NYS (National Youth Sports): A Case Study In What's Wrong With Youth Sports

(since I know this is rather long, please feel free to read the parts I've bolded if you want to get a quick idea of what's going on)

This post originally appeared on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/notes/garrett-murphy/nys-national-youth-sports-...), but I'm also placing it here on my nearly unused blog so non-Facebookers have access to it.

As many of you know, I've been coaching my daughter's basketball team now for almost two full seasons, something that has been an absolute blast...a lot of difficulties, but I've had so much fun watching kids start to learn the sport and really start to improve at it.

Like all coaches, I've had my share of difficulties with the officiating; I realize that this is a part-time job for them, and they may try to do their best. But, please, take a little time to look at what I've dealt with this season and I implore you, if you agree with me that there's a massive problem here, please share this with as many people as you can. It's my intention to force NYS to do the right thing in this situation, as if they don't do something to remedy this, at best, they'll turn kids off of basketball, but at worst, somebody will get hurt, badly.

First, a little background: the team that we played on Saturday, the Cyclones, may be well-known to my Facebook friends, as I've commented repeatedly about the fact that they have two 6' players on their team. Just in case you believe I'm kidding, this picture to the right is Sydney defending the shorter of the two. Sydney is 4'11", 84 lbs, so I think you can all agree that this kid is just a little bigger than her...I peg him at about 6', 170lbs. Oh, maybe I should take a moment to tell you this: the league is for 10 and 11-year-olds. Officially, you're allowed to stay in the league after your 12th birthday IF your birthday was after 9/1 of last year; however, two other coaches have told me that they have players in school with this kid, and he specifically brought in brownies for his 13th birthday this school year. Now, that doesn't mean much (despite the consistency in the stories), but I asked NYS a simple question after our first game against the Cyclones: "Can you please verify their ages before the next game?". The response I received stated:

"At NYS we can only go off what the parent says the age the kid is."

After I pointed out that the NYS web site states clearly, "birth certificates may be required upon league coordinator’s request", plus we had to present Sydney's birth certificate when she signed up, I was told that no, the league coordinator would not request it and required "hard evidence"; when I asked what "hard evidence" constituted, I was told: "A copy of his birth certificate". During that first game, the boy in the picture actually fell and landed directly on top of Sydney; she was okay, but it's not something we want to repeat, and I pointed out this incident in my email to no avail.

(Side note: when Shaquille O'Neill was 12, he was 5'7", so this one youth basketball coach appears to have stumbled upon two NBA Hall-of-Famers)

This wasn't my only concern about this team; the Cyclones have the two tall players, two other decently good players, and 3 players that were clearly assigned to the team and are new to basketball (like my entire team). NYS rules are very clear: "Each child must play at least half of every game." (for reference, their rules are here: http://www.nysonline.org/_PDFs/Rules/Rules-NYS-sc-Hoop-1011.pdf ...you may want to look at them later). In that first game, the two girls on the team, both clearly beginners, played 11 minutes and 13 minutes...in a 40 minute game. Where the Cyclones were up by as much as 25 points during the game.

Fast forward to this past Saturday. Before the game started, I approached the referees as I always do, greeted them, and asked them what the ramifications are if the Cyclones played any players less than 1/2 the game (I was planning to track their subs so I could actually object in person). I was told that they would have to talk to the league coordinator about how to address such an infraction, which made me realize immediately that I would get nowhere with this course of action. I also made a mention about the ages of the 6' players and the refs informed me of something interesting: "Our brothers are friends with them, they're in the 6th grade together". I realize that it's just guilt-by-association, but one would think it to be not a good thing to have the referees in my game have a personal connection with the other team. I found myself hoping that I they would remain objective, but I did remember the previous game, which wasn't officiated at all evenly.

So, I realize right away that this game...is gonna suck. In walks the league coordinator, who had at one point emailed all the coaches saying that he would be coming out to monitor games for sportsmanship. He walks straight to the Cyclones' coach, shakes his hand, they laugh and joke, and it's apparent they've known each other a while. I'm beginning to feel even better.

The game starts and I've put Sydney, my best one-on-one defender, on #22, their best player. He scored 34 out of their 45 points last time, so I had to have Sydney do her best, which she did. As much as can be possible when you're giving up that much size, she did an amazing job, limiting him to 6 points in the first 3 quarters and frustrating him repeatedly on defense. Unfortunately, this is partially what lead up to the main reason why I'm writing this.

Before I get to that, however, let me show you a few video clips of what transpired in the first three quarters. These are fairly minor...but they're very indicative of the nature of the game. PLEASE CLICK THE HD ICON IN THE LOWER RIGHT OF THE VIDEO SCREEN; NOTHING IS CLEAR AT ALL IN STANDARD DEFINITION!

