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25 Years of Softball Growth

Warroad was a perfect 11-0 this spring when the fastpitch softball team reached double figures in runs. There was a time when that situation wasn't a guaranteed win.

Twenty-five years ago, when fastpitch was in its infancy with most high schools in northwest Minnesota, Warroad lost three of the 10 games in which it scored 10 or more runs.

"In games back then, it was typical for teams to have five to seven errors in a game and 8-10 walks allowed,''Warroad coach Terry Sadler said. "Giving up that many baserunners led to a lot of runs in games.''

Thief River Falls was the only area school with an established fastpitch softball program when, in the spring of 1993, Warroad, Lake of the Woods, Roseau, Marshall County Central, Crookston, Badger-Greenbush-Middle River and Kittson County Central started teams.

They played as independents for a year, then in 1994 joined the Minnesota State High School League as sanctioned programs. Several other area schools have added programs since.

A lot has changed as the sport has evolved and skill levels have improved.

"Back then, we were so inexperienced with the game,''said Sadler, who has been Warroad's coach for its entire 25-year existence. "We didn't have a lot of knowledgeable coaches. Nobody had veteran players. There was a lot of teaching--how to pitch, how to hit.

"A lot of times, the scoreboard looked like a football scoreboard. Scores in the upper teens and 20s were common. And you get players on base and you just ran and ran and ran. Pitchers had to be able to throw in spots where catchers could make good throws. That was a challenge.''

Probably the most noticeable changes have been pitching and defense. Double-figure scoring games still aren't unusual. But they're not the norm.

Kent Christian, the B-G-MR coach since 1996, remembers a shootout won by the Gators 28-26. Mike Marek, who coached Sacred Heart in its inaugural season in 1997 through 2016, remembers scoring 42 runs in a game.

"You look at those early scores, it was ugly,''Marek said. "Scores in the teens and 20s, nobody batted an eye. Now, if somebody scores 20 in a game, it's like, wow.''

Said Christian: "In those early years, you'd go 2-3 hours for games. Now you're looking at 1 1/2-hour games. Pitchers are throwing strikes. The fielding is much better. Our goal is to have two or fewer errors in a game. When I started, if we had only eight errors, it was like, nice game.''

Hurlers always could throw hard, Marek said. They're throwing harder now and more accurately. "And it used to be all fastballs. Now the good pitchers are throwing everything--fastball, change-up, curve, riser or drop ball.''

Changes have also come because of equipment. Bats have become livelier. That's led to more protection for fielders. Pitchers, infielders, sometimes even outfielders, wear protective masks, whereas in the early days of softball rarely did anybody but a catcher don a mask.

Playing conditions also have improved.

"We used to play on some cow pastures,''Christian said. "There were no fences. If the ball was hit into the gap, the baserunners could go forever. There was one place where we had to do a quadruple relay to get the ball back to to the pitcher. Now we play on fields with nice fences.''

Shorter fences, along with livelier bats, also have brought the home run more into play, Christian said.

Fastpitch also has improved, coaches say, because athletes are spending more time at the game. There are summer camps, tournaments and leagues now available.

"All of it has grown so much,''Sadler said. "Kids are playing at a younger age. They understand the game better. The pitching is miles ahead of where it was when we started. Defenses are better.

"The days of girls showing up with their dad's or older brother's hand-me-down old glove are gone. Now the girls have their own new gloves and they wear them out from usage.''

Source:  Grand Forks Herald

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High school coaching conundrum: Is it too easy for parents to get you fired?

Rich Forslund won 77 percent of his games in seven seasons as Half Moon Bay's boys basketball coach, adding to an impeccable reputation among peers across the Bay Area.

Chris Lavdiotis built a similar legacy in 24 years as Piedmont's boys basketball coach, mostly with the varsity.

They will not be back at their schools next season, joining a growing number of coaches in the Bay Area and beyond who have been shown the door by administrators choosing to move in a different direction.

