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Little Children and Already Acting Mean
Children, Especially Girls, Withhold Friendship as a Weapon; Teaching Empathy

Children still in kindergarten or even younger form cliques and intentionally exclude others, say psychologists and educators who are increasingly noticing the behavior and taking steps to curb it.

Special programs are popping up in elementary schools to teach empathy as a means of stemming relational aggression, a psychological term to describe using the threat of removing friendship as a tactical weapon. Children also are being guided in ways to stand up for themselves, and to help others, in instances of social exclusion. Though both boys and girls exhibit relational aggression, it is thought to be more common among girls because they are generally more socially developed and verbal than boys.

"I think it's remarkable that we're seeing this at younger and younger ages," said Laura Barbour, a counselor at Stafford Primary School in West Linn, Ore., who has worked in elementary schools for 24 years. "Kids forget about scuffles on the playground but they don't forget about unkind words or being left out."

Relational aggression is a relatively new term in psychology, devised to distinguish it from physical aggression. There is no research showing that relational aggression is increasing or manifesting itself earlier, experts say. An increasing awareness of it, however, may be what's fueling educators' perception that it is starting earlier and becoming more common.

Little Children and Already Acting Mean

Generally thought of as a middle-school phenomenon, relational aggression is less explored among young children. Experts say it often goes under the radar because it is harder to detect than physical aggression. The behavior is similar to verbal aggression but revolves around threatening the removal of a friendship. Examples include coercing other children not to play with someone else or threatening not to invite them to your birthday party if they don't do what you want them to do.

"It actually works so well because of the child's limited cognitive abilities," said Jamie Ostrov, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Ostrov, who has conducted observational studies of relational aggression in 3-to-5-year-olds, said he has detected signs of the behavior in children as young as 2½ years. It isn't clear why some children are more inclined to relational aggression than others. There is evidence that children can learn these behaviors by observing parents or older siblings, as well as from media, Dr. Ostrov said.

Unlike physical aggression, relational aggression increases with age, often peaking in middle school, said Charisse Nixon, chair of the psychology department at Penn State Erie. Some research indicates that girls are more affected than boys by relational aggression as they perceive it as more damaging to their social relationships, she said.

Dr. Nixon's research has found that an average of 50% of children and adolescents—grades five through 12—have experienced relational aggression at least monthly. About 7% of children report experiencing physical aggression on a daily or weekly basis.

Experts say children engaging in high levels of relational aggression can have other conduct problems. It is also linked to health problems, such as depression and anxiety, Dr. Nixon said.

Laurel Klaassen, a counselor at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary School in Sibley, Iowa, says she has seen first-grade girls make a list of who can play with whom at recess.

"They're already thinking at that age about being popular, being the queen of the classroom, or the queen of the playground and vying for that position," said Ms. Klaassen. With boys, episodes of relational aggression seem to roll right off them, she said. "I've had girls that have come in and said to me, 'I remember back in kindergarten when so-and-so did this to me.' "

Mark Barnett, a developmental psychologist at Kansas State University, says affective empathy, or vicariously experiencing the emotions of someone else, is what needs to be encouraged to reduce relational-aggressive behavior. If a child does something negative to someone, the parent should say, "Imagine how it would feel if someone did that to you?" Dr. Barnett also recommends parents and teachers talk about feelings of characters during story time. They also need to model empathetic behavior.

Steph Jensen, a presenter at "Mean Girls" seminars run by training group AccuTrain, of Virginia Beach, Va., said she has been seeing more participation from elementary-school teachers and counselors. And Simone Marean, executive director of the Girls Leadership Institute, a nonprofit based in Oakland, Calif., said the group started a program aimed at kindergarten and first-grade children addressing relational aggression three years ago in response to parent demand.

Trudy Ludwig, a Portland, Ore.-based author of books on children's social and emotional learning who does presentations at schools, said she engages in role playing with the children to teach them both empathy and how to stand up for themselves. Last week she read one of her books, "The Invisible Boy," to kindergarten, first- and second-grade students at Sue Buel Elementary School in McMinnville, Ore., in a program funded by the PTA.

