Our Opinion: Don't let adults ruin sports for young athletes

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If youth sports is designed to produce well rounded young people who understand the meaning of fair play and good sportsmanship, then the behavior of some parents at local youth events is counterproductive to that goal. In Berkshire County, fear of aggressive parental behavior has compelled the Berkshire County Football Officials Association to demand a police presence at all games for their own protection (Eagle, Oct. 31).

Parents have always participated vicariously in sporting events through their children, and such enthusiasm and involvement is part of the excitement surrounding youth sports, as long as it is contained within acceptable limits. Jeff Meehan, a spokesman for the BCFOA, told The Eagle that things began getting out of hand about five years ago, necessitating a zero-tolerance policy that had a temporary chilling effect on the problem. Now, however, it is back with a vengeance.

Most parents understand that youth football is just a game, and that the experience of losing can be as valuable as winning in terms of building a young person's character; they accept questionable calls by referees or ones they believe to be in error as part of the randomness of life as reflected in the microcosm of the gridiron. The competitive environment, however, can trigger those who may possess anger management problems or who are overly willing to substitute their children's successes and failures as their own. Sadly, the targets of their ire become those individuals, the referees, who perform a needed function for love of the game and respect for the principle of youth sports.

As with any group situation, a few bad apples can spoil the experience for everyone involved, not to mention create a dangerous situation that can easily escalate to violence. This should be allowed no haven in a youth sports environment. Moreover, assault is a crime, regardless of whether or not it was premeditated or committed in the heat of passion.

The BCFOA has met to address the problem with leaders of the Berkshire County Youth Football League, which understandably has no desire to turn its matches into an armed camp and hopes the officials will reconsider. While most Americans are aware that society has coarsened over the last several decades — in particular over the last two years when the angry have also developed a strong sense of entitlement — and more and more people tend to resort to violent action to resolve disputes, the only way to reverse this trend is by making civility a model for young people.

Sadly, if the officials feel they need armed protection to help them perform their jobs, then so be it. A few arrests by law enforcement officials and further action by the district attorney's office should serve as an effective deterrent to future mayhem, as well as teach children that violent displays at sporting events will not be tolerated.

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