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Parents should set a winning example

There are plenty of conflicting reports on what happened on the Central Medford High School basketball court Sunday. But one thing seems clear: Youth sports have outgrown their intent.

The basic facts have been confirmed by participants and referees: Two eighth-grade players — one from Arcata, California, and one from Hidden Valley near Grants Pass — got in an altercation after a foul and exchanged punches. That's serious enough, but then a man, apparently the father of the Arcata player, came out of the stands and joined in the fray. The Hidden Valley player was left with a gash over his eye requiring 10 stitches to close.

Arcata fans and team members dispute allegations that the man punched the boy, but others in the gym, including the referees, indicate otherwise. In any case, the man came out of the stands and involved himself in an altercation between two middle-schoolers.

Fortunately, this is a rare-enough occurrence that it garnered wide attention and condemnation. Unfortunately, anyone who has attended more than a few youth sporting events knows that it's hardly unusual to hear a fan — often a parent — verbally erupting over the action or officiating on the floor or field. It can be an embarrassing display and is often most embarrassing to the player related to the loudmouth.

Parents certainly are within their rights to be protective of their children, but denigrating a referee or opposing players protects no one. In fact, every episode inflicts some damage on players of both teams, along with the other fans and the game itself. It sends a message that rude, obnoxious behavior — or worse, violence — is acceptable.

Any coach worth his or her salt will encourage players to respect the game, respect the opponent and respect the officials. Sure, if you play long enough, you'll be disappointed by all of them at one time or another. But responsible adults owe it to their children to show them the right way to deal with disappointment.

No one is perfect and the occasional "C'mon ref!" can be forgiven. But if you find yourself angry and verbally abusive over the actions of a kids' game, perhaps it's time to step back and re-evaluate what's really important.

Kids can learn more from the good sportsmanship of their parents than from winning a basketball game.