High schools, club sports battling for kids

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High schools, club sports battling for kids

A few years ago, when asked what was the most important issue that needed to be addressed in high school sports, administrators and coaches singled out the proliferation of drugs, emphasis on transfers and the controversy over the PublicCatholicmultiplier debate.

Surprisingly, in a recent survey, those issues weren't even mentioned. Today, school officials are more concerned with the exploitation of high school athletes by colleges and shoe companies, the rise of individualism, over-publicizing of athletes by the media and influence of club sports.

"The biggest problem is maintaining perspective of the high school experience, when we don't get carried away with club teams and travel teams and spend thousands of dollars to go all over the country and get special training," said Marty Hickman, executive director of the Illinois High School Association.

"The high school experience is supposed to be fun and competitive and losing that perspective has caused those other problems, the proliferation of clubs and prep schools and the emphasis on college scholarships."

Jim Woodward of Anna-Jonesboro, president of the IHSA's board of directors, points out how club teams that once were only an issue in the Chicago area have spread throughout southern Illinois, not only in basketball but also volleyball, softball, baseball and soccer. In the Chicago area, tennis and gymnastics clubs also are wooing athletes away from their high school programs.

"About 15 years ago, I sat on a committee dealing with summer contact periods. At that time, 90 percent of the people were ready to shut down schools in the summer and let the kids be kids," Woodward said.

"Then southern Illinois schools said we need to do more for our coaches to keep the kids away from club sports and AAU coaches. We didn't have a problem in southern Illinois but we do now--and we have for the last few years.

"It used to be that we (the high schools) had the only ball in town. Now with all different club and AAU teams, they have pulled kids away and caused them to specialize in one sport. Parents are willing to spend a lot of money to move so their kids get more exposure, pay for personal trainers and play for elite clubs."

Woodward said the definition of high school sports is to sell sports as part of the curriculum or the educational process. "It is an extension of what we do in the day. But the summer people sell Division I scholarships and an opportunity to play at the next level and the level beyond that," he said.

"The emphasis is all about winning. We want to win in high school, too, but it isn't the main emphasis. We have created a monster. Kids don't want to sit on the bench anymore. Everybody in high school has a role, from the kid who averages 20 points per game to the kid who just plays in practice. High school sports help to prepare a kid for life."

Jim Prunty, athletic director at St. Ignatius and a member of the IHSA's legislative commission, also cites the "ever-growing conflict between club sports and interscholastic athletics in terms of how it is now spilling over into basketball, soccer and volleyball."

Prunty said players, not just elite players, are going to clubs to play a style that is not in conjunction with their high school program. "They pick up bad habits and change personality based on their experience at the club level," he said.

What is the solution to the problem? "Because it is financially better for college coaches to evaluate kids in the summer rather than when they play with their high school teams, the NCAA must limit contact between club coaches and college coaches. If it means eliminating contact altogether in the summer, I would be in favor of it," Prunty said.

"But it won't happen because it is easier for the NCAA to operate the way they do now. All club and travel programs are lumped into the same bag. But there are good people who teach the way we do. I am aware of it."

If something isn't done, however, Prunty fears for the future of high school sports. Parents have gotten out of control and specialization is ruining high school sports.

"Parents have club coaches fawning over their sons and daughters from an early age and expect that attention to be there throughout their careers. Yes, they are coddled, made to feel they are more important at an early age. That isn't healthy for kids," Prunty said.

"Specialization is part of the club dilemma. Kids are told if they play basketball and devote all their time, they can make it to the NBA. At St. Ignatius, we encourage kids to be multi-sport athletes. We have no inter-departmental struggles like other schools.

"But we're getting to the point--I hope I have to eat these words--that I wouldn't be shocked that in 15 to 20 years there are no more high school sports. Basketball, for example, will take a complete backseat to the AAU."

Steve Goers of Rockford Boylan and Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph, the two winningest boys basketball coaches in state history, are concerned by a rising lack of loyalty, increasing number of transfers and an emphasis on individualism, all influenced by the athletes' relationships with summer coaches and club sports.

