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Dishing the ‘dirt’ on coaches gone wild

JEFF TULLY

Nothing gets a young player’s attention quite like a mouthful of

dirt.

I should know, having dined on a sod sandwich as a young Little

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League baseball player.

The incident brings to mind some of the of the wacky and

unbelievable things I have seen coaches do over the years.

The most memorable happening took place when I was 11 years old

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and playing for Aviation Little League in Hawthorne. Competing for

the Major Division Braves, our team had to endure the old-school

techniques and discipline of Jim Schofield, a drill instructor

impersonating a coach.

Coach Schofield was well known for his tirades and his innate

ability to run players into the ground -- literally.

During one of our Braves’ practices, coach had us working out on

the outfield grass -- which was actually a whole bunch of dirt

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sprinkled with a bit of vegetation -- doing an exhausting number of

push-ups.

At the beginning of the exercise, many of us were goofing off and

not taking the task too seriously. That apparently set off the coach.

Unhappy with our form and execution, Schofield screamed and yelled at

us to “do them right.”

Although we tried our best -- a couple hundred push-ups tend to

tire most pre-teens -- the coach became more aggravated and told us

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to rest on our stomachs with our heads down in the damp ground. Then,

he instructed us to “take a bite out of the dirt.”

For those of us who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to bring

ourselves to munch on the turf, Schofield came around and gave our

heads a gentle push into the ground.

Some players cried. Some players threw up. And some players

marveled at the grainy texture and unique taste of the dirt.

Following the incident, I hurried home to tell my mother what had

happened. I figured my adoring mom would be so upset with the coach’s

horrible stunt that should would hunt Schofield down and put him in

his place.

However, after conveying the whole sorted story, my mother asked

just one question: “Were you one of the players who was goofing off

during the exercise?” When I answered in the affirmative, she shot

back “Then you probably deserved it.”

With her response, my mouth dropped open in disbelief, prompting

my mother to add one last bit of advise: “You might want to floss

that grass from in between your teeth.”

*

Although I don’t condone Scofield’s action, coaches did those type

of things in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, if a coach did

something like making players eat dirt today, he would probably be

chastised, fired and brought up on child abuse charges.

Young athletes in the 21st century don’t know how good they have

it when it comes to dealing with coaches. From taking part in

baseball school at age 5, to playing Little League, to competing in

high school, to covering games as a journalist, I’ve seen and

experienced incidents that would make a great “Coaches Gone Wild”

video.

Remembering some of the things I have had to endure with coaches,

I can’t imagine the things athletes from earlier eras had to go

through. Coaching practices from the 1940s and 1950s probably seem

medieval compared to today’s standards.

Another adverse incident I had to deal with came during my

freshman season as a football player at Hawthorne High.

At the time, I had long hair, which was probably a bit longer than

most of my teammates. In fact, I grew it out to where my golden locks

were at my shoulders.

It was a great style. However, the long hair didn’t look too cute

sprouting out from underneath my football helmet.

Coach Neil Minami wasn’t a big fan of my hairstyle. At practice

one day, citing the possibility of my locks being pulled by an

opponent during a game, the coach told me I needed to cut my hair so

it wasn’t coming out of my helmet.

A few days later -- with all of my hair still intact -- Minami

again urged me to go visit a barber. But this time, he told me if I

didn’t take care of the problem, he would.

After a few more days passed and still no compliance on my part,

the coach kept his word. After asking me to put on my helmet, Minami

went into the medical training kit, pulled out a pair of scissors and

proceeded to cut off all visible hair.

I remember my teammates roaring with laughter when they got a

glimpse of my new hairstyle.

At least there was one good thing that came out of the incident --

my teammates could no longer refer to me as “Goldilocks.”

Along with playing football and baseball in high school, I also

competed in track and field for infamous Coach Kye Courtney.

Courtney was a former Marine whose training methods were as well

known in the track and field community as his CIF Southern Section

and state championships.

During workouts, Courtney would carry a big plank of wood with

nails in it. If the coach didn’t think someone was running hard

enough during workouts, he would chase after the athlete and threaten

to hit him or her with his weapon.

Although Courtney never actually hit anyone with his homemade

motivating tool, I remember feeling the wind from the swinging piece

of wood around my backside area on more than one occasion.

*

For the most part, many of the things I have witnessed or been a

part of concerning coaches have been relatively harmless. However, on

a few occasions, I have seen truly destructive and inappropriate

behavior.

While covering a game as a writer, I saw an incident I will never

forget. During a high school football game, I witnessed a coach

literally throw a player to the ground during an argument. In

response, the player hurled his helmet back at the coach.

What was more disturbing than the incident itself was the unfair

repercussions taken by the school. While the coach was only

reprimanded for his part in the event, the player was kicked off the

team.

Especially in high school, the motivation to succeed and win

drives some coaches to throw morals and common sense out the window

in lieu of playing by the book.

During my tenure at the Leader, there have been coaches who have

shamed and embarrassed their schools and the community with their

bonehead antics. From recruiting players and being involved with a

sex scandal, to holding illegal practices, stealing money and drug

use, area coaches have been involved in their share of distasteful

actions.

Individuals involved in actions like these have no business

coaching or being around children. Unfortunately, some of the men and

women who committed these acts are still coaching.

Since I have done a little coaching myself, I have the utmost

respect for the men and women who take the time to mentor young

athletes. I have said it many times that along with teachers, coaches

are some of the most important people in the lives of children.

Coaches just have to realize that when dealing with young,

impressionable athletes, almost everything leaves a lasting

impression.

Maybe that’s why I keep my hair short and why I have never really

developed a taste for dirt.

* JEFF TULLY is the sports editor of the Burbank Leader. He can be

reached at 843-8700, or by e-mail at jeff.tully@latimes.com.


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