1) In the first quarter, we were keeping the game REALLY close, playing them really well...it became a little too frustrating for the opposing coaches, though, and the younger of the two shouts out to his point guard, "Next time he does that, elbow him in the face," and he even makes the motion to demonstrate. Unfortunately, my wife's camera phone doesn't really pick up the sound, but you can see him demonstrating to his player:


2) In this one, you see a player for the Cyclones get a rebound and (sorry about the fuzziness) begin whipping his elbows around at my players. In a previous game, this resulted in a black eye for one of my players. It's quite interesting to note that this play came after the coach told his players to "elbow him in the face"


3) In the next video, watch as my player defends the point guard and gets himself set...but gets called for a foul when the point guard actually jumps backwards into him. I have no clue what the ref saw on this play, and coincidentally, it just happened to be the 4th foul on my best 3-pt shooter, and this happened, coincidentally, just moments after the coach shouted, "Foul him out". Was he shouting to his players or to the refs?


4) The next batch of videos become rather consistent as the Cyclones coach apparently has grown frustrated with his inability to score at will: players begin basically beating the crap out of Sydney. Let's watch as a player "sets a pick" by running full speed into Sydney:


5) another moving screen, not as forceful, but still very obviously a foul:


6) On this play, #27 for the other team just flat out shoves Sydney to the ground as she's dribbling away


7) Or how about a play where Sydney gets a clean steal and is then just run over by the opposing player


8) How about this one, where you can clearly see the player set the pick, then reach out a leg to trip Sydney


Just to be clear: these are NOT the only things that were happening on the court. There were plenty of other things that I could see from the sideline that were not captured on video: the kicks at players ankles, players being shoved aside during rebounds, an elbow to the face not caught on camera, etc.

You may notice a trend of this team picking on Sydney; one could say it was because she's small, but she's not the smallest player on the team. It could be because she's a girl, but we have another girl on the team. So, we'll come back to my theory in a minute. Please note that on every one of these plays above, the foul was clear; the refs could clearly see it, and they had no choice but to see it, as it's always right around the ball, and not a single one of these resulted in a foul call against the Cyclones. (on the play where #27 shoved her to the floor, the ball actually bounced off his leg out of bounds). Oddly, any minor touch, even plays where nobody could see the contact, resulted in fouls called on the Mustangs. The Cyclones had no traveling, double-dribble, carrying-over, or any other such turnovers called on them, even though there were many I could pinpoint on video. Of course, we didn't get away with any, which was actually only two, but still...being a ref is about consistency. They were called for a grand total of 2 personal fouls during the course of the game, which just doesn't even seem possible; we were called for 11. Adding insult to injury, on every play where Sydney hits the floor, the other coaches would laugh, with the older coach shouting at the refs, "She's flopping!" Apparently, the refs listened to him. You can decide for yourself if she was flopping on those plays.

Now, I mentioned that Sydney only covered #22 during the first 3 quarters. This is because, in the beginning of the 4th quarter, the other team had clearly had enough. The coach began calling out instructions to his team: "Break his kneecaps", "Knock him down", "Break his ankles". On many plays, I could see his players kicking their legs at my Mustangs, trying to step on the backs of their legs. I brought this to the attention of the refs who ignored me. I brought this to the attention of Christian, the league coordinator, who continued to play video games on his phone (that's him in the picture to the right). Unfortunately, my wife's camera quit recording from the beginning of the 4th quarter until there was about 3 minutes left, though I can pretty well guarantee you that it wouldn't have captured what those coaches were saying.

Within seconds of the 4th quarter starting, a Cyclone dribbles the ball at Sydney and as she moves to defend, he puts a hand in the middle of her chest and shoves her to the ground: no whistle.

Just a few moments after that, Sydney steals the ball from #22 and he was clearly upset about it. I've coached my players that, if you steal the ball and you don't have a clear path to the basket, just hug it, as NYS rules state specifically that you cannot defend in the backcourt. Sydney tipped the ball away from #22 and dove on top of it, just holding onto it while waiting for the Cyclones to move to the other side of the court. However, #22 wasn't happy, and since his coach was upset as well, he picked Sydney up in a bear hug, whipped her from side-to-side, then threw her to the floor; it was about a 4 foot drop, and she landed face-down. Again, let me repeat: Sydney is 4'11", 84 lbs, and this boy is about 6', 170 lbs.

I froze: I saw my crumpled up daughter lying on the ground (she's so tough I knew she'd jump right back up) and began walking out to assist her. But she didn't jump right back up.

The Cyclones coach was laughing and pointing at her, lying on the floor; she was having a difficult time breathing from the impact, and sobbing at the same time. Loudly he announced to his team: "WE'RE GOING TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP!!!"

