I am personally acquainted with Dr. Fred Engh, a contributor to PRB’s “Sports Spotlight” column. In the December 2010 issue, he wrote of the importance of training volunteer coaches and officials. He also encouraged the establishment of National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) chapters in public agencies.
Do you realize how important that could be for you? If only I had a NAYS chapter in Dalton, Ga., in 1960, I likely could have avoided a rather difficult situation.
A Short Fuse
Pony League Baseball was big in Dalton. The parks and recreation department had no authority over the league, but the 13- and 14-year-old boys played on municipal facilities over which the department had complete authority.
Early one evening, I was watching them play from my seat in the press box behind home plate. As I looked on, one of the participating coaches -- apparently angered by an umpire’s call -- encouraged his team to harass the home-plate umpire. They became extremely boisterous, and caused quite a scene.
I attempted to intervene by shouting to the coach, “Knock it off now, and keep those boys quiet.” That seemed to do it -- for the moment.
As I walked away minutes later, I told myself that such conduct could not continue. If permitted, it could ruin our reputation as a parks and recreation agency. After all, we were responsible to the community for managing all public facilities.
An Explosive Situation
Later that evening, I was making my way back to that same field when the umpire who had worked the previous two games approached me.
“I’ll not call a game in that league again,” he yelled. He was visibly shaken.
“And,” he continued, “it’s that kind of person who is causing problems.” He was pointing to a man who, while brandishing a knife, was speaking to some youngsters and using profanity that would embarrass a drunken sailor.
He obviously didn’t know me as I proceeded to engage him in conversation. He told me that his brother was a Pony League coach and pointed to a man who was busy loading equipment into his truck. I asked if the troublemaker was his brother.
“Yes,” he replied.
I then inquired if he was aware that his brother was creating a scene.
“Well, I knew he was drinking,” he confirmed. And then I screamed, “Why did you bring him here?”
After another exchange, I announced to him that the Pony League was suspended until a meeting could be held with the park board.
Shut ‘Em Down
The next morning, I informed the chairman about the details of the previous evening.
“John,” he yelled, “don’t you realize that the president of that league is the mayor pro-tem?”
I replied, “Yes, Ellis, I am aware that the mayor pro-tem holds that position, and that makes this situation even more critical. He should provide better leadership.”
I called a meeting for that evening and informed the board. The situation -- including my potential dismissal -- was the talk of the town. Rumor had it that the Pony League officials were refusing to attend, as they certainly would not be dictated to by anyone, but they did show up.
I led off by describing the two scenes of the previous evening. Initially, the Pony League officials were adamant, but the park and recreation board was more so.
As the meeting wore on, the Pony officials became quite docile. In the end, they apologized and promised to put an end to such unsavory conduct -- and they did, starting with placing both coaches on probation.
The principle of this narrative is to encourage industry professionals to always stand strong for what they know is right. And cultivate a board that is firm in its conviction to run a clean program. The public will appreciate it.
John Davis, after earning a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York in 1957, became the director of parks and recreation in Dalton, Ga. In 1963, he was chosen to head up a new state agency, The Georgia Recreation Commission. Davis served as associate director and director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority for three years. In 1976, he became the director of the National Recreation and Park Association where he served ten years.