Ed Puskas: Parents now ruling the roost

This is going to be one of those it-was-better-in-the-old-days columns, so if that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities, you’ve been warned.

I probably won’t actually demand that you get off my lawn, but the implication will be there, lurking just below the surface.

When I heard that Michael Cappuzzello had resigned as the girls basketball coach at Niles after he was aggressively confronted — again — by the parents of a player over court time, Tony Napolet and Bill Bohren came to mind.

Napolet, the late and legendary former Warren JFK football coach, once said that his “dream team” to coach was a collection of orphans.

Bohren, whose prep football coaching career has spanned parts of six decades, once said of the fickle nature of Niles fans: “They’ll name a street after you one day and run you out of town on it the next.”

Cappuzzello’s decision to walk away from coaching jobs with three Red Dragons girls sports programs — basketball, tennis and softball — was the perfect intersection of truth, irony and both of my favorite comments from Napolet and Bohren.

Parents can be insufferable just about everywhere these days — just ask any coach — but the fact that this episode of arrogance and entitlement happened in Niles seemed so right. And as is so typical, spineless school officials let it play out the way it did.

When my daughter played high school sports, parents were told up front that they were never to confront a coach over playing time. If they had a concern, the protocol was to contact the athletic director and the situation would be handled from there.

Perhaps what is most concerning about Cappuzzello’s situation is that a similar protocol doesn’t appear to exist in Niles and that no school officials there had the coach’s back.

As one veteran coach told me recently, “You and I, we’re old enough to have seen the best of high school sports. We’re not going to see those days again.”

Pushy, obnoxious, me-and-mine-first parents are a big reason for that.

High school sports were more enjoyable to watch as a fan and to cover as a sportswriter before so many parents began reliving their own teenage years vicariously through their offspring. It didn’t happen overnight, but it sure seems as if we went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning surrounded by “helicopter parents.”

These people are always hovering around their kids, monitoring everything and trying to direct their lives as though they are suburban versions of Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, but working with far less interesting subject matter.

It isn’t just that they attend every game involving their kids. I tried to do that as much as my job and other responsibilities permitted. I get it.

But a lot of parents today want to be in charge, too. Many will show up at Johnny’s football practice and plop themselves into folding chairs to watch.

Often, since they know more than the people whose jobs involve coaching the kids, they feel obligated to let the instructors know where they went wrong. Most of the time, these well-meaning coaches simply err in not recognizing which kids should be the stars of the team.

Well, it’s their kids, of course. It’s certainly not your kid who deserves to play.

It didn’t used to work that way.

(This is the get-off-my-lawn part.)

When I was a kid, we were happy if our parents found time to show up at a game, concert or production. Often, my parents’ role was simply to provide transportation to such events. A significant portion of my childhood and teenage years played out like the opening scene of “The Breakfast Club,” with cars rolling to a stop in front of the school, kids getting out and the cars pulling away. A few hours later, the cars returned and picked everyone up.

Sometimes my parents were too busy to actually come to a complete stop. They’d just slow down and I’d open the door, tumble out and eventually scramble to my feet, collect my stuff and go wherever I was headed.

(OK, so that part isn’t quite true. But you get the idea. Parents were busy then.)

Parents today seem to have way more free time than they did a generation or two ago. They can work, pay bills and hover about to protect kids from dastardly coaches who don’t put them into the games often enough.

If only my parents had taken more of an interest in my games and interceded violently when my coaches held me back. I’d surely have been an All-American in college and I’d be in Cooperstown or Canton now, instead of writing another column you’re already tired of reading.

The difference is that most parents in the 1970s or 1980s wouldn’t have dreamed of getting in a coach’s face over playing time. Similarly, they weren’t so quick to challenge school officials for their obvious persecution of their little darlings off the field. If we got into trouble as kids, we knew it was only going to get worse when we got home.

Now, many parents’ default reaction is that their kids can do no wrong. And you’ll put their kids in the game all four quarters if you know what’s good for you.

We’ve definitely seen the best of high school sports because there seems to be no reversing the ugly trend in parental behavior. It used to be that loud-mouth parents just berated the officials and umpires. Now they go after their own kids’ coaches with impunity and face few, if any, repercussions.

The sense of entitlement is off the charts and it isn’t just happening in Niles.

As that situation played out, I took a phone call from a parent who could not grasp the idea that recognition The Vindicator sports staff has long given to deserving Valley athletes wasn’t simply a birthright.

The more she talked, the more I wished I could go back to 1985. But I resisted the urge to tell her to get off my lawn.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.

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