As I'm picking up my daughter to carry her back to the bench, one of my team's parents is yelling at the opposing coach that he's going to complain, to which the coach responds, "Go ahead, it won't do anything. I've never had a single complaint against me except from him," and he pointed at me.

That's right. NYS told him specifically that I was the source of the questioning about his players ages. And now Sydney suffered the retaliation for it. During the course of the game, she had been purposefully tripped and repeatedly pushed or shoved to the ground without a Cyclone player being called for a single foul. In any game officiated by any sort of unbiased refs, she should have received at least one foul; instead, the refs allowed her to be bullied and hurt, purposefully, and to pay for me having the gall to tell the league, "This seems a little unsafe."

I had such a surge of mixed feelings at that moment. A part of me wanted to go on the attack and just start swinging, but the better part of me knew that I had to set the example for my players. I carried her to the bench and as I was going I asked them each in turn, the coach, the refs, and the league coordinator: "Is this really what you guys want?" The coach smiled and said, "That's what you get for playing with the big boys!", the refs just looked down at the floor, and the league coordinator (who had not looked up from his phone until the crowd went silent, so I know he didn't see a single part of the play) actually had the nerve to mumble, "I agree with the refs, it's a good call". By the way, I should point out: the refs called it a jump ball. No foul. No technical fouls. Nothing.

After the game, two parents from the other team as well as a coach from the game after ours all approached me; the parents apologized for what happened and wanted to know what the coach was saying; to all three I told the same thing: "he said they did nothing wrong". All three were in shock.

As soon as I got home, I emailed the league coordinator, advising that I expected a call from his boss immediately. A little while after we got home, Sydney was doing much better, finally calmed down; I consider us very lucky. I received no call Saturday or Sunday.

So today I called the regional headquarters at 602-863-5003. It took a while, but I finally got a hold of Shawn Connors (as expected, Christian didn't tell him to call me). When I talked to Shawn, I pressed him to tell me what he knew about the situation; the extent he knew was basically that my daughter fell during the game. After explaining in detail how bad the game was, and the other coach's demeanor and behavior throughout the game, Shawn told me how he would take care of it.

He wouldn't.

Instead, he was going to have Christian (remember, the guy who refused to check the ages of these players, the guy who agreed with the ref's decision that he didn't see, the guy who didn't even look up from his phone as the coach was celebrating an injury), the league coordinator, call the parents OF THE CYCLONES, and if they ALL corroborate my story, then he'd consider punishing the coach. I asked him how he would punish the coach and I was told: "I'll suspend him for next season." Next season is summer, when most kids aren't even playing in the basketball leagues due to vacations. Oh, and I should point out: the coach has either one or two of his own sons on the team (depending on who you talk to )...so what are the odds that I'll get ALL of them to corroborate?

I asked him if he was serious and he said yes, "Why, how would you punish him?" I told him that I would think he should have the entire season nullified and he should be banned. Shawn laughed. "I can't even think about doing that this late in the season, and besides, we have to check out your story first."

Yes, really. He said that.

I have a copy of the NYS spring newsletter. In it is a single paragraph with the heading "Sportsmanship". The paragraph reads:

"Another great week last week! Let’s all remember first and foremost to have FUN and exemplify GREAT SPORTSMANSHIP. We are all role models for these kids, so it is important to ALWAYS be positive and treat the referees, players and other teams with the upmost respect. Thanks for all your hard work!"

So, I'm asking you, all of you: is this right? If you think this is right, please, feel free to go about your busy day.

If you don't think this is right, please join me. I want to shame the hell out of NYS for this. Our children shouldn't be put through this kind of treatment. I don't accept bullying at all and this, this is the ultimate example of it.

And it makes me sick.

I'm not going to rest on this one. I may be moving on from NYS after this season due to obvious reasons, but that doesn't mean I'll sit around and allow other children to be treated like this. I'd love to be able to say that this would make a child stronger, but it doesn't; it just makes them afraid, and it teaches them that the only way to win is by cheating.

I refuse to accept that. Do you?

How can you help?

There's a link at the top of the page to my Facebook Note. If you have Facebook, please go to that Note and hit the Share button. You may also comment if you wish. You may also go to the Yelp page for this NYS franchise and let the owner know what you think of this situation. I don't think I was asking for too much to happen here. I honestly, truly, just want SOMEthing done to make the coach and all the players (both his and mine) understand that what happened was not right.