"Individuals are putting themselves ahead of teams," Goers said. "For there to be team success, individuals have to put the team ahead of their personal success. They can't worry about their own accomplishments. You receive your due recognition based on how well the team will do.

"College coaches want to know if a kid is a team player, a good teammate, a good person. You read every day about kids being suspended for disciplinary or even more serious reasons and it jeopardizes the coach's job. There are so many more influences outside the coach and his staff today. It takes away from the idea that team is first. If a coach tries to discipline kids, they blame the coach rather than accept blame."

Pingatore is offended by the lack of loyalty displayed by many kids today, transferring from school to school. He blames the influence of the AAU. Twenty-five years ago, he said he had control of his program. That is no longer the case. Now he sees that many kids have better relationships with their summer coaches than their high school coaches.

"People move on a whim. It happens so much. We lost four starters on the football team. They went to programs where they felt they could win," he said. "Maybe this is the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the transfer thing is a sign of something else that isn't good in high school sports--outside influences.

"I don't know who is talking to my kids. I used to be in control of my program. Now I have to start all over again. I have to teach a kid all over again. I don't know who he is listening to, what someone is teaching him, who is telling kids to go to other schools.

"High schools need more control in all sports. The NCAA has control. They should talk about eliminating the summer evaluation period. Then AAU coaches can't say that kids have to follow them so they will get exposure to college coaches.

"Also, part of the problem is parents are obsessed with their kids getting Division I scholarships. They don't know how difficult it is. They fear if their kid doesn't go to a camp he will miss out. There are so many outside influences. High school coaches just don't have control as they once did."

Jim Antos, principal at Brother Rice and a member of the IHSA's legislative commission, has one issue that bothers him more than anything else--how local newspapers make kids feel they are a special class of citizen.

"It troubles me when kids think they can get away with things because they are athletes," Antos said. "I know kids should be covered (in the media) and people are making a living. But too much is being made of making kids untouchable. They are being turned into rock stars. If I could wave a magic wand, I would tell them: 'If a kid doesn't smile, don't put his picture in the paper.' It perpetuates an 'I'm too good for the world'
attitude that I really can't get my arms around."

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

This June just keeps getting better and better for Zack Collins.

Collins was selected by the White Sox with the No. 10 pick in the MLB Draft, made it to the College World Series with the University of Miami, signed his first professional contract and now he is the Johnny Bench Award winner.

The Johnny Bench Award was created in 2000 and is given to the top college catcher in Division 1. Previous winners include Buster Posey and Kurt Suzuki.

Collins already had a haul of first-team All-America honors from Baseball America, D1Baseball, the NCBWA, Perfect Game and Rawlings.

Collins hit .363 with 16 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .668 slugging percentage. He also led the nation with 78 walks this season for the Hurricanes, which went 0-2 at the College World Series. Collins started 62 of 64 Miami games and made 59 of those starts at catcher.

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

Quick note here because we are all eager to get back to our twitter feeds and wild speculation. Even though the Bulls will only have approximately $24 million in cap space, there is one situation in which they can sign a Tier 1 max player AND re-sign E’twaun Moore.

This all hinges on the deal (and discount) that Moore would give the Bulls. The Bulls have Early-Bird rights with Moore; that means they can potentially sign him to a deal and not eat into their cap space. There are a lot of rules into how this works and I won’t bore you with details, but the bottom line is that the Bulls can offer a 3-year deal for approx. $21 million or a 4-year deal for appox $28 million. If Moore accepts this contract, the Bulls just to have account for his ‘cap hold’ of $980,431 in free agency until the actual deal is signed. 

This potential deal would leave the Bulls approximately $23 million to spend, well above the $22.2 million it would take to land a Tier 1 (0-6 year NBA player) in free agency. This includes restricted free agent Harrison Barnes. Again, this only works if Moore doesn’t want to test free agency, or doesn’t receive a better offer in free agency. If Moore wants more money, the Bulls have to use their cap space to sign him to a larger deal.

