Prep sports: parent meddling rears its ugly head again

A recent story out of Queen Creek reminds us there is still one constant in high school sports.

Unfortunately, it’s not cause for celebration.  Rather, it’s part of the ugly side of the game.

It’s the pain in the butt, the thorn in the side of every coach who agrees to give his/her time to working with kids at the high school level.

Sports programs are constantly evolving.  Players graduate and new kids step in to take their place.  Coaches leave and are quickly replaced.  The really good programs also suffer through down seasons, while struggling teams often find a way to turn things around.

But through all the ups and downs, there is one thing that never seems to change: parental interference.

It has driven too many good coaches out of the game.  And the recent experience of the Queen Creek High School softball coach indicates the problem is still with us.

It has been almost eight years since the first time I remember addressing this issue for, and we have returned to it several times since.  Back in December of 2012, Gilbert High School fired its head football coach, Leland Rodgers.  No explanation was given by the administration, other than to say that an unidentified parent had made a complaint.

The unsettling part of that statement is the reference to an “unidentified” parent.  That person had gone directly to the school administration without dealing first with the coach., which is the process that should always be followed.  And then, if the issue isn’t settled,  it goes to the athletic director.  Going over the coach’s head isn’t only disrespectful, it’s cowardly.

That was just a year after we reported on Gilbert Christian High School firing its head basketball coach  — who had started the program seven years earlier and had taken the program to two state championships.  An unhappy parent, who was also a major donor, was credited with pushing the school to make the move.

And, according to a statement from Stephanie Meija, that sounds similar to what led to her resignation earlier this month as the Queen Creek softball coach.  “I stepped down as head coach at Queen Creek because I was experiencing a lot of manipulation from a parent who has a lot of power in the district office,” she shared in an email announcing her decision to leave the program.

Meija didn’t have a losing season during her six years running the program and led a 23-win team to the 2017 state semifinals.  So a lack of results didn’t appear to factor into her departure.

If her statements are accurate, her resignation once again shines the spotlight on the dark side of prep sports.  You have to wonder sometimes why people are willing to take on the job of coaching at this level.  For head coaches, it’s long hours, lots of paperwork, little pay, and loads of responsibility.  And I speak  from personal experience.

And then there’s the diplomacy that is required to deal with difficult parents.  That’s a special skill all to itself.

When parent meddling is taken to the extreme, as appears to be the case with Coach Meija, it’s not fair to the coach or the players, who actually have the most invested in the program.

Did anyone ask the players how they would feel about losing their coach?  Highly doubtful.

Bringing in a new coach every time a parent takes issue with his or her style of coaching is not in the best interest of the players.  And it doesn’t speak well for the school administration that lets it happen.

After all, aren’t high school sports supposed to be about the kids?

Parents need to remind themselves of that.  And then stay the hell out of the way.