CornerKICKS: Time for the real adult leaders to stand up

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Joe Trost, columnist for #PrepSportsReport

For the most part this weekend, it’s gorgeous fall weather no matter where you look throughout the Midwest.

Family and friends are out enjoying the final weeks of outdoor activities before cold temperatures and snow arrive. There’s no doubt the love and power of sports will most definitely bring people together.

Maybe it’ll be on a tennis or basketball court. You’ll probably even see groups of friends from different communities running together. We all know that it tends to be easier to get together and travel on the weekends due to traffic or other weekday school or work commitments.

But if you’re a high school boys soccer player in Illinois, you can’t play in another organized league with family and friends on the weekend until at least the middle of November.

“One of the longstanding tenets within the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) rules is that participation in non-school teams must cease throughout the high school season for that sport,” IHSA spokesman Matt Troha said. “It provides coaches and players with the backing that the student-athletes will put their commitment and focus into the high school season, while creating a general equity in the number of contests and practices available. Our membership has been flexible throughout the years by creating some (options) in certain sports and scenarios, but the core purpose of the by-law remains unchanged.”

People love to scream and yell at those sitting in the IHSA office. I used to be one of them. What you need to realize is this: The IHSA is directed and led by its member schools. There is a general process with everything. If there’s something someone doesn’t like, you are free to follow the process to enact change.

But as often is the case, people like to bitch and moan and never follow through on the general work needed for that change to happen.

That’s why I’m willing to stand up and take on this campaign. The time has come for all IHSA leaders and schools to revisit this outdated rule, because we as a society need to ask ourselves the basic question: What is the goal of athletics?

The No. 1 reason people get involved and play anything is because of the enjoyment that activity brings to their lives, followed by physical/mental fitness impact and camaraderie/relationship building.

It’s time to have a meaningful conversation that will lead to positive change for future student athletes, because we as a society can and should do better. Life isn’t about placing limits, but more about creating options and opportunities that will lead to lifelong memories.

Why do we want to tell a student athlete he can’t go out in his free time to play soccer – a game he loves – with family and friends in say other men’s or church leagues? Imagine a student athlete sitting on the bench the entire season, and you’re telling me he can’t go out and play in another organized league in his free time if he and his parents like?

We don’t need to micromanage and control things like that, because if we do – that’s pure insecurity. Look around the country, other states allow soccer players to play in other leagues during the high school season and it works. Outdoor soccer season only lasts so long in Illinois, and not everyone has the economic resources to pay for indoor accessibility with that true outdoor atmosphere.

Just like coaches, athletic departments and schools have basic guidelines to play for and represent the high school, there is no reason why we can’t revisit this IHSA rule to provide updated language for additional opportunities – especially on Sundays when school is not in session and 99.9 percent of high schools do not play or practice.

And before ANYONE throws out the health and safety card on me, I respectively ask you to be quiet. Until the IHSA and its membership limits the number of games played in basically a six-day week during a high school season, I don’t want to hear a single word about that.

Year after year, I watch schools play four-to-five games in six days and hear coaches and athletic directors moan about that. I always think: Who are you crapping? You build the schedule. Be better, do better. Don’t blame someone else. Just because you can play 25 games doesn’t mean you need to.

Mercy.

Think about this for a second: If you are a IHSA boys soccer player in season, you can play fall baseball but can’t play in another fall soccer league like CLASA on the weekends with your family and friends. Some of these leagues have long-standing cultural and family pride traditions, bringing together communities and generations in their free time.

In the era of electronics and lack of human interaction, isn’t this what we want to encourage from our student athletes?

Also think about this for a second: We don’t tell students that if they’re in one type of class that they can’t be in another at the same time. In some cases today, students are taking high school AND local community college classes at the same time. Students have responsibilities and general guidelines they need to follow in the classroom, but we don’t limit and restrict their educational options.

It’s time education leaders stop doing that on the athletic playing field, a field that at times is ruined by adults vs. remembering what the goal of athletics is all about.

THE REAL SCORE: The final score of the Bolingbrook/Homewood-Flossmoor boys soccer game on Thursday will say it ended in a 0-0 deadlock, but that’s because the game was never completed.

It wasn’t because of weather or because a school didn’t have enough players to finish. Something was said, and the schools went their separate ways.

First and foremost, especially on youth night when young soccer players and their families were in attendance at Bolingbrook High School, you can’t have schools walking off the field.

Sorry, you just can’t. Period. Safety wasn’t at question. Adult leaders – coaches, athletic offices and officials – need to be better, do better in the heat of the moment.

As a columnist, who has been around the block a little, I’ve debated how to handle this one. You can throw the same old headline and story out there, which would embarrass countless people and point fingers. That has been done time and time again as far as I can remember.

But I want to turn the focus to this: What are parents, coaches and school leaders doing to engage and educate young people when moments like this present themselves?

Not just as a reaction to appease people and check a public perception box, but as a proactive plan for the future to also help build additional skills in adult leaders for these tough situations.

When inappropriate words are used, there is going to be punishment for young people. But then what? I say this all the time, and it’s so true: Less than 1 percent of all high school student athletes will play professionally, but all 100 percent can go on and be leaders in the game of life within their families, their communities, throughout their careers and in everyday society.

The power of sport provides us with real-life moments to take the bad and learn from it to improve. In six months, no one will be talking about this.

But what good will have come from this to hopefully make a difference in the future?

That’s what I really wonder.

BACK TO THE BASICS – RELATIONSHIPS 101: Dave Underwood has coached in the city (Muchin Prep) and suburbs (Wheaton Academy), public and private schools and college. He’s a state championship coach, who has noticed a cultural change within high school soccer.

“I’ve noticed less professionalism among coaches and officials recently compared to a decade ago,” Underwood said. “There’s less of a coaching fraternity.

“I remember back in the day (Hinsdale Central coach) Skip Begley would host a roundtable every year just for coaches to get together and talk about how to improve the game and our craft. We used to go to coaching clinics and conferences together.

“You don’t fight with people you are friends with. I hope that still exists somewhere.”

Underwood’s comments made me think of an iconic commercial that first appeared in 1990 and is still true today. I encourage you to watch and think about your personal touch: CLICK HERE

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising.

CornerKICKS will appear on Sundays. Contact Joe Trost at joetrost@gmail.com.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer at Star Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field.

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