Thursday, January 14, 2010

Headline: Heckling Parent Gets Knocked Out at High School Basketball Game

No, that didn't really happen.

But maybe it should have.

Last night, we went to my nephew's high school basketball game. It's slightly important to note that I'm a public school teacher, and am very pro-public school spite of all its issues and flaws. My sister's boys, on the other hand, have attended the same private Christian school since they were in kindergarten. For years, she and I have half-teasingly gone back and forth about the merits of each. Our ongoing joke is that the people from "her" private school are a bit more "clean-cut" (read: less delinquent and more refined) than the ones who attend "my" public schools.

Apparently, that rule does not apply to some of the parents of the athletes. 'Cause sitting two rows behind me, that woman (think: Rosie O'Donnell sans make up and censors)...well, refined she was not.

Both teams were pretty aggressive, and it was an exciting game. The few people in the bleachers (it's a very small school) were pretty vocal: cheering, stomping, complaining about calls made and calls missed. The aforementioned mother? Um, yeah, vocal. Offensive vocal. And considering the size of the crowd, there was no chance she'd blend in.

When the handful (and I do mean, handful) of parents from the visiting team would clap or stomp during a foul shot, she would taunt: "What are you? Horses? There goes the stampede! The horses are stomping, everyone! As if it's gonna make a difference!" When a kid from the opposing team was fouled out and benched, she chanted: "Left, right, left, right, left...that's right! Sit down!" as he walked off the court. When a boy from our team unnecessarily fouled an opposing player so hard that the kid slammed into the floor, she shouted: "C'mon! Man up! What are you guys? A bunch of babies?" She punctuated every shot with an "In your face!" and then, as if all of this were not enough, she suggested singing "Hava Nagila" (we were playing a Jewish school). This was just too much.

I wanted desperately to stand up, turn around, and yell right back at her: "Shut the fuck up, you ignorant, prejudiced, crass idiot. These are kids, for God's sake!"

I didn't. I wanted to. But I didn't. Had that been my kid on the court, had that been my son's school, had I had any connection to this woman at all other than sitting in the same auditorium with her, I would have said something. But this was not my place. (And truth be told, as big and vulgar as she was, I'm pretty sure Hubby would've had to step in to keep her from pummeling me into the shiny hardcourt.)

My sister and I chuckled a bit: "Guess you can pay for private school, but you can't buy class."

I just kept thinking: Isn't this supposed to be a Christian school? I realize the type of school doesn't matter at all, and that this kind of stuff happens all the time on the sidelines of every youth sport, no matter the age or location, but...

I mean, mugging someone is bad, but mugging someone while sitting inside a church has gotta be worse, no?

I know this scenario is not uncommon. I've heard about these stories. Hubby grew up playing sports, so I've even heard first-hand accounts. But to witness this in person was painful. Ben just started his second season of soccer, and after attending two of his big cousin's games, has started asking about basketball. We know there is a very good chance we will spend countless hours of the coming years on the sidelines, cheering, clapping, stomping, and supporting. I realized last night that in spite of how impulsive, big-mouthed, and "passionate" I can be, I will never be that mother.

People are always talking about today's youth: disrespectful, undisciplined, and entitled. It's not MTV that's making them that way. It's not the Internet or movies or the media. It's parents like that.

I understand that parenting is difficult, that we make mistakes, that it's sometimes hard to realize how negative some of our behaviors can be when witnessed by our children. But this is not about parenting, really. It's not about childhood development or disciplining strategies. And it's not about sports. It applies to driving, to standing in line at the grocery store, to working alongside someone in a cubicle.

This is about kindness, plain and simple. I've realized that if I teach my children nothing else except kindness and consideration towards others, then I will have succeeded as a parent.

And how are Ben and Aidan Kai going to learn this? Yes, we will talk. We will have many conversations. Questions, answers, wondering, teaching. Like last night when he asked why his cousin's teammate had knocked down the other kid. I had to explain: "When you play sports, you play strong, but you play fair. And that wasn't right. It doesn't matter whose team he is on." But more than through our words, our sons will learn by watching...watching us, our behaviors, our actions. Everyday.

So I think of my future on the sidelines...and I think of that mother. And I worry. I worry not that I will be the one yelling obscenities or spewing meanness, but that I will not be able to control myself when someone else does on my kid's sideline. I worry that I will, in fact, turn to that lunatic and curse and yell and curse some more. And then my kid will see that, too. And isn't that a gray area? Where does one draw the line between mature restraint and a necessary verbal kick in the ass? And then isn't that a life lesson, too?


  1. You're absolutely right. Her kids are going to learn from her example and turn out the same way. Horrible!

  2. Yikes. The Hava Nagila comment got me... yikes again. She is a perfect example of ignorance. THIS is where nurture places a BIG part in nature vs nurture. She is definitely teaching her kids this inappropriate behavior and no matter whether they were born with kindness in their hearts... they will think this obnoxious behavior is acceptable. I would have had a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I am impressed by your restraint.

    I am also worried how I will be on the sidelines in that I can see getting a little too into the game but I will do my best to overdo the cheering, not the jeering.

  3. Oh wow, that woman sounds obnoxious...and yes, clearly no class whatsoever.

    You are so right that certain attitudes and behaviours come from the parents and what on earth are her children going to learn from her....and so the cycle continues....scary.

    Really well written Liz.

  4. People like that should be ask to leave the game. If you are in church or in a movie theatre or even a resturant they ask you to quiet down or leave! So why not at a kids sport event. Sometimes I think society has its priorities backways.

  5. I can't believe no one from the school said anything to her. You couldn't have been the only one that noticed. What an obnoxious bigot.

  6. You're absolutely right - one of my biggest wishes as a parent is to give my girls the knowledge that there is a right way to act and a wrong one and the confidence to choose the right one

  7. You will find there is generally one of these parents at almost every event. I have seen this parent in a hundred different forms at soccer, basketball, wrestling, football, tennis, swimming/diving, cross country. The parent is at pee wee games, middle school sports, high school sports and even at college sports (where the students are also usually a bit on the obnoxious side).

    You have written a wonderful piece about it. When the boys are older, show them this to start a discussion.

  8. I am the parent who speaks in a loud (projected, not yelled) voice about how WE (read: my children and myself) should behave and how WE should not behave poorly because others are. I've also been known to yell encouraging things just as loudly as the negative things are being yelled.

    In one perspective: I'm highly passive aggressive. From a different perspective: I'm being proactive, positive, and leading the way for others to do the same. I've found that most will start be encouraging right beside me.

  9. I feel badly for that woman's children. Has it ever occurred to to, do you think, that her family just might be embarrassed by her obnoxious attitude and foul language?

    ~ Yaya
    Yaya's Changing World

  10. How on earth did you not wrestle that woman to the ground and strangle her? JEEZ!

  11. God... she sounds awful. But you're so right... if you ever wonder how the kids got to be the way they are then just take a look at the parents. I'm sure there are the odd few where this is not the case but otherwise I would say that is pretty much the norm. You so handled it the right way... the bigger person is always the quieter one x

  12. Oh how terrible! She sounds like some of the out of control hockey moms up here! I can only imaginehow embarrased her kids must have been!


Comments rock...