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Recent increase in coach-parent issues is cause for concern

Fargo - This was eons ago, but I remember to this day overhearing my father complain about my high school basketball coach one night. My heart jumped for joy – since there were a few times I disliked how hard our coach pushed us.

So I decided to jump into my father’s conversation.

“Yeah, and you should see the way he treats us if we make a mistake,” I blurted.

My father, a bit startled, looked at me for a few seconds. He gave me a look that instantly told me my interjection was a mistake … a big mistake.

“Never mind what I’m talking about,” my father said sternly. “You listen to your coach. He’s your coach. You listen. End of story.”

That story resonates with me to this day, especially with what has been transpiring in the local high school scene lately.

Last November, longtime West Fargo assistant coach Jim Jonas was relieved of his duties. Last week, four Hawley (Minn.) boys basketball players quit the team. And just this week, longtime Fargo Shanley baseball coach Joel Swanson was let go.

In each case, parents – to some degree – were involved.

There were some parents upset with Jonas’ intimidating coaching style – described by school officials as bullying. Yes, Jonas has a history of such behavior, but he is one of those coaches who strives to get the best out of his players.

If I had Jonas as a coach, my dad would’ve said: “You know what he’s about … deal with it. And take it as a compliment that he’s yelling at you. He cares and sees potential in you.”

At Hawley, word is three of the four players who quit have now returned to the team. At least one set of parents supported the initial boycott.

But, apparently, some of those parents would have agreed with what my dad would’ve told me: “You started the season, you are going to finish the season. You don’t quit.”

At Shanley, Swanson’s text message strongly urging his players to put in extra offseason practice was taken the wrong way by one parent. Yes, perhaps Swanson shouldn’t have put such an edict into words and simply relayed the message at a team meeting.

If I had shown my dad that text message, he would have said: “Well, if you want to play baseball, you better put in the work. Get to it.”

I am confident there are still plenty of parents out there who raise their kids the way my father did. But it is somewhat troubling that the number seems to be shrinking these days.

Some parents – not all – feel entitled with more of a voice after devoting time and money into their kids’ traveling teams.

And gone are the days when parents meet over a cup of coffee to discuss their concerns before appointing one of them to have a meeting with the coach. Today – like their kids – parents communicate via Twitter, Facebook and text messages and are able to send anonymous emails to coaches or administrators.

What’s just as alarming is the way some administrators have handled some of these situations – based mostly on parental complaints. Seemingly getting less support from their administrators, high school coaches are walking on egg shells these days.

But not as much in Minnesota – where a law passed in 2013 reads: “The existence of parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a board to not renew a coaching contract.”

It’s a law that the Hawley boys basketball coach certainly appreciates. If it’s a public-education law like in Minnesota, that may not have much clout at a private school like Shanley.

But it should be a law in North Dakota. It would take a great deal of pressure off not only coaches but athletic directors and even superintendents who have to put up with just as much abuse from parents wanting to get rid of coaches.

A system of going through the proper channels is pretty good at working out a problem or sometimes, weeding out those who really shouldn’t be coaches.

Yes, no coach is perfect. But neither is life, something these high school athletes will eventually discover in the so-called real world.

As my dad would say: “Quit your whining and deal with it.”

Kevin Schnepf

Kevin Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum. He has been working at The Forum since 1986.

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