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Fixing the ugly side of youth sports
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 7/26/2010 12:00 AM

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There is little doubt participation in sports offers great benefits for children and teens.

Beyond physical fitness, sports can teach them about facing challenges, working hard to meet goals and the importance of teamwork.

For many youths, these are among a host of life lessons nurtured on some athletic venue and carried into adulthood.

But there also are ugly moments when the good and honorable message of sportsmanship is drowned out by shouts of angry words and violent confrontation.

Youth sports suffered that kind of black eye recently in Gurnee. A play at the plate led to a scuffle between players, benches emptied and parents started screaming at each other and league officials.

The police were called to restore order.

In the end, no arrests were made and no one was hurt. The players even hugged as the three officers left the field.

But the damage was done.

How sad that a couple of teenage boys would resort to tussling and throwing punches over a Colt League baseball game.

Sadder still is the reaction of parents in the stands, who lost their cool and helped escalate the situation.

"These types of behaviors have a greater chance of surfacing in youth sports when coaches and parents fail to stress the importance of being a good sport and aren't models of it at all times themselves," John Engh, chief operating officer of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, told the Daily Herald's Bob Susnjara last week.

It's not the first instance parents of behaving badly at a suburban youth sporting event, and unfortunately, it probably won't be the last.

Gurnee Youth Baseball officials expect to meet with players involved in the fracas. The league has a disciplinary code that calls for penalties ranging from a one-game suspension to expulsion.

But what about the parents?

Engh's group offers a program called Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS). It is a parent education and training program to make the sports experience safe and meaningful.

Part of its emphasis is on good sportsmanship and keeping sports in proper perspective. It is designed to prevent unruly or violent parent behavior with coaches, referees or each other.

It includes a short video presentation followed by a group discussion. There's also an online version. And parents sign a code of ethics pledge.

The River Trails Park District in Mount Prospect is one of more than 1,000 organizations across the country using it. Some go as far as to require parents to participate in the program before their children can register for youth sports.

That sounds like the kind of approach that gets to the heart of the problem, and one that Gurnee Youth Baseball and others should explore.