this happens a lot but some think it is bordering on bribery

5 Responses to “this happens a lot but some think it is bordering on bribery”

  1. November 14, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    A full-page advertisement is nothing to sneeze at, and Tuesday’s big ad plugged a commercial enterprise called the Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy and its coaches and instructors, including Mike McDaniel.

    The very next day, the paper had a story about a fuss over the Northampton Area School Board’s decision to hire McDaniel as the new high school baseball coach. It said a parent, Carl Cavallo, complained about the board’s razzle-dazzle Oct. 26 decision. Cavallo saw a conflict of interest.

    The LVBA’s Web site offers baseball lesson packages that run into hundreds of dollars, which raised a question in my mind:

    Suppose somebody works at a commercial enterprise that provides baseball lessons to young people, and then that same person becomes a high school baseball coach who must choose between the youngsters trying out for his team. If some of them had paid him hundreds of dollars at his baseball academy and others had not, is there any conceivable way we could perceive a potential conflict of interest?

    Nah, of course not.

    Wednesday’s story said the school board originally planned to vote on the baseball coach in November or December, but the action was rammed into the Oct. 26 meeting’s agenda with no prior notice.

    The 7-2 decision to hire McDaniel, effective next March, defied a recommendation by the school district administration, which interviewed four candidates for the job and recommended someone else, who was not identified in the story.

    Ordinarily, I am not the first journalist most people would pick to write about baseball, but a copy of a Facebook page found its way to my desk and it contained comments by Darin Arthofer, one of the board members who voted for McDaniel.

    It referred to “closed-minded” decisions by the district’s administrators and said they “can lead our district down a trail of disaster.”

    Arthofer avoided a clear answer on what he meant by that, but he told me the man recommended by the administration is Mike P. Schneider, son of the district’s athletic director, F. Mike Schneider. (Before you squawk about nepotism, let’s discuss Joe Paterno’s kid.)

    Anyway, Mike P. has all sorts of baseball credentials, including playing for a Montreal Expos farm team as a catcher. More significantly, he also is a member of the faculty at Northampton, which means he has an academic perspective apart from throwing, catching and hitting baseballs.

    McDaniel told me he’ll stay at LVBA even after he becomes coach, and sees no conflict. “No Northampton kids come here. No high school kids … at this time.”

    Have Northampton students attended LVBA previously? McDaniel said they have, so I asked if that is not a conflict, when he’s the one who decides who plays and who doesn’t.

    “I’m not like that. If you’re good enough to make the team, you make it,” he said.

    I asked Mike P. Schneider if he could comment on all this. “I respectfully decline,” he said. So did top administrators.

    So I talked to F. Mike Schneider, who also is a teacher in addition to being the school district’s AD.

    “When I coached,” he said, “I was happy when I was able to help kids get into college, not to play football but for the academics. If sports help them get there, great.”

    F. Mike indicated that his son has the same attitude and was the best candidate for the baseball coaching job. “I’m prejudiced that way,” he allowed.

    Prejudice aside, F. Mike said it generally is better to have a coach who’s a teacher “because he’s there with the kids all day. … We’re privy to that information … about their educational performance. …

    “That’s what it’s about,” he said of the role of a public school. “Hopefully we hire coaches who foster well-rounded citizens.”

    I don’t know if Mike P. would have been the best choice for baseball coach at Northampton, but I know who would be the worst — somebody with no direct interest in scholarship, but some interest in commercial pursuits linked to baseball.

    So I asked Arthofer if he had any problem with the conflict question.

    “No I don’t,” he replied, adding that there is a significant advantage in having a coach who is involved in a commercial baseball instructional program that’s used by many young people. “He [McDaniel] has information on some of the players that could help us,” Arthofer said. “You need to have good feeder programs.”

    Feeder programs? They hire a coach with profit motives so they can have better feeder programs for baseball? What feeder programs, I wonder, does this school board push to achieve better results in, say, math, English, science or social studies?

  2. 2 SlickRick
    November 14, 2009 at 4:44 PM

    This post rings vaguely familiar in our town’s Travel baseball league. The old problem was that kids were picked by coaches (who were also parents)that lived in town. Let’s say there were 12 spots open on the team; right off the bat three spots were taken by the head coaches kid, and the kids of his two assistants (regardless of athletic abilitiy). Then a few may be taken due to “social circles” (friend’s of the coaches kids or sons of the coaches’ friends etc.). And then, the remaining spots were earned by some “subjective” criteria during tryouts. Cuts were made and the team was chosen. Hardly seems objective or “fair.’

    To try to counter balance this “subjective favoritism” the “Travel Program” now has “objective judges” that grade everybody and the top 9 players fill out the 12 spots. Wait….9 players fill out the 12 spots? How are the other 3 chosen? By “Coaches Choice.” That way if the coaches son and his assistants are not up to speed or have a bad tryout, they can still make the team. (That will probably never change. I guess there will always be perks for volunteering one’s time). The problem is, and this is the same problem described above, the “objective judges” are trainers and employees of a local training facility that works closely with the league. All else being equal, there is pressure on these “objective” judges to “grade” their paying customers as superior to those kids who train elsewhere. It just wouldn’t be good for business if the hundreds/thousands of dollars that the customers paid did not improve their kids enough to actually make the team. Even if there is some “saint” that actually grades the competitor’s kids as better than their paying customer based on skill alone, there is unequivocally a conflict of interest in this scenario. Not sure what “the perfect solution” is, but Travel, or asny competitive sports league, will always be laced with land mines.