One important key to any restricted free agent like Barnes, the Warriors will have 3 days to match any offer sheet that Barnes signs. Barnes can’t sign an offer sheet until July 7th, so the Warriors effectively will have until at least July 10th to make that decision. This prevents any team like the Bulls ‘swooping’ in and landing Barnes while Kevin Durant conducts his meetings in the Hamptons.

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

NEW YORK – The Cubs didn’t overreact to getting swept in last year’s National League Championship Series, but the New York Mets did expose some underlying issues while a deep playoff run created a sense of urgency in Wrigleyville.

The Cubs spent like crazy on the free-agent market (almost $290 million) and wore T-shirts around spring training that literally put targets on their chests, knowing the look would go viral on social media and spark love/hate responses.

Making a statement? Sending a message? That’s so last year, when the Cubs were a team still trying to find an identity and learn how to win. The Mets are now the ones feeling the season-on-the-brink anxiety, desperate for offense and crossing their fingers that all those talented young pitchers stay healthy.

Maybe this becomes a turning point for the defending NL champs, beating the Cubs 4-3 on Thursday night at Citi Field to kick off a marquee four-game series in front of 40,122 and a national TV audience. Not that John Lackey – the playoff-tested veteran the Cubs signed to lengthen their rotation for October – felt any added significance in facing the Mets.

“None,” Lackey said. “It’s June, who cares? Big-boy games are totally different.”

Yes, Lackey was “pretty surprised” and a little miffed that manager Joe Maddon pulled him with a runner on and one out in the seventh inning and the Cubs holding a 3-1 lead. Joel Peralta failed this bullpen audition, walking Alejandro De Aza (.158 average) and giving up an RBI single to just-promoted-from-Triple-A Las Vegas rookie Brandon Nimmo.

Neil Walker put the pressure on highlight-reel defender Javier Baez, who fielded a chopper at second base, didn’t have a play at home plate and made the split-second decision to throw toward backpedaling third baseman Kris Bryant. The Mets showed last October that little things matter in big-boy games, and the throwing error from a Gold Glove-caliber player suddenly gave them a 4-3 lead.  

“Getting beat’s one thing,” Lackey said. “But when you feel like you kind of gave one away – or let one go – that’s a different kind of loss.”

The Mets (41-37) might not have must-win games in July, but they needed some good news in “Panic City.” Steven Matz, who set off alarm bells this week with the disclosure he’s been pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow, managed to work into the sixth inning and throw 104 pitches, giving up homers to Bryant and Baez but limiting the damage to only three runs.

Yoenis Cespedes, who revived a lifeless lineup after last summer’s trade-deadline blockbuster, energized the Mets again with a big swing in the sixth inning, drilling a Lackey pitch 441 feet out to left field and onto the third deck, creating a 110-mph exit velocity with his 19th home run.

“New year, different team, different circumstances,” said Jake Arrieta, who lost Game 2 here last October, watching Daniel Murphy reach so far down for a curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, driving it out for a momentum-shifting, first-inning, two-run homer. “We’ll probably relive some memories that weren’t very exciting.

“You never want to lose one step from a World Series. But, again, we had a team that was very young with a lot of rookies contributing. We gained a lot of valuable experience from those games, regardless of the outcome. And we’re obviously better for it this season with some new pieces. We look forward to ending in a little different fashion this year.”

The Cubs (51-27) still don’t have the answer for Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who finished off all four NLCS wins last October and is now 27-for-27 in save chances this season. Miguel Montero led off the ninth inning with a pinch-hit walk and Ben Zobrist followed with a double into right field before those all-or-nothing contact issues resurfaced.

Familia responded by striking out Bryant swinging – all six pitches were marked as sinkers clocked between 97 and 98 mph – and intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo to load the bases. Maybe this exposure will pay off in the playoffs, but Familia struck out Willson Contreras swinging and got Javier Baez to pop out to end the game. The Citi Field sound system started playing Ace Frehley’s “(I’m Back, Back in the) New York Groove.” Not that the Cubs were having flashbacks.

“We know the feeling of getting eliminated, getting swept, but I think we’re onto bigger and better things,” Bryant said. “We’re ready for it. Different year, different players here, different attitude.”