "hit me some extras." The pressure was off.

Mickey Kerns said his father noticeably let up on him when he was a senior, deciding that it was a year he wanted to enjoy.

After a few years in the California Angels' system, Mickey Kerns came home to Washington County. He coaches baseball at St. James.

"I'm more laid-back," he said. "I'm not as much of a yeller."

Ritchey coaches her daughter Jessica, a 10th-grader, in the fall, and her daughter Amanda, an eighth-grader, in the spring.

She started coaching them in recreation league softball, which was a good icebreaker for school sports, she said.

Ritchey said drawing a line between home and sport is important. She is always "Coach" during volleyball practices and games, never "Mom."

And everything that happens in the gym is left there.

After a miserable match last year - Ritchey let her players know how miserable - a team captain called her. Are we still having a get-together at your house? she asked.

Sure, Ritchey said. That was then and this is now. Come on over.

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