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Why didn't my senior play?

Are kids who give four years to a sports program owed playing time?

Posted: April 12, 2009 1:29 a.m.
Updated: April 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
When one gripe doesn’t carry much weight, Ed turns to another.

And another.

And another.

He mentions personality clashes with his son’s coach, and complains about odd lineups. None of his claims violates the rules.

Sifting through the muck of gripes, there is one bonafide reason for this parent’s undying anger.

Quite simply, Ed’s son didn’t play as much as his dad hoped he would during the high school student’s senior year.

Ed’s son was a recent member of the Hart High baseball team, a 2008 Hart graduate.

But a year after his son’s departure from high school, Ed still holds onto a question that so many parents can’t seem to leave behind.

The question probably rings louder for the players themselves: After all the time I put in, why didn’t I play that much as a senior?

It’s not a Hart High issue, or a Hart district issue, or a California issue.

From community to community, state to state, kids put four years into a high school sports program, and by that fourth year some see little participation in games.

The CIF-Southern Section has no participation requirement that states an athlete needs to log so many minutes in a game, match
or contest.

But some parents and their athletes feel they deserve playing time.

“I invested time and money and hard work and the rewards are not there,” Ed said.

Ed said there is a fear of approaching a coach about playing time for a child.

The fear: Keep your mouth shut or risk a reduction in playing time.

Some coaches believe there is a feeling of entitlement from players and
their parents.

“Obviously you want kids to be dedicated and put in the time and effort, but it doesn’t guarantee they play,” said Hart head baseball coach Jim Ozella. “I think people lose sight that high school baseball is designed to be competitive.”

Obviously, every sport in high school is competitive.

With that comes a set of goals.

Teaching life lessons is a goal.

But so is winning.

Although many coaches won’t talk up the winning aspect, it’s there.

Coaches are competitive, too.

So many want the best players on the field, senior or not.

The Signal recently polled varsity coaches in the Foothill League about seniors and playing time. Athletic directors and principals were also included in the poll.

Thirty responded, and here’s what they said.

Q: “Because somebody has played four years in a program, are they owed playing time?”

A: A resounding 28 responded “no.” Only one said “yes.”

Q: “Do you owe it to your kids to play every single one of them at some point during the season?”

A: Seventeen said “no,” and eight said “yes.”

“The only thing I can promise you is a chance to compete,” said Valencia head football coach Larry Muir.

Q: “Do you mind receiving feedback from parents on the amount of playing time their daughters/sons receive?”

A: Seventeen said “yes.” Eight said “no.”

A common response was, “We only talk to players.”

Ozella was one of the eight who responded “no.”

“I don’t have an issue talking with parents regarding their son’s playing time,” Ozella said. “I try and be honest with them on their son’s performance, talents, efforts, practice, other player’s talents and performances, etc. Hopefully the conversation can be fruitful with parents having a ‘common sense’ talk on their son’s talents and limitations.”

Brandon Montemayor, who was Canyon High baseball’s head coach in 2007 and 2008, would not talk to parents before or after practice and games.

The pressure from parents was said to have had an effect on his predecessor, Scott Willis.

Willis resigned after one season as head coach in 2006, though he has returned to become an assistant coach.

The last poll question was: “How is playing time determined in your program?”

Answers varied, but the most common responses were: ability/talent, hard work and practice.

One coach said he takes academics into consideration.

Casey Burrill, the head baseball coach at West Ranch, said his coaching staff discusses who will play the night before a game.

“Careful thought is put into figuring out what combinations would give the team the best chance to win the following day,” he said.

Playing time also comes down to how many players a team has at each position.

In Ed’s son’s case, he was behind a Major League Baseball first-round pick in Michael Montgomery and a junior phenom in Trevor Bauer, who should be a high school senior but completed school early and is now pitching at UCLA.

The position battle doesn’t just have its effects in baseball.

“Sometimes the type of position they play determines a lot too,” said Mary Keen, the boys and girls varsity volleyball coach at Hart. “If you only have one setter or only two middles, you basically have to play them all the time. That is why it is important to try to stack positions, if possible, so it creates a little competition among the players.”

When a talented group of underclassmen was brought up to the Hart High varsity softball team in 2007, it squeezed out senior Kaitlin Vitek.

Vitek accepted a scholarship from the University of Oregon before her senior season began, yet she recalls starting in the field “maybe five times” as a senior.

Vitek was a four-year softball player at Hart.

“(Not playing that much as a senior) was really hard because in high school I was jerked around by coaches,” Vitek said.

Vitek said she was sent up and down from the varsity to the junior varsity as a freshman. As a sophomore, she was the junior varsity team’s captain.

She thinks that when her senior year arrived, her coaches didn’t realize she was playing out of position.

Now a sophomore in college, she is in her natural position — a starting catcher for the Oregon Ducks.

Her tale may tell that sometimes coaches make mistakes.

But it’s not the end for an athlete, she said.

“You keep putting in hard work (and) it will pay off,” she said. “You can go to a (college) and walk on. For me, especially being at the college level, there are so many kids that could play at the college level. They get lost.

“If that’s your dream, don’t give up,” she said of continuing a career after high school. “There are ways to get to it. You’ve got to work harder sometimes.”

Despite a lack of playing time, kids still get a lot out of being on a team, and their four years of hard work is recognized, said Brian Stiman, who was Valencia High’s first varsity football coach and now its athletic director.

It’s not always about playing time and scholarships, he said.

“(Putting four years into a program) certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s highly respected,” Stiman said. “In fact, we gave awards to kids who played four years (on the football team).

“What’s in it for (the athletes) is they’re playing in a team sport, learning values that come with that,” Stiman said. “The biggest thing in education is collaboration. You’re learning things that will translate into life experiences down the road.

“Not to mention the friendships and camaraderie you develop. There’s more than just starting. Whether you start or not, you’re still responsible for the success of the team.”

Ed questions Ozella for a lot of things.This isn’t the first time the coach has been second-guessed, nor is Ozella the only one to get second-guessed.

It comes with the territory of being a coach at the high school level.

If Ed’s main question is “Why didn’t my son play?” he may want to consider one interesting thing about his son’s former coach.

Ozella came aboard as Hart High head baseball coach in 2000, and a couple of senior players from that particular team subsequently questioned in private the coach’s decision to play younger players.

But two years later, Ozella’s son Ryan was on the varsity team.

Ryan, then a junior, pitched 2/3 of an inning and had two at-bats during the season.

After the season, Ryan decided not to pursue baseball, as he knew his chances of playing a lot weren’t very good.

“At the end of the year, we had a little talk about what he wanted to do,” said the coach/father. “(Ryan said), ‘I don’t foresee myself pitching a lot (as a senior).”

In the end, Ed said he admires his son.

Kids can take different roads after not getting the playing time they desire.

They can forget it, be bitter, or they can use it as motivation.

As his son continues his baseball career, Ed hopes he has chosen to use it as motivation.

“He persevered through it” despite the bitterness, Ed said.

“He didn’t quit. He wasn’t a quitter.”

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