?Police had to be called to quell a brawl last October in which at least 50 parents and players went at one another at the end of a football game involving 11- to 13-year-olds in Swiftwater, Pa.
?After a hockey game for 11- and 12-year-old boys in Staten Island, N.Y., on Jan. 23, a carpenter named Matteo Picca struck his son's coach, Lou Aiani, in the face with two hockey sticks, according to witnesses, bloodying Aiani's nose. Picca, who was indicted for assault and criminal possession of a weapon and was sued for $4 million by Aiani, had been heard complaining angrily during the game that his son had not improved all season. Picca has pleaded not guilty to the charges and claims that while he did hit Aiani with his fist, he did not swing the sticks at the coach.
?Following a Little League game in Sacramento in April 1999, a man who was coaching his son's team beat up the manager of the opposing team. The assailant, who had been ejected by a 16-year-old umpire for verbally disrupting the game, was convicted of felony assault and sentenced to 180 days of work furlough.
?A Tamaqua, Pa., policeman was convicted of corruption of a minor and solicitation to commit simple assault for giving $2 to a 10-year-old Little League pitcher to hit a batter with a fastball last August.
?A soccer dad in Eastlake, Ohio, pleaded no contest to a charge of assault last September after he punched a 14-year-old boy who had scuffled for the ball with the man's 14-year-old son, leading to both boys' ejections. The punch split the victim's lip. The man was sentenced to 10 days of community service and ordered to undergo counseling.
?A former corrections officer was sentenced to 30 days in jail for assaulting a 16-year-old ref in La Vista, Neb., last October at a flag football game for six-and seven-year-old boys.
?A youth baseball coach in Hollywood, Fla., was arrested for aggravated battery on July 12, almost a month after he broke an umpire's jaw with a punch during a Police Athletic League game for high school players. The umpire was throwing the coach out of the game when he was struck. The coach plans to plead not guilty.
The games kids play are looking more and more like dress rehearsals for the Jerry Springer Show. In fact, the fields and arenas of youth sports in North America have become places where a kind of psychosis has at times prevailed, with parents and coaches screaming and swearing at the kids, the officials or each other, and fights breaking out among adults. According to a survey conducted in the early 1990s by Michigan State University, of the 20 million American kids who participate in organized sports, starting as early as age four, about 14 million will quit before age 13, and they will say they dropped out mostly because adults—particularly their own parents—have turned the playing of games into a joyless, negative experience.
The vast majority of parents still comport themselves with restraint and civility at games, but it is impossible to ignore or wave away the loud, critical, ill-mannered parent in the stands who believes that his or her child is the next Junior Griffey or Mia Hamm. The obnoxious Little League parent, the meddling soccer mom, the aggressive dad who stalks the sidelines at football games and the poolside deck at swim meets have become a larger presence at youth games in the past five years. Fred Engh, president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), which educates coaches and parents on the needs of young athletes, says that field reports from his organization's 2,200 chapters in the U.S. reveal an alarming trend: In 1995 you could expect 5% of a crowd of parents to get out of line at a youth athletic event—i.e., to embarrass their children or be abusive toward the kids, officials and coaches. Only five years later, you can expect 15% of the crowd to cross the line. "It borders on insanity," says Engh. "Every year I see more and more ugly things."
Jim Thompson, director of the Positive Coaching Alliance at Stanford, says that 10 years ago, when he was giving coaching workshops, soccer parents and coaches (unlike their counterparts in baseball and basketball) had no complaints about parental behavior. But that was before soccer exploded in the U.S.—before it opened yet another lucrative mine of college scholarships and before the national women's team grew a comet's tail and rose in a spectacular arc to the world championship. Thompson says you should hear the lamentations now. Soccer folks talk about belligerent parents hurling abuse at officials. Indeed, says Thompson, things have become so difficult for youth-league soccer refs that adults are declining assignments, and the sport has had to turn to high schoolers for officiating. "But the kids don't want to do it either, because they don't want abuse from these parents," says Thompson.