City Parks Department recreational program organizers hope parents, spectators and coaches behaving badly at kids basketball games in Kent can become a thing of the past.
That’s certainly the goal for the youth basketball program after several incidents Jan. 21 at multiple games involving the coaches and parents of teams in the third through sixth grade program verbally abusing officials and players.
“We simply need all who are participating or watching to remember that this is a program for kids,” said city Parks Director Julie Parascondola in a Jan. 31 email to the Kent Reporter. “Adults need to be positive, cheer for their favorite team, practice skills with your child, show our young sports officials some grace and have fun.”
Parks staff sent an email Jan. 26 to coaches and parents in the league to emphasize good behavior at games.
“I am happy to share that all coaches, participants and spectators were on good behavior this past weekend (Jan. 28),” Parascondola said. “We are very hopeful that we will continue to see that throughout the balance of the season.”
But it was bad behavior during games that caused parks staff to send the email in an attempt to keep control of the games. Games are primarily played at Kent School District middle school gyms.
“A variety of very negative scenarios played out in basketball games on Saturday, Jan. 21,” according to the parks staff email. “We feel it is necessary to briefly identify what occurred and renew our discussion around sportsmanship, appropriate conduct and what is to be expected from coaches, parents, spectators and players moving forward this season.
“During week No. 2, there were instances in multiple games where coaches yelled at and were verbally abusive towards game officials as well as their own players. There were also numerous issues of parents/spectators who yelled at and were verbally abusive towards officials and/or other spectators/parents.”
Parks staff emphasized in the email several key points.
• Unsportsmanlike behavior and dangerous or abusive conduct is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated in Kent Parks programs.
• Moving forward, any breach of the code of conduct will result in the removal of the offending coach, parents or spectator. While we intend to make every effort for children not to suffer the consequences of a parent’s behavior, it may become necessary to remove the player as well.
“Kent Parks has both the authority and ability to remove any participant from one of our programs for not adhering to the code of conduct or related program and gym use rules,” Parascondola said. “Consequences vary based on the offense and range from a one game suspension through removal from the program. We try very hard to not penalize the child for the actions of the adult or family members, but we cannot risk the safety of our participants.
“Sadly, it becomes the responsibility of the Kent Police Department when behavior is excessive or when offenders won’t leave the gym.”
The city Parks Department offers basketball league play for participants in kindergarten through second grade (coed teams), third grade through sixth grade (girls teams, boys teams) and seventh grade through 12th grade (girls teams, boys teams). There are 85 teams and over 850 participants.
“Ninety-five percent-plus of families and spectators behave appropriately,” Parascondola said.
Parascondola said the games attract several dozen fans.
“This is a family-based program and it’s not unusual to have 50-plus spectators at every game,” she said. “It’s important to note that every youth sports coach is a volunteer. They all come with varying degrees of experience, knowledge about the game and abilities to manage kids and parents.”
Parascondola said during preseason meetings, staff walks the volunteer coaches through program design, practice and league schedules, rules, code of conduct and what to expect from officiating.
Prior to participation in Kent Parks sports, every registered coach and family is required to review and agree by signature, to the basic terms of the Parent/Coach/Spectator Code of Conduct. It is intended to be an easy-to-follow guide to acceptable behavior while engaging in Kent Parks Youth Sports Programs.
Many of the officials are ages 16 to 19, Parascondola said.
“We recruit, train, and mentor these teen sports officials, many working in their first jobs while they are learning and growing as young adults,” she said. “Yes, despite how hard they try, they do get calls wrong on occasion. Spectators and coaches need to show grace and understanding; it’s totally unacceptable for grown adults to swear, threaten and intimidate these young officials.”
Parascondola said concerns with officiating need to be brought to the attention of Parks Recreation staff so that they can positively guide them in their development as officials.
“We continue to see a decline in returning officials due to the aggressive behaviors of parents and spectators,” she said.
Parks staff has looked into contracting with an officials association, but those costs would be higher and there’s been a shortage of officials among those groups, Parascondola said.
“Contracted officials will also reduce the number of youth employment opportunities for teens in Kent, some of whom need these opportunities to help support their families,” she said.
Parascondola said the problem with coaches and parents abusing officials isn’t unique to Kent.
“This is a nationwide and escalating epidemic of disruptive family members, spectators, and coaches challenging the integrity of youth sports through aggressive behavior, yelling negativity or profanity often directed towards young sports officials, players and surrounding spectators and generally failing to adhere to gymnasium rules,” she said.
The parks director added there is positive news as well.
“The vast majority of coaches, parents and spectators look forward to this program, they are positive, supportive, and there to cheer, to be excited for their kids and have a fun Saturday experience,” she said
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