The children were invited to insult Ms. Ludwig, as she showed them how to respond in a dignified and nonviolent way. In another role-play game, she demonstrated how to be a good bystander by comforting children who are bullied or including them in a group activity.

"A lot of kids don't understand that manipulating friendships and relationships is bullying and that's what I'm trying to educate the kids and the staff about," Ms. Ludwig said.

When Ms. Ludwig asks students whether they find relational or physical aggression more hurtful, over 90% of the children will raise their hands for relational aggression, she said. "They'd rather be punched in the stomach," she said.

Experts say parent involvement is important. A 2012 study in the journal Early Child Development and Care found that parents of preschoolers believe children should seek out adult assistance for physical aggression but not relational aggression, which they think children should work out on their own.

Samantha Parent Walravens, a mother of four children in Tiburon, Calif., said she was alarmed one day in January when her daughter Genevieve, a kindergartner, woke up crying. The girl complained of a stomach ache and didn't want to go to school because some girls on the playground were being mean and wouldn't let her play with them.

"I was shocked," said Ms. Walravens, a 46-year-old writer. "You think about the mean-girl stuff going on in middle school. But in kindergarten?"

Ms. Walravens found out from the teacher that Genevieve was in a best-friends triangle with two other girls, which sometimes led to hurt feelings. The teacher "nipped it in the bud," including telling Ms. Walravens to encourage her daughter to have other friends.

"I'm trying to teach her empathy," Ms. Walravens said. "How did you feel when those little girls didn't allow you to play with them? What do you do if you see someone who's feeling sad on the playground? I always tell her you can go to me or the teacher and we will help you work it out. A lot of the stuff they can't work out on their own."

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NCAA Division I Coaches Take a Stand Against Early Recruiting

The NFCA has announced that its Division I membership has submitted a response to the NCAA on current early recruiting proposals in the legislative cycle. DI college softball coaches have asked for all recruiting contact to begin September 1 of a prospective student-athlete's ("PSA") junior year. An

Energetic Debate at Convention

Input from coaches associations was sought by the NCAA. The topic of early recruiting was vigorously discussed at the NFCA Convention in Las Vegas in December. An overwhelming consensus emerged from the Division I membership: early recruiting is not good for softball; we need to do something now. As University of Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins acknowledged, "we are spiraling in a poor direction."

The NFCA DI coaches discussed multiple early recruiting proposals, which were introduced by the Student Athlete Experience Committee ("SAEC"), as well as the relatively recent "lacrosse proposal" which was passed by the NCAA in April 2017.

The Details of the SAEC Proposals

First, the initial point of focus at the DI softball caucus was the series of proposals brought forward by the SAEC. The SAEC is part of the relatively new NCAA governance structure, charged with overseeing NCAA bylaws that affect the student athlete intercollegiate experience. This group was also involved in the NCAA student time demands legislation that went into effect this year.

One SAEC proposal set a date for when unofficial visits could begin. These are visits to college campuses taken by a PSA and her family at their own cost. The SAEC identified that the first day of classes of a PSA's sophomore year be used. Currently, no start date exists for unofficial visits. The SAEC also proposed that recruiting conversations at camps and clinics not take place until the opening day of classes of a PSA's sophomore year.

The SAEC also suggested a change in date for official visits. These trips to campus are arranged for and paid for by an institution; PSAs are allowed to take a maximum of five official visits. The SAEC proposed official visits be moved from senior year to the opening day of classes of a PSA's junior year. In theory, this could help shift the financial burden of recruiting visits from PSAs and their families to the institutions, by allowing official visits to take place earlier. Some question if this will actually be helpful for families if recruiting contact is allowed to begin in the sophomore year.

While the effort here is to attempt to slow down this process by pushing back moments of recruiting contact into the sophomore year; loopholes in the SAEC recommendation still exist. The SAEC did not address incoming telephone calls. This means that recruiting communication initiated by telephone from a PSA to a collegiate coach remains permissible at any point in time.

