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Incident at Edna game raises questions about line between coaching, bullying

By Bianca Montes
Nov. 8, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.
Updated Nov. 9, 2013 at 5:09 a.m.

The Edna Cowboys charge the field Nov. 1 to face the Hallettsville Brahmas. A coach's conduct at the game is under review by Edna officials.

The Edna Cowboys charge the field Nov. 1 to face the Hallettsville Brahmas. A coach's conduct at the game is under review by Edna officials.

Bullying.

It's part of the game when it comes to coaching - or is it?

Marise Dudley, of Victoria, said the aggressive mentality of "do it right or I'm going to make you do it right," is common, if not sought out, when it comes to conditioning children to become athletes.

"The yelling is typical," the mother of two athletes said. "It prepares them for the pressure they'll endure in the future."

A recent allegation that an assistant football coach at Edna High School pushed a student has left some parents wondering where coaching ends and misconduct begins.

The question has lingered in several headlines across the country that have involved athletes in all arenas - prep, college and professional.

Dudley's 9-year-old daughter is a training gymnast, and her 12-year-old son is coached by a man whose gregarious personality on and off the baseball field has landed him a reality show.

"We grew up in an era if you put your child in an organized sport, you expected them to learn respect for the coach - 'Yes, sir.' 'No, sir.' 'How high do you want me to jump?'" she said. "Now, you get parents telling their kids they're the best and that they don't need the coach.

"You have to sit back and hope those kids were taught when the coach yells that it's not abuse, it's coaching."

According to the Edna school's athlete handbook, strong individual motivation and stern discipline should be handled in private, and a student should never be touched in anger.

"He pushed that kid like a grown man," witness Harold Wilkins said about the incident between the assistant coach and the student.

In the 13 years that Wilkins coached youth football in Edna, he said he'd never seen an incident like that before.

Kymber Russelo, 20, of Edna, said coaching stops when a child is pushed or diminished in any way.

"It's abuse," she said.

Russelo said she endured bullying while a student at Edna High School, and the effects of it have been long-lasting. "It made me depressed. It changed me.

"It's never OK to step over that line," she said, "especially as a teacher."

According to the Texas Education Agency, the coach in question became certified as a teacher in 1982, and his record shows he has never been investigated for misconduct.

Debbie Ratcliffe, media relations director with the TEA, said teachers rely on the educator code of ethics, which state that they cannot abuse students in any form or fashion or make threats of violence.

Edna Police Chief Clinton Wooldridge confirmed that a parent did make an allegation that a coach pushed his son but refused to comment further. The Advocate contacted the parent and the student, who both declined to comment.

Edna High School Principal Demetric Wells chose not to comment about the teacher's hire date or confirm that any grievance was filed against him. He said he would have something to say next week.

Interim Superintendent Donald Egg wrote in an email, "I do not have any comments. This is a personnel/student issue."

Catherine McBrayer, a Portland mother of a former volleyball player, said there is an epidemic of mental abuse in sports. Her daughter played volleyball at a Crossroads school and said "players are called liars, cheaters, fat, whores" by the coaches.

"The coaches degrade players in front of their teammates by cussing at them and telling them that they are worthless," McBrayer said.

Carl Pickhardt, a columnist with Psychology Today, said when this type of misconduct occurs, a lot of damage can be instilled to "adolescents who, despite their proud bravado to the contrary, really do care about how they are treated by significant adults, particularly when in front of peers."

The amount of damage, however, is dependent on the child, said Pickhardt, who graduated from the University of Texas with a doctorate in counseling psychology.

"We're talking about a competitive sport," he said. "Your coaching is going to get harder and more abrupt.

"If their caring for the sport becomes diminished, the question then should be: Does the kid want to continue involvement?"

The coach, Pickhardt said, sets the terms of involvement, and students accept those terms out of their desire to play.

"There are a lot of kids who are mature enough to take on this frame of mind," he said. "Coaches are there to challenge you, bring out the best of you and push you hard to the framework of competitiveness."

Some parents, such as Dudley, agree.

"In sports, we elect to put our children in that," she said. "You teach sports with an aggression. If I'm paying $240 a month, I expect the coach to coach my kid."

Still, football coach Wilkins said there is a line that should not be crossed. He said there is a need for aggression in coaching, but it's all in the approach.

"You don't put your hands on a kid," he said.


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