October 2, 2002

Too Immature to Compete?

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In the middle of criticizing the Yankees at Bear Lodge one night — I’m sorry, although still quite disillusioned with baseball I will always be a Mets’ fan regardless of how low they sink — one of my friends quickly interrupted. He proclaimed that my next column should be about former high school athletes and how some of these phenoms gave up sports to pursue their studies at the fine institution we call Cornell.

Before the song Glory Days could enter its second stanza, I chimed in that I had actually already picked a column idea for this week although I would consider re-enacting Springsteen’s ’80s classic.

To their chagrin I stated how I don’t think, at least nine times out of ten, a middle school player should be brought up to play on the varsity level.

Before I could even open my mouth to take a sip of my drink I had a reaction, boy do I love a debate!

However, before I explain their responses, let me give you a little background.

After trudging home to take the GREs — LSATers, good luck this weekend — I opened Newsday to reveal story after story about eighth graders on varsity teams.

No longer is moving a child up the exception — it has become the norm.

The one story that jumped out at me, however, caught my attention before I lazily sat in disgust and read the Long Island paper.

You can thank my father for this week’s column.

Simply put, my father is always looking to educate me. Proof: I receive 6 a.m. train ride news clippings every day. Honestly though, what college kid is going to complain about receiving mail, no matter the contents?

Although I have decided they need to shorten the LIRR commute from Syosset to Penn so my father has less time to read the Times, I generally enjoy his suggested reading material.

It was in one of my daily mailings that a headline jumped out at me — “Teen’s Demotion to J.V. Sparks Fight.”

Intrigued, I read on.

It turns out that a 13-year-old girl was kicked off the varsity soccer team, that her father just happens to coach, in order to give the older girls more playing time.

Although I don’t agree with the reasoning for her removal — I do believe the best players should be on the field — I understand the need to question her original placement on the team.

Rather than accepting the school board ruling, her family filed suit in the State Supreme Court alleging discrimination.

Having played two separate seasons with eighth graders, I saw the good as well as the bad that can occur with moving these players up.

My question is: why not eliminate the bad? Some of the best high school athletes I know sport national championship rings and never played on a varsity team before high school.

A friend tried to counter my statement. He explained that he was an eighth grader on the varsity swim team, and it worked out fine.

Yes, I understand that there are exceptions to every rule. In fact I am positive that there are, especially in the case of non-contact sports such as swimming, golf, bowling, and badminton.

However in sports such as football, lacrosse — or in this case soccer — you have to be pretty mature, both emotionally and physically, to be able to match up against 18 year olds.

Think about it. In swimming, sure you can get hurt, hitting the wall on a poor flip turn will leave a mark.

However, that’s nothing compared to a 13-year-old, 90 pound child getting tackled by an 18-year-old, 135 pound giant on a soccer field. I saw a girl strapped to a backboard after just such an incident during the semifinals of our county tournament.

Personally I would not like to see that happen again.

Let me reiterate though: there are exceptions. For those daring individuals I applaud your athleticism, your maturity, your courage and your initiative. However, in most cases, coaches should leave the child with his or her friends and let them develop as individuals and players. You’ll probably be happier with your decision a few years down the line.

Oh, and curious what happened to that girl? The court threw out the appeal, she’s staying on J.V.

Archived article by Kristen Haunss