Archive for Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thin line can separate coaching and bullying in schools

Tonganoxie football coach Mark Elston resigned in the wake of an incident with a player in August. District officials never fully established whether the incident indicated a case of bullying or a simple act of outright aggression.

Tonganoxie football coach Mark Elston resigned in the wake of an incident with a player in August. District officials never fully established whether the incident indicated a case of bullying or a simple act of outright aggression.

December 14, 2011


For three weeks, a Tonganoxie High School football player had been delivering unwarranted hits at practice — too much, too often and, one day in particular, too unexpected.

After a quarterback protected by a green jersey had been flattened by yet another improper tackle, coach Mark Elston pulled the defender up off a pile of others around the QB and started screaming.

“I love him to death,” Elston would explain soon afterward, “but I’ve been on him for three weeks now to stop it, and I reached my limit.”

Someone across the street, in the parking lot of the Dollar General, reached a different limit of tolerance. The bystander witnessed the exchange and reported it to the Tonganoxie school district, which then suspended Elston the next day.

District officials never fully established whether the incident indicated a case of bullying or a simple act of outright aggression. By then the point was moot: Elston had resigned a day after the witness report, leaving folks to wonder both exactly what had happened and what would be an appropriate response.

Randy Weseman, serving this year as interim superintendent in Tonganoxie, admittedly regards the case as something of a “gray area,” something inherently common in the world of school sports.

“His behavior on the field, when he’s reprimanding a player, could be interpreted by some people as bullying because he’s in a position of power,” said Weseman, who spent 34 years in the Lawrence school district, including his last nine as superintendent. “On the other hand, that’s how coaches coach. In football, it’s physical in nature, and emotions run pretty high.

“You don’t expect someone in a classroom setting to be yelling at someone. But that’s not out of the ordinary on a football field.”

Such observations and differentiations can complicate relations between players and coaches, parents and district administrators.

“Is it bullying or is it motivation?” said Kevin Harrell, the Lawrence district’s division director for student intervention services. “There’s that line where athletic people work, trying to figure out just where things are.”

School plans, district policies and state regulations don’t differentiate between instances of bullying in the classroom or on the field. Bullying — cyber, verbal and physical — is not tolerated, no matter where or when it occurs.

But sports provides a different context and, therefore, can spur different interpretations of the same rules.

• Is a coach who continually criticizes a player’s lack of strength regarded as motivation in the weight room, or as a persistent personal attack on a student’s character?

• Is singling out a player to repeatedly run laps considered a strategy to boost endurance and, therefore, performance? Or is it a punitive move to demean someone who doesn’t measure up to classmates?

Such questions apparently came to a head last month, after some parents of students associated with the volleyball program at Eudora High School had complained about Coach Jill Stutler’s handling of players.

The Eudora school board ultimately sided with the school’s principal, who chose not to renew Stutler’s coaching contract for next year.

Mark Johnson, whose daughter played and went on to become an all-conference player under Stutler, said he appreciated Stutler’s work as a coach, describing her as an old-school, hard-nosed disciplinarian along the lines of legendary Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers and Paul “Bear” Bryant of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Sure, Johnson said, players ran laps, endured screams and participated in intense diving drills as part of Stutler’s drive for excellence, which resulted in a state title in 2006.

“I don’t call that bullying,” said Johnson, a retired officer who served in the U.S. Army’s special forces. “I call that coaching.”

But with the number of girls participating in volleyball at Eudora steadily declining in recent years, critics had argued that such tactics were inappropriate when taken to extremes.

Johnson doesn’t agree, but that isn’t the point.

“When you’re a disciplinarian, it’s a thin line,” Johnson said. “Especially these days.”

Belinda Rehmer, in her fifth year on the Eudora school board, declined to discuss Stutler’s coaching tactics, nor the board’s vote to uphold seeking a new coach for next year. But, in general, Rehmer maintains that bullying — any bullying — is not to be tolerated at school or during any school activities.