In case you're wondering (as I'm sure the NYS is wondering), could we just be lying about this? Valid question, I suppose, but let's look at it logically for a moment: what would we have to gain from lying?
1) More wins: well, not really, as my request was to have the Cyclones' season to be nullified or erased. That would take our current record from 1-6 to 1-4, which makes us...still the team with the second most losses in the league. So, this makes no sense.
2) Poor sports: yes, maybe we're just poor sports and don't like losing. Maybe we wanted to feel better after losing by 20. Well, this doesn't hold water either, since we lost by 30 to a different team and didn't complain at all...in fact, I was very complimentary to them after the game.
3) Maybe we all just hallucinated about the entire game: that would be possible...except for all the video we have of Sydney being tripped, tackled and pushed down to the ground.

So, let's apply a little more logic to this: why would the Cyclones' parents and coaches lie?
1) To keep their season from being nullified? Could be
2) To not feel like bullying assholes? Pretty possible
3) To win a championship? Another good possibility
4) To avoid getting sued, or assault/child abuse charges? That's a good one as well!

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it.

Garrett Murphy

UPDATE (5/24/14): On the NYS Yelp page, the owner of this NYS franchise has posted the following in response to my review of NYS:

" I, and some individuals not related to the situation, also reviewed the videos in the Facebook post and did not see clear intentional fouls meant to injure a player." This sounds like he really reviewed the videos and made a determination...until you notice that he used the word "fouls". As stated before, not one of these plays resulted in a foul being called. So, it would appear that Mr Connors is using some wiggle words here, because I also don't see clear intentional fouls meant to injure a player, but I CLEARLY see intentional CONTACT meant to injure a player. That just seems rather petty and cheap. He also states categorically that, "Since the initial complaint, I spoke to numerous individuals that were present for the game, all having conflicting accounts of the situation." Just a reminder, he has stated specifically that he was only going to talk to members of the Cyclones team. Let that sink in a bit. He only spoke to their team, and some said they saw my daughter get body-slammed, while some said they didn't, which makes it inconclusive. I'm sorry to say it, but this doesn't even remotely work. If even a single parent on the other team says, "Yeah, I saw the kid pick up a little girl, shake her around and then throw her to the floor, all while the coach laughed and pointed," THAT IS ENOUGH INFORMATION FOR ME. THAT IS CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE. Am I wrong for thinking this way???

UPDATE (5/26/14): I received a message from another NYS franchisee who asked not to be identified, asking me if I would be kind enough to specify that this is the North-East Valley (Phoenix) National Youth Sports franchise, and that each franchisee has the rights and responsibilities for maintaining their own level of consistency and performance. So, in taking his request to heart, I am hereby clarifying that information, though I also must point out that Shawn Connors also runs the North-West and West Valley franchises.

UPDATE (5/30/14): As of this writing, I have yet to hear from NYS. My calls appear to no longer be welcome at the NYS offices. The only conclusion I can reach is that this level of play and sportsmanship is what NYS desires in their leagues. I have felt all along that if NYS did the right thing, I would gladly document that here. NYS had a very easy job, in my eyes: even without video evidence, you have about 20 or so parents all saying they saw Sydney get picked up and thrown to the floor. Those same parents can also report that the coach was pointing and laughing at an injured player. Throw out everything else, all the videos proving biased officiating, the retaliatory nature of his players actions, throw all that out and you still have a coach doing the most irresponsible things, things worthy of punishment, and per NYS rules, REQUIRING punishment. But, that's just not going to happen, apparently, since, as we've seen, this coach has an "in" with NYS. So, NYS, congratulations; you've just created a never-ending record of your actions. The Internet has a long, long memory.

UPDATE (5/31/14): On the NYS Yelp page (http://www.yelp.com/biz/national-youth-sports-glendale), the owner, Shawn, stated quite clearly:

Since the opposing team in question still has a remaining game, I have made arrangements to personally observe the game as to not dispel any claims that come to our attention.

He later also said this:

I have expressed that I will be at the team in questions next game to see any intentional actions meant to injure another player.

So, here's a good question: how is this possible when he was there for the tipoff of my game (at 63rd Ave and Union Hills) and stayed for the first couple minutes, but the other team, the Cyclones, were playing at the same time at 28th St and Cactus? Even taking the freeway the entire way, that's a good 15-minutes of driving, not including time to park, I don't see how he caught any more than the last couple minutes of that game.

UPDATE (6/22/14): Yesterday saw our first game with i9 Sports, and I have to say: I rather liked it. The single 16-year-old referee did a more accurate, better job running the game than two refs with NYS ever did. There were league officials on hand, making sure that parents, coaches and referees were "in check". The game was inside a Mountainside Fitness basketball court, so the facility was much better than all but one that we played at with NYS (our last game, the playoff game, there weren't even free-throw lines or lanes on the floor). I highly recommend them, especially as an introductory league!


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