A Look at the Lacrosse Legislation

The approach taken by lacrosse differed from the SAEC proposal in that lacrosse legislation sets September 1 of junior year as the start date for all recruiting contact: unofficial visits, correspondence, telephone calls, and recruiting conversations at camps and clinics. The clean, streamlined legislation was well-received. Many in the lacrosse community cite the "bright line" for all recruiting contact at a later more appropriate age for PSAs as exactly what was needed to address the problem of early recruiting.

The Votes: Consensus for Change

The merits of all the proposals were debated, as well as what was in the best interest of softball. A straw poll (one vote per institution) was taken in the NFCA DI caucus and the results were overwhelming: 200-3 in favor of the lacrosse proposal, over the SAEC proposal, making September 1 of junior year the desired start date for all recruiting contact.

A follow-up survey was sent to all DI softball coaches in mid-December to capture the vote in writing. The rate of participation was an astounding 95%. The results were compelling: 80% support moving forward with September 1 of junior year as the beginning of recruiting contact for softball, with 84% of coaches favoring the structure of the lacrosse proposal over the SAEC proposal.

Coaches recognize that this change would be a major shift in softball recruiting, away from current trends with middle-schoolers verbally committing to colleges.

NCAA Action is Necessary

Everyone agrees that the only way any change will happen with early recruiting is with NCAA legislation. Outreach efforts from the NFCA to the NCAA SAEC and DI Council members began immediately after the Convention concluded.

NFCA President and University of Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly underscored the need for action, "The biggest problem facing college softball today is early recruiting, but it is not going to change unless the coaches and the NCAA work together to make it change."

The DI softball coaches have built consensus around a solution to the problem of early recruiting and they have asked the NCAA to amend these SAEC proposals to include that all softball recruiting contact begin on September 1 of junior year.

What You Can Do

To express your support, please consider signing our NFCA petition to stop early recruiting. More information can be found HERE.

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10 Ways Coaches Can Promote Sportsmanship

When it comes to coaching, first and foremost a coach should encourage good sportsmanship. Especially when coaching children, it is important for coaches to remember that children look to coaches as role models. Coaches must impart positive values on children along with rigorous athletic training. Coaches need to promote high standards of integrity while supplying a team-first atmosphere. Ensure that the focus is on learning important skills both on and off the field while also working towards a common goal.

Remember that young eyes are always watching, therefore coaches should serve as role models by promoting good sportsmanship to promote positive child development. Sports can promote values such as respect, discipline, and commitment. These sportsmanship values are just as important as the development of athletic prowess. Sometimes, it can be challenging to marry sportsmanship and athletic success. There are several important pieces of advice that all coaches should keep in mind when working to promote sportsmanship.

1. Promote Integrity

Most people have experienced the discomfort that comes with competing against someone who sacrifices integrity in the name of victory. When it comes to young athletes, promoting integrity should remain at the forefront of every athletic competition. Therefore, a coach should encourage a team to always play within the rules. Never encourage athletes to perform morally or legally questionable actions during gameplay. Furthermore, if a call goes the way of your team when you are certain that it should go in favor of the other team, step up and say so. Set a positive example for athletes by preserving integrity as the highest priority. By setting a positive example, athletes will learn to respect the game instead of trying to win by sacrificing morals. Encouraging integrity on the field will also translate to positive character development off of the field.

2. Minimize Selfish Actions

A coach should work to minimize braggadocios behavior. Do not allow athletes to get away with taunting or showboating for big plays. The NFL is a perfect example of a professional sports organization cracking down on disrespectful celebration. These celebrations include using props, such as cell phones and footballs, offensive gestures, and group celebrations. While kids take after professional athletes who may behave this way, remind children that they should celebrate in a responsible and respectful manner. A neutral gesture, such as the Cam Newton Superman pose, is acceptable, but disparaging celebrations go too far. Encourage players to focus on team success and respectful celebration instead of offensive or choreographed group celebrations.

