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Guest Commentary: Parting thoughts on high school sports

As proud as I am of Cloquet's great high school sports heritage, I've been disturbed and confused by recent experiences, including the fact that, because of their many and varied negative experiences, dozens of parents shared with me the relief they felt when their children exited the Cloquet high school sports world. Now that my children have graduated, I understand what they meant, and I'd like to offer the following perspective with the hopes that the new activities director provides a discerning, thoughtful and equitable vision to the position.

The Good: High school sports, as the latest public service announcement declares, are good for students. The sports community would flounder without smart and caring adult leaders, so I'm grateful to all the individuals who have played a role teaching my children the values of good sportsmanship. Participating, working hard, enjoying the processes and respecting all the individuals, both teammates and opponents — as well as supervisors — regardless of the outcomes were important experiences. Life-time bonding was another great result. The scholar-athlete mentality and the sound mind/healthy body dichotomy students develop help them grow up to become strong, respectful leaders in their communities.

The Bad: Verbal disrespect should never have a place in educational environments. Shaming, belittling, name-calling and lying to students create toxic systems as do making decisions based on nepotism and favoritism. The parent-coach arrangement should be reconsidered if people value good sportsmanship. Coaches who coach because they want to relive high school glory days or because they have a child on the team cause dysfunction and dissension; coaches who use kids to build teams rather than using teams to build kids should have no place in the high school system as well, and coaches who sacrifice a senior's final year to the god of teambuilding need to head for college or the pro venue. Finally, coaches who make cowardly decisions cloaked in clichés and PR coach speak should have no place in the system.

The Ugly: Disrespecting players is unconscionable. Hysterical outbursts, degrading rants, and favoritism are results of bad coaching choices and weak leadership. Ego driven prima donnas who place winning above all else drag their toxic and personal dysfunctions into the public arena, where their behaviors spread a virus of anger and hostility that, I'm afraid, can darken the Cloquet sports world. When coaches think they're one step from college or the pros and fool themselves into taking on a mantle of importance beyond being supervisors of a high school activity, students pay the price. Winning, something we all strive for and enjoy, is a transient experience, but the effects of injustice, stupidity, self-centeredness and disrespect last a lifetime. Wisdom is required from the new AD to be just and discerning even if it means losing. The poster inside the door of the Northwoods Arena would make a fine code to remind supervisors what is important when they get too full of themselves, which happens all too often in the macho world of sports. Coaches should coach because they love to work with kids and they love to teach — not for the love of the game or for personal satisfaction, especially when they are being paid by the community. These activities are for the many, not the few.

With change, there's always a glimmer of hope the new AD can provide an equitable and positive ethos to the Cloquet high school sports community. But it would take a lot of courage and smarts. Either way, now that it's over for my family, I can add to the unfortunate chorus: What a relief!