There are a number of reasons coaches are let go -- Lavdiotis says he was told his dismissal was the result of a bad relationship with the school's athletic director -- but there is one that has many coaches feeling as if the ice beneath them is thinner than ever before.

That ice being parents.

Parents upset that their kid does not play enough.

Parents angered that the coach is too demanding.

Parents concerned that the coach is out of touch with this era.

In a clash between modern-day parenting and old-school coaching, the scoreboard is not tilting in the coaches' direction. Movement has become so common in an industry where contracts are typically renewed or not renewed after each season, coaches believe that it isn't a matter of if but when the next one will be removed or simply walk away.

"We're one or two emails from this being over with," said Moreau Catholic boys basketball coach Frank Knight, who led the Hayward private school to a state championship game in March. "Most coaches understand that."

Administrators, held back by district or school policy, seldom say why a coach was let go.

Count Half Moon Bay among the silent. Principal John Nazar said he appreciated the opportunity to respond to the criticism his administration has received about Forslund, but, he added, "I really can't speak about any personnel issues."

Jodi DuFrane was free to speak. The mother of former Half Moon Bay player Case DuFrane, who graduated from the school in 2015, said Forslund's removal shocked her and speaks to a larger societal issue.

"This whole catch phrase that schools seem to be using right now -- we're moving in a different direction -- I can't imagine what that direction is going to be," she said. "Is it to placate parents? Is it to placate kids who don't think that they're getting enough time on the court? I don't know. There is a whole entitled generation of kids and parents that have come out and don't understand the value of hard work and what the real world expects of them."

But why are administrators backing parents over coaches?

In a Forbes.com story published in April titled "Why Even Successful High School Coaches Are Deemed Easily Expendable," author Bob Cook wrote, "In this environment, parents hold the power because administrators now have to think of satisfying them, basically, as customers, trying to keep them happy and their kids in the school district, as well as on the district's side for the next time it comes with a ballot request to raise taxes to fund its needs."

Cook added, "And let's not forget the pressure parents may put on their children and themselves as a result of the thousands upon thousands of dollars they spent on travel sports and training."

Not all coaches, young or seasoned, are innocent. Some through the years have been dismissed for reasons beyond old-school discipline and distribution of playing time.

"There are times when coaches legitimately have to be removed," said Pete Simos, the boys basketball coach and athletic director at Piedmont Hills in San Jose who overcame his own dismissal, for the use of ineligible players, more than a decade ago to rebuild his reputation. "There are legitimate things, whether it's overzealous, whether it's abuse, whether it's just not doing a good job … you need to let those people go because that's a liability. That happens. But we are talking about some top-notch people. Rich coaches hard, and Chris coaches hard. They are different, but the one thing is they are organized. They are on top of their stuff."

As with many high school coaches, Forslund, 58, and Lavdiotis, 64, were off-campus coaches. Forslund, with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and a Bachelor's in government from USF, is an independent insurance broker. Lavdiotis is a lawyer who focuses on mediation and arbitration.

"The only explanation I got from Mr. (Piedmont High athletic director Victor) Acuña was that my relationship with him was bad," says Chris Lavdiotis, whose contract was not renewed as Piedmont High School's boys basketball coach. "I never had an indication that we had a poor relationship, so that came out of nowhere."

Forslund said he believes a small group of parents were behind his dismissal. Lavdiotis said his ouster was because of his relationship with athletic director Victor Acuña, a relationship Lavdiotis said he did not know had soured. Acuña has not spoken publicly about the coaching change and did not respond to an email seeking comment.

"I was never led to believe that there was any problem with my relationship because every time I saw him our interactions were positive," Lavdiotis said. "When he told me that, I was stunned."

Lavdiotis also said he was shocked when one female speaker at a recent school board meeting agreed with the removal, telling the board that he was no longer the best coach for the program. Others at the meeting supported the coach.

"This mother who spoke was the mother of a sophomore who played J.V. ball who knows nothing about me except every time I saw her -- either working at the front door or sitting in the stands watching her son play -- I said hello and told her what a nice boy her son was," Lavdiotis said. "For her to come out and speak at the school board meeting was stunning."