3. Respect Referees

It is common for children to see professional athletes confronting referees and officials for calling fouls, strikes, and penalties. When kids look around the stands, they may even see parents going after refs. While children may want to follow in these actions, remind children that officials are there to encourage fairness to all players while protecting the players on the field. Encourage players to address concerns with referees in a way that doesn't embarrass the referee. This includes avoiding offensive language or gestures directed at officials. Players should start by approaching refs with a calm question that does not accuse the ref of bias. Coaches should remind players that this has a higher chance of having their concerns addressed. Coaches should remember to set a positive example for players in their own interactions with refs. Use a neutral tone when addressing referees that shows players how to communicate their point respectfully to officials.

4. Encourage Teamwork

One of the most important aspects of sports is the development of teamwork. Whether in sports or in life, kids need to learn to work with others to achieve a common goal. Make sure to positively reinforce these values by encouraging the players to work together. Encourage players to help their teammates who might be struggling or to work with kids who might be left out. Children often make mistakes both on and off the field. While correcting mistakes is important, it is vital that coaches do not embarrass players by calling them out individually. Instead, reinforce the idea that the team both succeeds and fails together. By communicating this point, the players will develop essential life skills that are useful both on and off of the field.

5. Focus On Learning

While the result of games is important, the positive life lessons that kids take away from sports are even more important. Sports are important for teaching hand-eye coordination, handling a loss with grace, working with other people, and promoting perseverance. The vital work habits mentioned above, such as discipline, time management, and commitment, are important to reinforce during the course of a season. Kids tend to focus on the result of games, just as adults do. Try to keep their focus on learning important life habits through their participation in sports. Encourage the children to grow personally as well as work hard for wins.

6. Compliment The Other Team For Great Plays

To encourage respect for the opponent, compliment players on the other team for great performances. Everyone is capable of showing respect for an impressive demonstration of athleticism even if it comes against their team. If an outstanding catch is made or amazing teamwork is displayed, be sure to point this out to players on the other team. This will encourage a coach's team to do the same. One team complimenting the other for great plays is one of the ultimate demonstrations of sportsmanship. Make sure to teach kids to respect the other team by complimenting players for good plays.

7. Praise A Player For Hustle

A team cannot have success on every play. It is important to not let children get discouraged by failure. Make sure to praise a player for a great effort even if the result isn't perfect. If a kid runs hard and almost beats out an infield base hit, compliment their effort. If a basketball player makes an impressive steal yet misses the layup, point out the great defensive play. If a punter lands a punt on the one-yard line and has it roll into the end zone, say it was a nice try. This will help to foster perseverance by promoting children to put forth their best effort at every opportunity. Always giving 100% effort is an important tenant of sportsmanship. Encourage kids to hustle day in and day out.

8. Criticize Constructively and Privately

Sometimes players need to be singled out for poor displays of sportsmanship, lack of effort, or simply constructive teaching moments; however, never call out a player in front of other people. Especially when it comes to children, it is only natural that sometimes their emotions get the best of them or they lose focus and make silly mistakes. Coaches need to control their emotions and avoid yelling at a player in front of the team. This only serves to cause embarrassment. Instead, pull the player aside privately and politely explain what went wrong and how to rectify it in the future. A child will respect that the coach put in the effort to pull them aside privately. This will generate positive rapport for the coach and help a child grow.

9. Show Deference In Victory And Defeat

Regardless of the outcome, the coach should hold his or her head high, be proud of the effort, and always compliment the other team on a good game. Learning to be humble in victory and remain proud during defeat is a tough balance to strike for children. Make sure the players are respectful in the handshake line with the other team at the end of the game and ensure that the players do not celebrate excessively after a win. There is a right and a wrong way to handle both victory and defeat. Demonstrate the proper way to do so when the final buzzer sounds. This will encourage the kids to play fairly and enjoy the game simultaneously.

