Column: "The Sports Trail": Athletes not getting the benefit of holidays due to games

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

by David McNeal

It was a great Thanksgiving weekend for some. For others, there wasn't much weekend to it.

Seems like sports are getting in the way of family vacations, or at least, family time out of the rat race. Thanksgiving was this past weekend, and one of the things I was most thankful for was that I am not currently coaching a high school team. Any team.

All three high schools in our county were scheduled to play in basketball tournaments over the weekend, and of course, the Green Forest Tiger football team played in Nashville in the state playoffs on Friday.

Now, here's the deal. Sports seasons shouldn't be allowed to overlap in the first place. But it didn't bother me at all that the Tigers had earned a chance to play in the Elite Eight and had to do that the day after Thanksgiving.

Chances like that don't come around too often for most teams, and the coaches and players had all worked extremely hard to get that shot.

So this year the players got the turkey and dressing and a dose of college football games on Thursday, then a six-hour bus trip to Nashville on Friday. Only a few football teams were still playing in all the classifications, so interference with a major holiday was minimal, overall.

But basketball teams across the state were scheduled to play in a variety of tournaments before the mud had dried on the football uniforms. "Scratch any plans to travel if you have a kid playing" is the usual approach.

The reason for that decision is because parents aren't willing to confront coaches and say, "We need this break," because they're afraid coaches will hold it against their kid.

Truth is, everyone needs a break, and coaches would be just as willing to take a few days off as the next person ---- except for one thing.

"If we don't play, people who do will get ahead of us, so we have to go to these tournaments."

See the problem? And the answer to the problem is oh so simple. Make a statewide rule that says no athletic contests can be held while school is out. Yep, when it's the same for everybody, you won't hear a peep out of the coaches. Remember, they are "people" too.

A number of states have realized that coaches have been asked to excel and are doing that by going 365 days a year . These states have mandated rules that don't allow practice or play when school is out ---- like during holidays or summers.

Excelling in Arkansas appears to include summer basketball camps and leagues, summer practices, weekend practices during season, tournaments during holidays, and endless dedication to whatever sport the coach is in charge of.

Can't blame them. Their incomes depend on success. But parents can be blamed for not taking a stand for their children when they really aren't happy with all their family time gobbled up.

Change the statewide rules? Sure ---- unless you like spending all your vacations in gyms or on playing fields. As for me, I had a great time playing with the grandkids during Thanksgiving. They aren't old enough to be on a team just yet, something I was really thankful for this year.

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