He has been coaching little league football in both the Miami and Palm Beach areas for six years—his son Bobby, 11, was recently described in a local paper as a "grizzled veteran," which the Cupps thought was pretty hilarious—and has some revolutionary ideas about what ought to be done with kids' football, some of which he has put to the test. Cupp thinks that most coaches are not necessary, that referees are not necessary, and that parents are not necessary, except in a strict biological-familial sense. He also thinks every kid should get to touch the ball every game—throw it, catch it, run with it. But Cupp has learned to accept, or at least anticipate, the game as it is in the small time.
"We had a coach in one league who had access to diet pills," he says. "The kids could get them for nothing. You never saw such a hyper bunch. But one of 'em was a lost cause. He came to the weigh-in in his daddy's heavy rubber suit, his face red with sweat. He looked like a cherry sticking out of a duffel bag. When he took off his sweat suit, his poor fat little body was pink as a salmon, but he missed by four pounds.
"Parents will allow their kids to go through any torture to play. This fall the boy who'd been kingpin of the 80-pound league for two years tried to make the weight again. He dieted and dieted and still weighed 86. The coaches told him he was good enough to move up to the next division. His parents said no. The boy didn't think he was good enough. He quit. He couldn't face not being the star anymore.
"Coaches are as guilty as parents. One I know decided to give his team a little boost by injecting a stimulant—Benzedrine, Dexedrine, something—into the oranges he always fed them before a game. He used a hypodermic and kept upping the dosage. After the third or fourth game the players started complaining of headaches and throwing up. The coach later admitted to me what he'd done, but at the time everybody blamed the oranges.
"Most of the coaches I have seen, more than half, I'd guess, haven't even had high school experience. They teach a lot of things wrong, even fundamentals like stances and handoffs and blocks. They see something on TV, and even though they don't understand it they try to put it in. I had a guy try to use an end-in-motion on us. I pointed it out to the referee, and he laughed and threw his flag. The coach came running over. 'What the hell,' he said. 'The Cowboys do it, why can't we?' The ref explained that it wasn't the end the Cowboys had in motion, it was the flankerback.
"The sad thing is, the really qualified guy isn't always the best for kids. Can't always relate. We had one last year who had all the credentials and loved the game, but he was a wild man. He reduced his team to tears daily. I've seen him, and others, too, manhandle kids, pick them up and throw them around. He'd yell things at 'em like 'You're gonna block if I have to kick your ass all afternoon!' The kids were 8-year-olds. They'd just turn to jelly, walk off the field crying. Another coach criticized him one time for not playing some of his lesser kids. He said, 'Why should I play kids who look up at the sky and chew grass while everybody else is sucking up their guts in practice?' The other coach said, 'Maybe if the kids played more they wouldn't look at the sky so much.'
"We had a rule that the son of a father or legal guardian who is coaching has to play for his father or guardian. I looked up one day and a coach was trying to add somebody's grandmother to his coaching staff—a black woman with gray hair who happened to have three of the best players in the area living in her home. Two were brothers and one a cousin, all of them little O.J.s, just the right age. A gold mine. Grandma was their legal guardian. When the coach announced at the league meeting his plan to add her to his staff, the place went up in smoke. You never heard such carrying on. He finally withdrew his motion.
"This one really ticked me off. One of our less charitable coaches had a kid who was kinda lousy and the coach didn't want to play him. We have this must-play rule where every player is supposed to play a series every quarter. I let mine play longer so the poorer players can improve, but some don't think along those lines. Anyway, this guy worked out a scheme whereby he'd send the poor player, No. 50, say, in with, say, No. 60. The woman who checks the substitutes—we call her the watchdog—checks off 50 and 60, coming in. Then as soon as 50 gets to the huddle he turns around and runs back off with the player 60 was sent in for.
"The watchdog wasn't asked to check who went out, only who went in. No. 50 never played. And nobody caught on till the fourth or fifth game, after his team had won four straight. The watchdog who spotted it couldn't believe her eyes. She asked the boy if he'd played at all. 'No,' he said, 'I just run in and out.'
"The league called a special meeting to decide whether to forfeit the team's games or suspend the coach, or both. The league president made a good case for throwing the coach out. Then the team's sponsor got up. He waved his checkbook over his head and announced that if the decision went against his team in any way, his sponsorship would be withdrawn. He was serious, too. The league needed sponsors. The question never came to a vote."