Sacrificing personal respect and dignity just to win on the playing field isn’t worth the pain and lasting effects that bullying can cause, she said.

“I believe there is a better way to get people to do what you want them to do without being intimidating,” Rehmer said. “However, there are many people who don’t — they believe you can’t get anyone motivated without being intimidating. …

“Is there a different test for bullying in sports? I think there is. I just don’t agree with it.”

At Free State High School in Lawrence, coaches regularly discuss the importance of not engaging in bullying activities, said Mike Hill, the Firebirds’ athletic director. Actions that might have been regarded as acceptable in the “old days” — taping a freshman football player to a goalpost, snapping a teammate with towels in the locker room or shaving someone’s head against their will before practice — are neither welcomed nor embraced in any team-building environment.

“The old adage ‘Boys will be boys’? That doesn’t work anymore,” said Hill, who also coaches baseball and serves as an assistant principal. “That’s just absolutely not acceptable anymore.”

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series examining efforts to reduce bullying in the Lawrence school district. See the first part, on how schools combat bullying, here.


thirdplanet 3 years, 11 months ago

God the future generation of kids are going to be a bunch of stuck up and spoiled wimps. Must we shelter them from everything and anything that could upset their fragile selves. A football coach is supposed to be a prick, it his job. If a kid can't handle that maybe he should join swim team or play soccer.

Shelley Bock 3 years, 11 months ago

If you think that swim team or soccer coaches are push-overs, you certainly played without a helmet too long (joking, not insulting). Coaches in any sport can be as intimidating or as decent as is required. Just because football coaches have more difficulty in expressing themselves in their effort to motivate, inspire or instill discipline without resorting to physical intimidation doesn't mean football is a more quality sport.

bevy 3 years, 11 months ago

Geez, thirdplanet, how many generalizations can you pack into one response? My dad coached football (and basketball, baseball, track, and volleyball) and NEVER resorted to the tactics described above. Neither would he allow jerk-like behavior among his players. He taught fundamentals, teamwork, sportsmanship and respect for self and others. Perhaps he's an exception but I don't think so.

Kookamooka 3 years, 11 months ago

Teachers and especially coaches can be the number 1 bullies in school. They need to stop stooping to the level of the kids and be role models to set the example of good behavior. There is no room in a school environment for belittling and punitive behavior. Teachers and coaches are there to lead students to becoming high quality Americans. It's a big job. They have to work with parents and other community members. It take a village. If one of the people in the village is badmouthing students, in front of or behind their back, that is bullying and abusive talk. It hurts.

This abusive coaching is just another reason Football should be abolished as a state sponsored activity. If they want to act that way, let a private corporation with tons of money support them in a CLUB setting. My tax dollars don't need to support football. It's a short season that only a small handful of one gender participate in and we throw money at it like it's the most important thing in the world. EDUCATION is the most important thing in the world.

Nikki May 3 years, 11 months ago

Whlie I disagree with the wording of consumer's post, (anti-gay) I agree with concept. What makes one group better than another, more worthy of "your tax dollars?"

As for the original post, my son isn't in high school yet, but he had 3 girls on his 4th grade team this year and they had several girls on the other squads as well.

3up3down 3 years, 11 months ago

Granted this article is about sports and bullying and some of you have stretched it to the classroom. You need to broaden your is in the corporate world too! So, what are you going to do when the boss comes down on you for what he feels is poor performance on your part? Go right ahead and complain to him about how fragile your ego is and how you don't think it is right by your standards. As soon as the last word comes out of your complaint, you will be cleaning out your desk and looking in the want ads. Dial 1-800- Wa Wa Wa

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Of course this has repercussions in the corporate world-- where do you think so many corporate loser bosses learn to be unreasonable jerks?

irvan moore 3 years, 11 months ago

i was fortunate to have my first "real" coach (not little league but jr, high) be coach Kramer. He yelled but he didn't swear, he made you work and he brought out the best in kids and I learned a lot from him. i still see him from time to time and still call him coach 50 some years later,

cato_the_elder 3 years, 11 months ago

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Wow, IJM, that's a remarkably mature statement from you. I'm impressed.

