Some legislators call foul on overzealous parents
One minute everybody's enjoying the game, and the next there's a swing and a miss.
Sometimes, parents can get a little too emotional at the ballpark.
That's why some South Carolina lawmakers are pushing a bill that would cost you up to 60 days in jail and $1,000 for assaulting a coach, an umpire, even the scorekeeper.
The idea comes from state athletic directors and rec center officials who are looking for a way to quell what has become the ugly underside of little league and community center sports.
What used to be one of the most wholesome places for families to relax has in recent years become a place that can get about as ugly, or as profane, as an episode of "The Sopranos," a place where parents are forced to sign codes of conduct before they can even sit in the stands.
Although the state House passed legislation to increase assault penalties against sports officials two years ago, the Senate has refused to take a swing. And on Tuesday, a Senate committee refused to touch the proposal once again.
Parks officials aren't ready to give up, and promise a lobbying effort to fight for the rights of 400,000 volunteers and recreation workers in the state, people they say need more protection from what's becoming an increasingly common problem.
"Our state's like a pressure cooker, ready to explode," said James Headley, executive director of the South Carolina Recreation and Parks Association.
While there has been little violence on Lowcountry ball fields, many coaches admit to hearing a few choice words on occasion. Some experts who track the trend say that fights between parents, coaches and umpires have just about quadrupled in the last decade. Parents can be suspended for a few games, or even a whole season, for letting loose a few foul words over a foul ball.
Aside from the safety of coaches and referees, some parks workers say there just needs to be something in place to show the kids there are repercussions for parents behaving badly.
"When something like this happens, it's in front of the kids, and that's got to be fairly traumatic," said Timmy Linker, who has coached St. Andrews teams for 40 years. "It would be good to have a law that would show kids that something like that's not tolerated in society."
Steve Nida, the head of the Psychology Department at The Citadel, has studied incidents of violence at youth league and community center sporting events as an athletic director and as a psychologist. He said it's often the same type of person causing problems.
"So many of these parents are so overzealous because they see their children living out their unrealized dreams," Nida said. "Often the parent hasn't been
very successful. Their child is an extension of them, so a lot of the time it's parents becoming too involved in the process."
Martin Williams, the director of rural recreation sports in the St. Paul community in Charleston County, said he wants the state to do anything it can to
strengthen laws protecting coaches and referees, most of whom are volunteers.
"I've never known anything to get out of control," Williams said, "but it's very important that we maintain control."
Johnny Cribb, athletic director for the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department, said the town is lucky to have good families involved in its sports programs. But, he said, it's also good that volunteers monitor every game and break up disagreements.
"Every big thing started off as a little thing," Cribb said.
Although the bill had a good-sized cheering section at Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, the panel voted 13-7 basically to do nothing with it, leaving it lingering in committee limbo. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, said it's a shame that senators can't see the problem.
"I've worked over the last year with others to try to deal with a real problem we're having. Folks out there in a high-pressure environment are, frankly,
committing assault and battery against sports officials and coaches. It is particularly dangerous because there are often young people around."
Sheheen said the bill likely will go nowhere unless the public gets behind it and starts calling lawmakers. Headley said that's what he plans to do, and has the perfect place to advertise the bill - hundreds of recreation and community centers around the state.
"I think people ought to be outraged," he said.