From the June 28 Toronto Star:
Two sets of parents are suing the Greater Toronto Hockey League, one of its clubs and four coaches for $25,000 each because their sons were cut by the Avalanche Minor Sports Club midget junior A team during tryouts in April.
It’s the first time parents in the GTHL have ever taken legal action against the league or one of its teams for declining the services of their children, says league president John Gardner.
Even nationally, it’s a rare event.
“We have had very few lawsuits on ice time or (player) cuts,” said Hockey Canada’s Glen McCurdie director of member services. “There are more threats than actual suits.”
Vito Valela and David Longo are both suing on behalf of their sons, Christopher and Daniel respectively. Besides the GTHL, Avalanche Minor Sports president Anthony Iantorno as well as team officials Doriano Pistarelli, Andy Vandenberk, Felice Guglielmi and Peter Posca are named as defendants in the action.
“Their direct actions have caused irreparable psychological damage to Daniel Longo’s self esteem as an impressionable teenager and demoralized Daniel as an athlete and team hockey player with his peers,” the Longo statement of claim reads. “The conduct by all defendants destroyed the dignity of my son, whom in good conscience gave his team nothing but his best efforts.”
Valela’s statement of claim states: “When Christopher was advised of his termination by my wife and I, he vowed never to play the game he loved since childhood. And, morevoer, his misguided group of defendants demoralized my wife and I, whom had gone well beyond the call of duty as parents in support of the Toronto Avalanche hockey team for two seasons.”
None of the claims have been proved in court.
Irreparable damage to self-esteem? Sounds pretty pathetic, right? Well, it is.
However, these players are not 8-year-olds. They’re in a league for 15- and 16-year-olds, on the cusp of, perhaps, a pro hockey career. These parents have probably sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into their kids’ hockey careers. I’m going to guess that, on some level, this is a fight over recouping an investment. Which is kind of sad in and of itself.
As you read the Star article further, you get the sense that this conflict didn’t just start when the kids were cut from the team.
Both complaints cite that coaches Guglielmi and Posca were suspended for a year by the GTHL for tampering on May 20, 2009 and therefore, the parents claim the men were not legitimately able to advertise themselves as coaches for 2010-2011 season, run the tryouts in April and ultimately cut their 15-year-old sons.
“They terminated my son and the GTHL supported that ‘illegal authority’,” Vito Valela told the Star.
“It wasn’t just that they (coaches) were under suspension,” Longo said. “It was the way they cut them and the method they used.”
However, GTHL executive director Scott Oakman confirmed although the coaches were under suspension, the rules permit any player or team official whose suspensions run past the conclusion of games played in a season to participate in tryouts .
The article doesn’t explain what sort of “tampering” led to a year-long suspension. But by the end of the story, you get the sense that this isn’t about bad, petulant parents who can’t take their sons’ pro dreams are over.
Well, it is about them. But it also is about youth sports politics gone so bad, you find it hard to root for anyone involved in this lawsuit.
Even as an educator, I must admit that my first reaction to this story was an audible giggle. “Irreparable damange to self-esteem”; I’d love to know how one even goes about proving something like that in court. More to the point, though, I think youth sports as a subculture has forgotten the comic books and stories that were read to us as children. Yes, the brick house stood up to the Big Bad Wolf, but only after the ones of straw and sticks were destroyed. Even Bruce Wayne was told by his father, “Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
As an English teacher, I would always tell my students that at some point, your natural ability is not enough to overcome the difficulty. Eventually, even those who admittedly never study will have to in order to continue being good students. In some cases, even the best efforts might never again yield the top results. It’s a reality of being a student, of being human.
Consequently, at some point in their development, young athletes simply won’t have the talent to compete with their peers at the highest level. This is the time where acceptance and the possibilty of new discovery should be taught, not fought tooth and nail, wasting taxpayers’ money. For example, while I’ll never know for sure, I beleive I made my freshmen high school basketball team because of my hustle; it certainly wasn’t for my talent. And after a year of limited action and mediocre performances, despite being fairly coached, I realized that I enjoyed the hoop in my driveway more than the one in my school gym. The following year, I instead tried out for the bowling team, made it, and ended up becoming a league All-Star. Moreover, it’s a sport I continue to enjoy to this day. And while I’m not PBA calibur by any stretch of the imagination, I enjoy competing in a league with similarly talented bowlers. That would have never happened if I wasn’t helped by my parents and coaches to be realistic about my abilities in one sport and willing to try another. And it also helped me several years later to recognize that my baseball ceiling had been reached, and I was better off getting a summer job than playing travel ball.
My view is that so long as there are fun or intramural-style leagues where all participants get a chance to perform, neither parent nor player should make a big deal about being cut from a more challenging league. I had this conversation over dinner last week, and I think our society has lost track of what is fair. Fairness means two people have the right to compete for the same goal; it doesn’t mean they both have to reach it.