MarcoPogo 3 years, 11 months ago

Nah, he just wanted to make sure we all know how manly he is.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Probably so-- but at least the first part of his statement was pleasantly out of character for him.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

Clearly, there are lots of people involved in high school (and beyond) sports, and observers thereof, who don't understand the difference between teaching (which is really all any good coaching is) that depends on clearly and rationally articulated high expectations and effective training techniques and outright sadism.

Coaches who abuse their players (and hitting kids and screaming childish insults at them is precisely that, abuse) may get good performance results out of some of them, but it's just as likely that they'll totally alienate and traumatize many more kids, while training some to be sadists just like themselves.

jaywalker 3 years, 11 months ago

“When you’re a disciplinarian, it’s a thin line,” Johnson said. “Especially these days.”

And the wussification of America deepens.

I grew up playing sports and most of my good coaches, the one's who drove us and the one's we won under, were aggressive individuals. Sports are supposed to teach us accountability, responsibility, competition, teamwork, and how to handle pressure. Those are lessons that, when attempting to instruct teens, usually have to be "drilled" into the athlete. I had a coach grab my facemask and toss me on the bench once; scared me good. And then a couple plays later when he came over and knelt down in front of me, he had my full attention and I never made the same mistake again. Lesson learned. It wasn't "traumatic", though if we keep insisting that coaches be no more confrontational than a classroom teacher our kids will soften to the point where that's the watchword. Hitting players (depending on the context) is mostly unacceptable. Screaming and cursing is part of the atmosphere, and when trying to get through a teen's thick skull often the only recourse.

parrothead8 3 years, 11 months ago

I had lots of coaches who managed to teach us accountability, responsibility, competition, teamwork, and how to handle pressure without screaming and cursing at us.

My favorite was a former Green Beret who NEVER raised his voice above a classroom speaking volume. He could hold you with his eyes, and he'd calmly explain what we were going to do, and we'd all believe him. That's how you lead.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

There's a big difference between "raising your voice" and going emotionally and verbally berserk.

jaywalker 3 years, 11 months ago

Lots of 'em? Ok, good for you. I had a some that were mellow, and one that was an excellent coach. 'Course, he'd played in the pros so he had our attention from the start. But when I go back and think of my best, they were usually the more vocal, in-your-face type. Worked great for me.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

LIke I said, abusive coaches mostly just teach kids to believe that abusiveness is actually a desirable character trait. You certainly seem to have gotten that message.

50YearResident 3 years, 11 months ago

The player should have been removed from the team for "unsportsman like conduct" not the coach. What did the kid learn from this, I can break the rules and get away with it. As a last comment, people across the street should keep out of critizing the coach and mind their own business.

Jock Navels 3 years, 11 months ago

Those who beat their swords into plowshares plow for those who don't. Thomas Jefferson said that. Get it?

50YearResident 3 years, 11 months ago

I get it, but there are too many other people that don't. We are producing a generation of wimps.

Onasis 3 years, 11 months ago

The problem with bystanders minding their own business is then you get scandals like Sandusky where too many people had the mindset that it wasn't their business. Verbal abuse (which the bystander believed he/she witnessed) can often lead to physical or other so reporting it is always the right thing to do! It is on the school to investigate the reports to find out what the situation really was - talk to the players, other coaches and take action from there. I can't say suspending the coach was warranted. I agree, coaches yell. Don't play the sport if you can't handle that. But do not ever tell someone to mind their own business when it comes to the safety of our kids! Maybe this case was nothing, but there are all too many times that it's not nothing.

Onasis 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes I have. Did you miss the part where I agreed that coaches yell and not to play sports if you can't handle that? Or where I said I couldn't say suspending the coach was warranted? My point was not telling someone to mind their own business when they thought they saw something out of hand. It was the school's responsibility to check if it was out of hand or normal coaching.

