Thursday, January 29, 2004

Adult battles could ruin kids' games

Peter Bronson

While boys in Norwood are dreaming about baseball diamonds, home runs and springtime, a dispute among adults may be wrecking Norwood Knothole.

It's nothing new. Wherever two or more kids gather to play a game, grownups ruin the fun. They get Super Bowl serious, and children's sports wind up teaching sportsmanship the way politics teaches honesty.

In Norwood, it started when two youth baseball coaches raised questions about Norwood Knothole bylaws and spending. Now both have received a harsh letter telling them their applications this year have been "DENIED."

"You are no longer permitted to attend any Norwood Knothole meeting or events other than what your children are directly involved in," the letter said. It also threatened "legal recourse,'' and ended like a bad joke: "Best regards."

"We used to be friends," said Kevin Sluder, a former president of Norwood Knothole and coach for nine years. "If I counted up all the hours I have volunteered over the years, I could retire."

He and coach Brandon Atwood each got the letters, with no signatures and no explanation, they said.

"We started asking questions about financial stuff and they got rid of us," Sluder said. Atwood said they also asked questions about bylaws, and the current directors refused to show them any.

With players and their parents depending on them to coach this year, they're considering a lawsuit.

Norwood Knothole Supervisor Mike Douglas and President Dennis Nichols did not return my calls.

But Assistant Supervisor Mark Jent blamed the dispute on a communications problem that has gotten out of control. "The 32 other coaches are thrilled at the change of direction Knothole has taken. They are all on our side," he said.

Jent said finances are reported at every meeting, and all coaches were given copies of the bylaws at the January meeting.

"We're not dead set against reinstatement," he said. "We've tried to calm this situation down."

But Norwood City Recreation Director Jenny Wallace said, "I'm going to side with the coaches on this. Show me what rules they violated."

She has received many complaints from parents. Both coaches are "great with the kids," she said. "I don't think they have been treated fairly." Knothole probably has no authority to ban the coaches from games on public diamonds, she said.

Jack Cameron is Norwood Safety Services Director and has a son who plays on Atwood's team. "I don't care who is right or wrong. But if they want the benefits of the Norwood Recreation Commission, the organization has to be as public and open as possible."

If the dispute is not resolved soon, Cameron said he will ask the Recreation Commission to cancel Knothole membership - ending free, first-priority access to city diamonds.

"Soccer will take every available field time and then you can't run Norwood Knothole," he said. "Nobody wants to do that."

The Norwood Knothole board should reinstate the coaches.

Perhaps they should act more like children.

After all, it's not the kids who are wrecking baseball - it's the alleged adults.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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