10. Keep It In Perspective

While the game teaches crucial life lessons already discussed, it is also important to remind children that this is just a game. It is appropriate for players to become passionate during practices and during games, but make sure that players have interests outside of sports too. Without a doubt, there are more important issues in life. Remind the athletes that the ability to play this game is a blessing and children should relish the opportunity. It is more important for the kids to leave the playing field learning important life lessons about integrity, teamwork, and good sportsmanship than enjoying a win.

As demonstrated above, there are many different facets to encouraging and maintaining sportsmanship on a team. Coaches must always remember the role that they play in affecting the athletes they lead. From discipline and strategy to teamwork and compromise, every player should look to their coach as a role model to respect. By teaching a team the importance of sportsmanship, they'll soon understand the role it plays in their life both on and off the field.

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Why we still allow bullying to flourish in kids sports

In the cellphone video, a teenage boy stands at the front of the classroom as his football teammates laugh. The coach walks to the door and closes it. "We don't want no witnesses," he says, to more laughter. After hesitating, the boy complies with the coach's orders to close his eyes and clasp his hands behind his head. Then the coach punches him in the stomach. The boy doubles over and falls to the floor as his teammates laugh some more.

The clip, shot at California's Beaumont High School, made headlines after it was turned over to local police in October. Equally shocking, however, were the expressions of support by many of the players and their parents, who downplayed the incident and lauded the coach, Will Martin, for his mentoring influence. "If it's so bad, why are the kids laughing?" one mom asked, while another parent characterized Martin as a "man of God."

Martin's behavior may be an extreme example, but physical and emotional bullying by youth coaches is often still accepted or even defended as a way to improve performance and build character. Some coaches use exercise as punishment, including one in Des Moines, who was subsequently fired for it in 2012. And verbal abuse by coaches such as name-calling and belittling players is common at all levels of sports. In one study of 800 youth athletes, more than a third of the respondents said their coaches had yelled at a kid angrily for making a mistake, and 4 percent said the coach had hit, kicked or slapped someone on the team. (The authors note that if their sample is seen as representative of the larger population of youth athletes, this equates to close to 2 million kids being on the receiving end of this type of physical bullying each year.)

In any other setting, that behavior would immediately be recognized as physical abuse, noted Jennifer Fraser, the author of "Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom." "Imagine two women in a staff meeting," she suggested. "Would this be seen as motivating? Would she (the victim) be a better employee as a result?"

In many cases, coaches are simply replicating what was done to them or may be taking out their frustration on their players. "When a coach is yelling like that, they're modeling poor emotional control," said Kristen Dieffenbach, an associate professor of athletic coaching education at West Virginia University and an executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. "When I coach soccer and hockey, I yell -- sometimes you need to in order to get the kids to pay attention to you. But there's a difference between high energy and ‘What the hell is wrong with you?' "

For kids and adolescents, the impact of being yelled at and belittled -- or having a coach slap kick or even punch them -- is long-lasting. (Even though the majority of the research looks at peer-to-peer bullying, the dynamic in coach-player bullying is consistent with the imbalance of power that's generally used in definitions of bullying.)

Players may hesitate to speak up for fear of retaliation. And parents who do so risk being seen as helicopter parents, Fraser noted.

And in fact, there's no evidence to suggest that this type of domineering coaching is what wins championships. Instead, coaches who use positive methods have a better track record of keeping kids from dropping out of youth sports, increasing player engagement and developing skills and character, which in turn help teams win. The nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance, based in Mountain View, Calif., and featuring an all-star advisory board lineup that includes winning coaches, such as Phil Jackson, Bruce Bochy and Steve Mariucci, calls this double-goal coaching, which focuses on winning and even more so on teaching life lessons.

Similarly, experts like Dieffenbach believe the best way to combat old-school coaching is through education. Dieffenbach said coaches often get frustrated and resort to dictatorial techniques because they lack other tools. "Is your job as a coach to dominate, or to lead and develop?" she asked.