Janet Lowther 3 years, 11 months ago

I wonder what proportion of coaches and gym teachers have a history of bullying when they were students?

I'm sure it used to be much higher than it is today, but. . .

Janice Seymour 3 years, 11 months ago

Everyone seems to be focusing on the coach and how he was bullying that poor child. So.. who is suppose to look out for the child that was being bullied - and called on it -for 3 weeks? How long was the coach suppose to let it continue? Until the other player was injured? He was in a no win situation. I agree - sports is a tough, competive activity and wimps don't need to be playing. If you cry everytime someone yells at you, you are going to have a very tough time all through life.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

The coach should have warned the kid the first time he piled on, and suspended him the second time. If he did it again after coming off suspension, he should have been immediately kicked off the team. That it went on for three weeks was more the coach's fault than that of the kid doing the bullying.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 11 months ago

You taking lessons from a certain prolific poster on spamming numerous threads with the same post?

begin60 3 years, 11 months ago

KU English professors yell at instructors--never experienced it before and don't approve-- so very unsophisticated and low class. Just so much not to be thankful for about living and working in Kansas when you are used to civilization.

08Champs 3 years, 11 months ago

Consider the argument (in regard to coaching) that coaching becomes bullying when you cross the line from driving the kids to do their best, laps, drilling, etc. to condition them, and "screaming" some correction and encouragement, to purposely and consistently HUMILIATING a child. I've witnessed a football coach that will get after his players for a bad play, then give them the "swat" or a high five after a good one - and tell them they did well. The case in Eudora with the girls volleyball coach was that aside from the hard work she expected of the girls (5:30 am supervised conditioning all week during the summer for example) she had a fondness for breaking girls down through humiliation. This isn't the first coaching position she lost due to this type of behavior - Eudora just had the poor judgment to hire her after the last firing.

08Champs 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't have a daughter. Please state exactly what is absurd?

firebird27 3 years, 11 months ago

Although the topic is sports, I wonder about how parents would respond to how their children are treated by the military services? Yes, drill sergeants are not as physical with recruits as they once were, but they must still get results. Of course, the military has the built-in fear factor of being "recycled" and a person must go through the same training again. I think much of what has happened to athletics is the result of too many abuses and the introduction of women into sports. You meet few women who feel that anyone should be subjected to verbal abuse, but men tend to be more forgiving on this count. Men have often used physicality to get the job done, and women want to use gentle persuasion.

I have no solution here, but I believe that there are historic forces that have made current behaviors inappropriate whereas in the past those same behaviors were not. Consider what Bear Bryant did with "the Junction Boys" at Texas A&M. Some of his actions were certainly unjustified, but he certainly created a winning team. Perhaps the issue is related to this question - At what price do we pay for possible glory?

Jeremiah Jefferson 3 years, 11 months ago

I was bullied in basic training when I joined the army years ago. It was horrible, they yelled, cussed, spit, ran us, threw us in the gas chamber and stopped just short of hitting us. I was just 18 years old. That was by far worse than what anyone could expect from being captured by a foriegn army in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As a football player playing pop warner my coach used to always yell, holler and make us run laps. But he would also have the whole team over on friday nights before the game on saterdays for a chili feed and bbq... He wanted to make sure we soiled ourselves so the other team wouldn't be able to stand the smell and they would get distracted.. It worked too, we were undefeated. Go Wolverines!!!

Randall Barnes 3 years, 11 months ago

12-1 record win the orange bowl.....ohh wait that was great coach but you can't do that anymore we need to set an example for the wussies of lawrence kansas.

50YearResident 3 years, 11 months ago

You have just described all the scoccer moms in Kansas. And now they are starting the kids in scoccer as two year olds. Go figure. The most boring game to watch ever.

