Little League Litigation: When Hockey Dads Act Like Children, Nobody Wins

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soccer momIn our world, Little League is run by parents, for kids. Whether hockey, soccer, basketball or baseball, competitive “house” leagues are reliant on moms and dads to coach our children. Aside from showing up and planning games, a key responsibility is teaching the kids how to be good sports. Hopefully, they lead by example. Often, they fail.

My husband has coached our sons’ hockey, soccer, and t-ball teams. And, I confess, I am a full-on hockey mom. Twice weekly, I find myself one of many parents and grandparents,yelling, cheering and even coaching from the stands. And while the majority of these kids are hardly the most gifted athletes or the most brilliant scorers, they try their best and have a great time, win or lose.

But they’re in it to win. And so are the parents.

So when one team double- and triple-shifts their best player, it’s hard not to bust their coach. Especially when everyone (coaches, kids, fans) notices. Of course, teen referees can’t catch everything. Sometimes, things slip past them. And sometimes coaches – and parents – get a little pissy. That’s when behavior modeling is tossed aside in favor of heckling, taunting and sarcasm.

We’ve all read about the soccer moms and hockey dads who cross the lines. Or state lines. Rifles at the ready. But in our far-from-pro hockey league, any parental altercation usually lasts all of three minutes – if that. Parents in our league are often able to collect themselves, apologize and move forward. “Rifts” soon become good-natured ribbing and the butt of jokes.

Last year, however, we had a “situation” involving a handful of adult coaches and their spouses. Accusations of cheating were leveled, a flippant comment was hurled and pretty soon it was all-out war.

The crime? Using sarcasm. The victim? A coach and his wife. Two adults. When accused of winning by cheating, they lost it and followed the “offending” coach into his change room to dress him down – in front of the players and their parents.

The initial “perp” – one of the league’s favorite coaches – asked the supposed victim to steer clear of discussing it until they were alone, but the besmirched party was having none of it. He believed his reputation was on the line and had to clear his name. But at what cost?

And then emails began. At first, they were cordial, pleasant even. But a simple sorry wasn’t enough. The offended party wanted an official letter sent out – to the other parents, other teams, even the conveners – clearing them of any and all perceived misconducts. Before we knew it, the email was leaked and the league organizers were consulting lawyers.

Little league litigation? Talk about poor sportsmanship!

How far do you have to go to apologize? If you do the crime, you do the time. But calling for a coach’s head on a stake for making a sarcastic comment under his breath? What does that say to our kids?

Of course, in the ensuing hoopla the coach was galvanized, while the adamantly non-cheating coach continues to rant and rave. I guess the apology wasn’t accepted.

(Photo: Johnny Sajem/Shutterstock)