If the parents in this case have invested a significant amount of money, that’s on them. If they are, as the story implies, donors to the league, that still has no bearing on whether or not their sons should play (and this is an advancement officer saying that).
If I were to look at high school athletics, I would personally script it as follows: freshmen or modified teams are about learning the game, so if there is a no-cut policy, this is where it should exist; JV is about preparing athletes for the varsity game, and this should include the reality of cuts; varsity is the highest level of competition, and simultaneously preparation for collegiate athletics. Outside of school sports, there is an inherent difference between your local rec league and the rigors of a travel team.
Linguistically, even the concept of “try-outs” implies that you might not make it. So to come full circle, if players and parents can have a more realistic and accepting view about their abilities and the increasing difficulties of their sport, I think you’d see the problem of sports politics diminish, as well. In the end, it seems this rush to create the next pro whatever is the root of “tampering” and other infractions anyway.
If nothing else, we can always look to the wisdom of Denis Leary: “I thought I was going to be the starting centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox when I grew up. Life sucks; get a helmet.”
Interesting article. I just went through a similar experience with my 11-year old son. He tried out for a travel team, which indicated it would have up to 13 players on it prior to the selection process. I thought he would be a shoe-in since only 13 kids tried out for the team! He had a very good try-out in my viewpoint. Not the best player, but certainly not the worst either. To my surprise, I was notified by the head coach that he was not selected. After some back and forth with league officials, their decision was final – and that they backed the head coach’s decision. What is troubling here is that the children of the head coach and assistant coaches are automatically selected. Is this not nepotism or favoritism? In addition, one child who was injured and did not even participate in the try-out was automatically selected because he was on the team a year ago. Finally, what was assumed would be a 13-member team based on the handout, now became an 11-member squad because the head coach only wanted 11 players. So, as a parent do I just say to my son, ‘this is life, tough luck’, or do I pursue this further? I assume this situation occurs in every local district throughout the country where a selection process occurs. To me, he should be given the opportunity to be on the team given the lack of interest at the try-out, especially since historical teams have had up to 13 members. This particular coach prefers 11. I would be interested in your thoughts here!
If it was public and clear that there would be 13 players on the team, then I’d say it’s worth having a discussion with the town and the board. If it was NOT crystal clear, then you’re just looking at another moron coach who is more interested in winning with HIS kids rather than developing players and at age 11, there is no option in my opinion than developing the players.
While this may be the first, I promise this is NOT the last moron coach you will have to endure. Just ask yourself before you take up a battle…Is it worth the battle?
These town teams need to set and follow guidelines not only for how travel players are selected but also how the coaches are selected. Sometimes there is benefit to the team in selecting a coach whose child may not be “one the best” if that coach brings some special skill set or coaching qualities. There could also be benefit for the team that the coaching staff is consistent throughout the years. In the example above, one of those special qualities would be making sure to find a spot for the 13 that tried out. It is a shame that the commissioner would allow 2 players to be cut from the team when it was announced that they would carry 13 players. The league should take its leadership role and insist that these players at least be placed on the team. In most travel leagues, especially over 12, playing time is not guaranteed. I’m sure a “good” coach could find opportunities to allow these 2 players to get meaningful playing time.
My town league’s commissioner indicated that the travel coach’s position is not guaranteed for the following season. The term is annually and, at the commissioner’s discretion, it would be offered the following year. I believe this policy was instituted to allow the league to replace a coach that doesn’t conform to the standards of the program. If utilized, that is a start in the right direction.
Believe it or not, MOST towns make it clear that the coach’s job is a one year contract…in fact it has become cliched. The problems arise when coaches are clearly in a position to be evaluated, if not replaced, and nothing is done.
Again, it comes down to actions speaking louder than words.
Have you ever heard a coach say, “I’m only in it to win and I don’t care about developing kids”? or a commissioner say, “This is our coach for as long as these kids are playing”? Of course not. However, we all know these things happen.
The real problem is that level-headed people with the best interest of the kids are not always put in the right position to affect positive change and too many people are happy perpetuating the stereotypes of moron coach and/or indifferent commissioner.
Let’s hope that changes but int he meantime. The heart of this story here is just another group of idiot parents who want to drag a lawyer into a simple case of “Your kid isn’t good enough” and making outrageous statements to try to back up a flimsy argument.
A real shame.
Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:
You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. ( Log Out / Change )
You are commenting using your Twitter account. ( Log Out / Change )
You are commenting using your Facebook account. ( Log Out / Change )
You are commenting using your Google+ account. ( Log Out / Change )
Connecting to %s
Notify me of new comments via email.