Thursday, November 11, 1999

Soccer parents not all the same




BY KAREN SAMPLES
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — “Oh my stars!” says the coach, hands flying to the top of her head. Her team has just missed a chance to score. This is the way she curses.

        Great. I'm out here on a freezing Saturday morning, looking for soccer lunatics, and I find a soccer saint. Cathy Halloran's only other curse is “Cheese and crackers!”

        Her team starts every game by saying the Lord's Prayer. Once, before a tie-breaking shootout, they prayed in the middle of the field to the coach's dead mother.

        Well, whatever works. The St. Catherine Colts, a team of seventh- and eighth-graders from Fort Thomas, went undefeated this fall. Mrs. Halloran credits a balance of competitive spirit and spiritual calm.

Complex fans
        I was surprised by my sojourn to the soccer fields of Boone County. I went looking for the dark side of soccer mania: ranting parents, red-faced coaches, little kids facing years of therapy.

        What I found was more complicated. Yes, some coaches screamed a lot. Their neck veins bulged. Their players looked bummed.

        But I also saw parents who cheered at anything and everything. I saw a boy whose bone disease hadn't kept him off the field. I watched a dad cup his hands over his daughter's ears, so she wouldn't freeze at halftime.

Sideline of experts
        About 39,000 children play in the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association. They have 56,000 counterparts in Indiana and 107,000 in Ohio.

        Soccer is full of drama. It's fast and looks easy, which explains why some adults get carried away. They love to watch. They end up becoming experts in their own minds.

        “Defense, Christoper! Pay attention!”

        “Move up, Brianna. Move up!”

        “Katie, go in there after that!”

        The roar from the sidelines has become so intense that some soccer organizations are cracking down. In Cleveland and Kansas City last month, leagues experimented with a day of silence on the fields; instead of screaming, parents were limited to supportive signs and gestures.

        Northern Kentucky parents are well aware of the potential for excess. They all have stories — about the coach who pushed a referee, the player who told her own mom to shut up, the dad who threw a chair on the field.

        “I hope we're above that, because I think that's terrible for the kids,” says Amy Palmateer, whose son was playing at Boone County's Central Park when I stopped by.

        On a nearby field, assistant coach Tim Iott jumped around on the sidelines, encouraging his 8- and 9-year-olds.

        “Don't stop!!! Teddy! You're the wing. You've got to stay up!!”

        At halftime, Mr. Iott counseled a gap-toothed kid named Josh.

        “Don't do this jumping stuff,” he said. “That last time you jumped, it went right where your feet used to be.”

        “Why do you jump?” asked another adult.

        Josh looked at the ground. “I don't know,” he said.

14-year-old coach
        One of the best coaches in Boone County is Corey Nichols, 14. He actually played soccer once, which sets him apart from some of his elders.

        Corey has seen it all. Besides coaching an undefeated team of 8- and 9-year-olds, he referees for the Boone County Youth Soccer Association.

        “It's just a game, and (parents) sit there and scream their brains out,” Corey says.

        Last weekend at Central Park, he helped officiate a match between St. Agnes and St. Joseph schools. The score was tied at the end of regulation. Before play continued, St. Agnes' coach asked the referee for help. Parents were so loud that his girls didn't want to play on that side of the field, he said.

        Corey comes from a soccer-obsessed family. His dad, Glenn Nichols, coaches and serves as president of the Boone County association. Brother Scott, 13, plays on a select team, and mom Adele schedules referees.

        She tries to be aware of trouble-makers.

        Last year, a coach was dismissed for pushing a referee. This year, another was suspended for submitting a fake roster to the state. To gain a competitive edge, he had tried to add kids who weren't even signed up for soccer, Mrs. Nichols says. In recreation leagues, coaches don't get to pick and choose players.

        “He had no remorse whatsoever about what he'd done,” Mrs. Nichols says. “That floored me.”

        Fortunately, most soccer parents have more sense.

        Steve Stocker, who coaches an under-10 girls team called the Tazmanian Devils, focuses on improvement. During the break, he leads a cheer:

        “Who's going to get better in the second half?”

        “Taz!”

        “Who's got game?”

        “Taz!”

        Another Boone County coach, Dave Jardin, manages to make his screams sound intellectual.

        “You guys are playing real good overlap!” he says to his under-14 girls' team. “Don't overcommit!”

        Later, he shares his philosophy: Winning's great, but some days, you lose. There's always tomorrow.

        Mr. Jardin has the right attitude. This is recreational soccer. It's supposed to be fun. If it's not, something's wrong.

Karen Samples is The Enquirer's Kentucky columnist. Her column appears on Sundays and Thursdays in The Kentucky Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or email her at ksamples@enquirer.com