Lavdiotis described his coaching style as passionate, caring and team-first. He said he worked really hard at scouting, studying and cultivating relationships with his players.

Forslund said he treated his Half Moon Bay program as a teacher would a class, detailing practice plans after the hundreds of college practices he'd watched and striving for his team to succeed, which it did. He acknowledged he was stern and at times crossed the line -- calling out a player in front of teammates, for instance -- but worked hard to tone down in this camera-phone, gotcha era.

He said one of the complaints he heard in a meeting with Nazar and athletic director Justin Ferdinand was that he didn't seem to be coaching much during games.

"We're up by 40. What am I going to coach? We were blowing teams out at times," said Forslund, who won 428 games in 22 seasons as a varsity coach at four schools. "I purposefully don't coach as hard at games any more because I am afraid of someone looking over my shoulder and taking pictures, trying to say, ‘See. See what he's doing. See how harsh he is to those boys?' "

Eduardo Nuno, whose sons, Rico and Tommy, starred for Half Moon Bay during the Forslund era, said the coach's style was good for his boys. A football coach at City College of San Francisco, Nuno noted that "once in a while a parent would come up to me and say, ‘God, he is so demanding and all that.' My response to them would be we're not playing AYSO soccer any more. These kids want to win.

"I think what is happening to these coaches is really sad. When parents start protecting their kids and kind of want to keep them in this bubble, it's just like kids who don't play outdoors and don't get dirty. They're going to get sick a lot more. I know that's a rudimentary metaphor. But it's true in my opinion. The more you protect them, the less prepared they are to deal with the real world."

The grumbling among Half Moon Bay parents was not new, said Corey Cilia, who played for Forslund and is now at UC Santa Cruz.

"There were definitely parents who kind of questioned his coaching style ever since I was there," added Cilia, who graduated from the school in 2014. "But there never were any threats or comments as to getting a new coach or anything like that. I definitely learned a lot by the way he coached. The benefits outweighed everything else. I think I am really blessed to have had a coach like Rich."

Forslund did not hide his demanding style from parents. Jodi DuFrane said he would let everyone know at back to school night that being on the team was not for the faint of heart.

"He calls it an AP class," she said, referring to advanced placement curriculum. "They're going to be devoting just as much if not more time to something like an AP class. But those who are willing to put the effort into it get a lot out of it."

Forslund said he knew his job was on the line when, during an annual review meeting, Ferdinand gave the coach a three out of five under the category of proper practice planning. Forslund, who believes practice planning is one of his strengths, said he reminded the athletic director that he never attended a practice and wondered how the administrator made that determination.

"He says one of your players who didn't play much but sat out a lot thought your practices were not very well organized," Forslund said. "That is your basis of drawing this conclusion? It was mind boggling."

Given Forslund's and Lavdiotis' reputation among peers, their removals alarmed fellow coaches -- as did seeing girls basketball coach Brian Harrigan, the third-winningest coach in state history, not be retained by St. Francis.

If coaches with their background can be dismissed, they say, nobody is safe. Also, they wonder how many good coaches would want a job that pays so little -- Half Moon Bay advertised Forslund's job at a season stipend of $3,781 -- without much security. Half Moon Bay announced last week that John Parsons, one of its former star players, will replace Forslund.

"We call them jobs, but they're not really jobs," Simos said. "Coaching isn't really a job. It's a love, a passion, really more like a hobby for us. We don't get money from this deal. We put all this time in over the summer, with the offseason and conditioning, all this stuff to get our teams competitive, and we do it because we love the kids. We love the relationships."

Simos called the state of coaching a crisis.

Is there a solution?

"The solution is let your kids be coached," Simos said. "Teach your kids how to be coached and stay back. Obviously you have to be a parent and watch out for any major abuse or anything like that. But the solution is for parents to truly stop trying to control every aspect of their kid's life. Let them grow up. That's the solution."

Source: The Mercury News

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