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Southbridge YMCA bans parents from hoop finals

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / February 25, 2010

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The message was intended to be clear: This is a youth league, and it is supposed to be fun for children.

Coaches of a basketball program run by Tri-Community YMCA in Southbridge sent letters to parents last week telling them they will be barred from attending the games this Saturday, the last day of the season, because too many of them have been unruly lately.

Program coordinators said parents would yell at referees or at one another, which led to continuing arguments during games. Police have not been called, but the officials said they will not let it get to that point.

“This is what we tried to do to let people know this is not appropriate behavior,’’ said Sue Casine, recreation director at the YMCA. “It’s just a youth league. It’s a youth league for kids to play ball and have fun and learn skills and good sportsmanship, but we were having some trouble with parents in the stands.’’

Casine said that at a time when youth league games and practices have turned explosive because of parents’ behavior, with some in other towns ending in violence, the announcement was a way to stem any further problems and send a message.

“This is not going to happen in this league,’’ she said. “We want to teach them the right way to have fun, the right way to play basketball, and that’s how we’re handling the situation.’’

Tri-Community YMCA tries to make sure the games are not overly competitive. Two divisions, one for fifth- and sixth-graders, the other for seventh- and eighth-graders, play once a week on Saturdays, with a practice during the week.

Each division has about 40 players making up four teams. But no records or standings are kept.

After each game, the scoreboard is erased. And after each season, every player gets a soda, a pizza, and a trophy. No first-place teams are announced.

“We don’t even know who wins the most games,’’ Casine said.

Edward Keefe, the YMCA director, said yesterday that he supports the decision of Casine and the basketball coordinator to bar parents.

He said parents will be able to attend the after-game banquet with pizza and soda.

“We want those kids to have a good experience with their last game,’’ he said. “Yeah, there’s going to be competition, but there’s got to be good sportsmanship.’’

Bob Fowler, coach of Southbridge High School varsity basketball, the team to which many of these players aspire, supported the YMCA’s decision.

He acknowledged the ban on parent attendance could be unfair to some wanting to see their child’s last game at this grade level. But he stressed that too many parents in youth leagues have become unruly.

At the high school competitive level, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association code of conduct forbids unruly behavior.

“If there’s anyone unruly, parents or students or anyone, they’re ejected from the game,’’ Fowler said. “I think it’s a good thing . . . you have to do it.

“Kids at that age are very impressionable, and they should be taught the rights and the wrongs of the games, and that having parents flip out at coaches or referees is unacceptable.’’

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.