BlackVelvet 3 years, 11 months ago

Thank God (can I say God on here????).......that we have impartial witnesses (busybodies) who most times have no clue what's going on, yet call the school to report what they believe is horrendous behaviour. I had one of those (busybodies) called the cops on me many years ago when she saw me swat my child on the butt. She called the police and claimed I was abusing my child. Sometimes people just need to mind their own damned business. period.

pace 3 years, 11 months ago

I remember a math teacher who denigrated, sneered, picked on, teased those he thought losers. What a total creep and poor teacher. He had pets. What a mess of a classroom. It was a good thing I had a good math teacher the year before.

SmallBeans 3 years, 11 months ago

This is simply wrong... You do NOT have to be a teacher to be a coach. Most teachers are getting fed up with being scrutinized over everything they do. The money in coaching is horrible, so many schools are turning to Rule 10 coaches because our "society of victims" looking for a frivolous lawsuit to cash in on has made teachers retract into more of a survival mode.

And, you have been stereotyping.

gorilla 3 years, 11 months ago

Who is the bully? What about the kid who has been has been tackling unprotected players after he has been told to stop it three weeks? Doesn't that constitute bullying? What else could the coach do? The kid could seriously hurt somebody.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"What else could the coach do?"

Simple-- Not let it continue for five seconds, much less three weeks.

gorilla 3 years, 11 months ago

We are on the same page that the coach shouldn't have let it go on for three weeks. My take on the thing is that the coach is not the real bully.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

There's a difference between sadism and motivation. You apparently don't know it.

pace 3 years, 11 months ago

If a kid can't take abuse from a coach he should not play in the sport. I agree, if a coach is abusive to the kids, pull them out.

GMom05 3 years, 11 months ago

I am stunned at the remarks in favor of yelling and being abusive to kids in sports such as football. Why should this be the expectation? Short of recent actions by our school board and administration in other matters, this is one of the most ludicrous things I've heard in a long while. Those in favor are so concerned about the 'wuss's' we are currently churning out in America, while I'm more concerned for the lack of civility, respect, and good old fashioned manners being demonstrated. Who cares if we churn out good football players, really? I'd much rather have a well-mannered, intelligent scientist for a kid, someone who will really help our country compete in the global market of the future or find a cure for cancer. What the heck good is having a high school football star? Way too much importance is being put on sports here and not about just being a decent respectful person and citizen of this community. Ok, let me have it, I'm sure it's coming! Let's hear how great sports are and how important it is to scream at and humiliate our kids to make them star players.

SmallBeans 3 years, 11 months ago

Why do we have to water everything down? If your kid can't survive in football, he can try cross country, or band, or FFA... We created most of the concerns you have listed by giving all participants a blue ribbon and not keeping score. No one knows how to be a good winner/loser.

Sports provide an opportunity to learn some life lessons: 1. There are people out there that might be better than you at something, you aren't garanteed playing time... 2. Not only is it okay to be a winner, it is pretty sweet! If you want to succeed, you will have to work longer and harder than anyone else. 3. Bad things happen, and sometimes it happens to us by no fault of our own. Learn to deal with setbacks and life is n't fair...
I could go on, but I am done for now.

Think back to the athletes of the 40's-60's... before we worried about everyone's self-worth. They were the leaders and role-models. Not the thugs we have today. Nope, the problem with society isn't "bullying" in athletics (false claims) it is the idea that we are all equal.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

But soft-headed is perfectly OK by you, apparently.

08Champs 3 years, 11 months ago

My kids work during the summer. Is it fair to require the summer conditioning or they don't get to play varsity? No, I don't think so. Your angry rant is out of line as are your broad generalization about "kids today" remarks. These are HIGH SCHOOL TEAMS - and not many kids go on to make a living playing volleyball last I checked (or any other sport for that matter.) Oh yeah - and maybe if you'd focused as much on academics as you obviously did on sports you'd know how to spell "whiny." (and Eudora's volleyball team has been on a slide for a few years now - not major playoff contenders.)

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