Requirements for high school coaches vary by state -- in Illinois, for example, prospective coaches only need coaching certification if they don't already have an Illinois teaching, school counseling or similar certificate. And in Hawaii, the governing body for high school sports only requires that coaches participating in state championship events take a "Fundamentals of Coaching" course and allows them two years to do so, even though they're coaching players in the interim. The course is offered by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which oversees interscholastic sports federations in each state and the District of Columbia and is one of the main groups offering courses to meet these varying state requirements. Dan Schuster, who oversees educational services for the association, noted that the fundamentals course addresses bullying in the context of providing a safe and respectful environment and refers coaches to additional optional resources on the topic.

In addition to educating coaches, though, we need to look at the broader culture that's made these bullying behaviors seem acceptable. Rationalizing it through a "win at all costs" mind-set or accepting that it's embedded in competitive sports -- particularly in aggressive ones like football -- only perpetuates it. Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL defensive lineman who spent most of his career with the Baltimore Colts and is now a minister, has said, "The great myth in America today is that sports builds character . . . (but) sports doesn't build character unless the coach models it, nurtures it and teaches it."

We need to make sure that when we talk about bullying, we're clear about exactly what that means. In a paper published last month in the Sport Journal, Charles Bachand noted that being able to determine whether bullying in sports is increasing or decreasing depends on having a standard definition. Some of the research to date doesn't even include key components such as the imbalance of power inherent in the coach-player dynamic, Bachand pointed out.

Of course, most coaches are hard-working, well-meaning and passionate about sports. Those who do end up bullying may simply be frustrated or misguided about athlete development.

But when they do bully players, we have a responsibility to avoid defending or normalizing it. I have a son who plays high school varsity football, and I was sickened not just by the clip of the Beaumont High School coach, but by the parents who defended his behavior. A teen who's been punched in the stomach by his coach has already been failed once by adults and doesn't need to be failed again.

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FastSports: A New Beginning
by Vince Muehe

When the commercial Internet was in its' infancy, FastSports started providing information about fastpitch softball in Minnesota. The goal of the site was to let parents of athletes know about clinics being offered by college programs. That was twenty-four years ago.

Most of you reading this are used to the way FastSports operated in the past few years. There was still information about clinics offered by colleges, but also commercial entities. Tournament listings have been some of the most complete in Minnesota, South Dakota, and western Wisconsin. It may be the only site that updated the status of tournaments, so coaches knew if a tournament was almost full or full before they contacted the tournament director. There was also a method for athletes to remain anonymous and look for teams without their current coaches knowing they were looking. Teams were able to advertise for athetes and coaches.

All of the services provided on FastSports have been offered for free. The idea was that we shouldn't be raising the cost of playing the sport.

In twenty-four years a lot has changed. A lot has changed on the Internet. A lot has changed in girls fastpitch softball. In 2015 I was told that I was a bit "old school" in my views about fastpitch softball. I can accept that.

At the same time, I know that my software development skills are not keeping up with the needs of a new generation of users on the Internet. As a result, the time it takes to do tournament listings, tournament updates, clearinghouse listings, etc., are not as fast as people would like.

Is it possible to build a site that can further automate the process, so tournament directors can enter their tournaments and make changes to the listings themselves? I suspect so, but it's not in my development skills. So, it was time to move away from that part of the site and let another developer with interest in the sport go ahead and do the development without FastSports standing in the way. I sincerely hope it happens soon. There is a need. I'm anxious to see it happen. I hope it's someone that will provide the services for at least another quarter-century. One site has recently started that readers may want to try: FastpitchMN.

Since FastSports is dropping tournament listings, other areas that did not appear to be getting as much use or were time consuming in providing are also being dropped: The FastSports Forum, Clearinghouse, and Links. You might think that is the core of the site -- and you'd be right. So what's staying?

This page is staying. The main page for the site will continue to have some news and opinion about mostly girls' sports. FastSports has also been known for some of the photography on the site. That may expand.