  3. November 16, 2009 at 7:11 PM

    Hey Slick,

    Unfortunately, it rings vaguely familiar with most towns…and most programs…and most ages…and both genders. The politics of youth sports, especially travel sports, will simply never go away. Objectivity has never existed and the more people try to prove it’s existence, the more ridiculous they all sound.

    In fact, in our favorite little town, they used to use “score cards” to “objectively” evaluate the kids. We found over time that while each kid did indeed receive a score, it rarely had anything to do with how the kid did that day and more to do with who the coach was.

    You see, I can write down on a piece of paper that I’m the smartest guy in the world, but that doesn’t make it so.

    If folks cared enough to take the time to do it right, they’d have each coach of the in-town program rate the kids on their team (with the exception of their own child). Then have them look at the rosters of the other teams and evaluate those players as well. It’s amazing how quickly the same names would appear over and over again. When you hold up this master list to a tryout, you begin to see some objectivity.

    By the way, there are about a hundred other ways to keep things fair and objective but I can only type so much.

    And on another note, I believe that the coach should be chosen AFTER the team is put together. This would clearly eliminate the possibility of a kid making the team or playing his favorite position every game simply because Daddy lived in town his whole life.

    Having had exposure to pretty much every sport under the sun, I can say in confidence that the more competitive the situation, the more unqualified jerks you will find coaching. These are the people who mistake “travel” for “a showcase for my kid”

    I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be rewarded for volunteering their time. After all, if my kid doesn’t make the team and no one else wants to coach, what do you do, right?

    However, in most cases you’ll find there are more than enough qualified volunteers who truly have the interest of the kids in mind that you don’t have to settle on some sloth who happens to own the local hardware store.

    Things like this are actually easy to fix. The problems still exist because many (most) of the people who are put in charge of these leagues are truly uninformed dopes who have no interest in going out on a limb for the better of the kids.

    Best of luck to you…you’ll need it!

  4. 4 Eric
    November 19, 2009 at 2:12 PM

    Rick’s point is valid. There is an appearance that the owner of the local training facility would be biased in rating the players and give higher scores to the kids of the commissioner, the coaches or to kids who train at the facility. Clearly, whether true or not, there was the appearance of biased selection prior to this new method or there would not have been a need for this change.

    I was involved in one of the age groups for the tryout Rick refers to. (I am one of the coaches.) A few things should be noted to give perspective to this issue. In this case, the training facility recently changed ownership. The two evaluators that spent the day grading 4 separate age groups over an 8 hour period were instructors, not owners with any financial ties to the training facility. I was involved in the tryouts and observed the evaluators communication with the players. There was none. My age group was the youngest and may have some bearing on this point, but it was clear the evaluators did not know any of these kids. There was no communication of any type, not even general words of praise or encouragement. The evaluators were simply provided blank grading sheets and a number for each kid. The sign in sheet is the only paper that reconciles the names of the kids with the numbers and it has not left my possession since that day. (None of my kids train at this facility and I don’t know any of the owners or instructors.) The training facility will report the final results directly to the travel commissioner and I, as a coach, will not know the results until there is a travel meeting with the coaches of all of the teams. I really don’t know how more independent the process could have been.

    For my age group there are no coach’s choice picks. 1-12 make the 1st team and 13-24 make the 2nd team. The older teams allow 3 picks to the coach after 1-9 are placed on the first team. The purpose of the 3 coach picks IS SUPPOSE to allow for a specialty player who simply did not have a good tryout. Obviously everyone could make the case that they had a bad tryout and should receive the same treatment. If that were the case then we would go old school and just simply let the coach pick the team and we would be back to square one. It is apparent when the selection is used improperly and maybe is an area that needs to be considered for future “improvement” of the process. Perhaps the coach’s pick’s needs to be justified by some panel that could include the baseball and travel commissioner or some other group to “bless” the coach’s pick.

    The important thing to consider for this issue is that the change in the process was made to improve the method in which travel teams are chosen. Everyone is not going to agree on every issue or suggested method. Parents are not always the most impartial evaluators of their child’s abilities in these situation and if your child does not make a team it’s going to make them hurt. I don’t know of any parent that wants to see their child feel the hurt of being told they didn’t make a team.

    Some parents feel embarrassed to not make the “A” team so excuses or accusations of an unfair selection process are easy ways to justify why they aren’t on the team. I’m not naive to think that this selection process or any selection process is so perfect that the top 12 will always be selected. These are the teaching moments for our kids. Maybe it’s early for a 9 or 10 year old but life is also not perfect. They may feel the same way when they are older if someone else gets the job, promotion, or whatever even though they may be more qualified. Unfortunate it is a life lesson. Open up the paper or listen to the news today and everyone is justifying a situation or complaining about something being unfair. (Just like this posting about how unfair the travel selection process is.) What we should be saying to our kids is “don’t complain about it. Work harder. Practice, study, train, and learn. Play in town ball. Come back next year and try again. Keep trying but never quit. And don’t make excuses.”

    The debate will continue. The question I have is, if you kid doesn’t make the team, which lesson will you teach?

  5. November 19, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    Tough to disagree with anything you said…it all makes sense. Unfortunately, most towns use this objective tryout format as a mask for the typical politics that take place.

    Glad to see that there were no “coach picks” for the younger kids.

    I’m curious to see how things pan out once the teams get chosen.

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