And going back to where it started: FastSports will be posting information about camps and clinics that are offered by educational institutions. There is no plan to provide information about commercial training or training by club teams, etc. They seem to have a good online presence and ability to pay for advertising on other sites.


Family suing Lauderdale Co. School District over alleged Title IX violations

A federal lawsuit filed by parents of two West Lauderdale students alleging the Lauderdale County School District is in violation of Title IX is scheduled to go to trial in September of next year, according to court papers.

Jeremy and Stacy Shields of Collinsville allege in the lawsuit their daughters are being unfairly discriminated against as female athletes, claiming that, as softball players, they are not given access to the same funding, equipment, scholarship opportunities and travel expenses and/or per diem allowances as their male counterparts.

In the lawsuit, which represents one side of the case, the Shields claim their older daughter, who has since graduated from West Lauderdale, was required to purchase essential athletic equipment and supplies as a softball player and that she didn't have access to the school district's athletic bus while West Lauderdale's baseball team does.

They also claim the softball facilities are inferior to their baseball and football counterparts in a number of ways, including lighting and press box construction.

The lawsuit is seeking monetary compensation for the Shields family as well as what it believes would constitute full Title IX compliance -- equal access to the same quality athletic experience for both male and female athletes.

Title IX is a federal law adopted in 1972 as part of Congress' Educational Amendments that states, "No person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, be treated differently from another person or otherwise be discriminated against in any interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletics offered by a recipient."

"Regardless of what you argue, Title IX itself requires the school district provide equal treatment and benefits regardless of the source of money,"

Lauderdale County School District Superintendent Randy Hodges confirmed he's aware of the lawsuit but referred questions to the district's legal counsel for further information on the district's response. Witherspoon and Compton LLC, which represents the district, did not respond to repeated attempts for comment.

Sam Schiller, a Title IX attorney out of Cookeville, Tennessee, is the lead attorney representing the Shields in the case. He said the issue mainly boils down to funding, which is the case in most Title IX lawsuits.

"When you're talking about treatment and benefits, you're wondering what money is provided to boys programs as well as the girls'," Schiller said.

The school district might try to argue the programs do have equal access to funding from the district and that any perceived advantages in regard to the boys' facilities and equipment are a result of those programs being supplemented by private funds. The lawsuit argues, however, the "end results" are subject to Title IX regardless of the source of the funding, as long as the school district receives federal funding.

"Regardless of what you argue, Title IX itself requires the school district provide equal treatment and benefits regardless of the source of money," Schiller said. "Whether it's coming from private sources or tax dollars, under Title IX, it's irrelevant. I can tell you quite often that argument is initially made, but it's contrary to the law."

Schiller said the Shields are simply two parents who want what's best for their children, and they hope the lawsuit can bring about a fair resolution.

"I don't think it's a particularly novel concept that we would treat our sons as we would our daughters," Schiller said. "I think that's a pretty basic idea."

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The Barn: A Touch of Nostalgia
by Vince Muehe

There are a fair number of people that know that I continue to teach pitching to a small group of young athletes. My preference is to work with beginning pitchers and develop the mechanics to make it easier to learn more advanced pitching later. There are also some economic reasons for my choice in the age of athletes. And it is true, they pitch in a barn.

This "facility" is not climate controlled. It is full of dust, dirt, hay, cats, dogs, mice, a horse, etc., but it's where the girls come to pitch every Spring and Fall. We don't pitch here in the summer very often. The girls are getting plenty of pitching in with their teams. And it the winter, it's simply too cold. Spring keeps getting pulled in earlier and earlier though.

Parents and their athletic daughters seem to love this place. If you've seen the movie "Hoosiers" or any number of other sports movies where the facilities leave a bit to be desired... this is like that. It's a time gone by. There's not many other places where you can pet the cats on the way into pitching, play with the Border Collie or Australian Shepherd while pitching, and watch the horses come in or feed them some hay before you leave. It also has some odd experiences: The day the cat took the head off the mouse in front of the 2nd grader. No damage done to the 2nd grader. A lot of damage to the mouse.