Shedding pounds, not standards

Paul Jacob

11/14/2004 12:00:00 AM - Paul Jacob

There's nothing wrong with questioning the standards that are set for any endeavor, for any area of human activity whatsoever ? especially when it concerns our kids. Rules can, do and must change to meet changing circumstances. Of course.

But too often I hear common-sense standards thrown out simply because someone fails to meet the standard. Why? The resultant pain from failure can be far too great for children to bear. (Or most adults, I fear.) And as each failure threatens to destroy the child's sense of self esteem, even more remedial public school classes become required in that all-important subject. All of which leads to one question: What should the village do about it? (I think my taxes are going up again.)

So: toss aside the standards!

You've probably heard about the high schools that no longer award a valedictorian, the student with the top grade-point average, for fear of upsetting the runners-up and instilling that ugly atmosphere from years past, known as "a competitive environment."

My five-year old plays soccer at the community center. Her older sister played basketball there. Their leagues don't keep score. I understand. It's not such a bad idea, since almost anything that keeps parents from living vicariously through their kids and getting carried away with winning at all costs looks positive.

But my kids have always made me keep score anyway. "It's no fun if we don't even know what the score is," I'm told, or "They keep score on TV, Dad."

And it isn't just me, either. I see the other parents also mumbling the score under their breath so as not to forget . . . and risk disappointing their oh-so-fragile youngster.

The idea that kids need challenges, need standards to meet and exceed, that competition is not always a bad thing, well, who thinks like that anymore?

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, a youth football league run by the Prince George's County Boys & Girls Club in Maryland does still stand for standards. The league not only has age standards, but also weight requirements.

Post Reporter Hamil R. Harris puts these weight restrictions on trial. There are complaints. Kids who don't meet the weight and age requirements cannot play in a given league and must move up to a team in a "bigger" league.

This is done largely to avoid having really BIG kids playing against really small kids. An 11-year-old who's 6 feet tall and 200 pounds is different from the 11-year-old that is 4 foot 6 inches and 89 pounds. Someone could get hurt.

But what about hurt feelings from failing to make the weight classification? Or what might kids do in order to make the team? We are supposed to be very concerned.

"Higher rates of childhood obesity are making it difficult for kids to qualify for teams," Harris writes, "and are prompting them to try what can be unhealthy and dangerous weight-loss regimens."

You'd think some enterprising lawyer would have already sniffed out this appetizing legal smorgasbord, but no lawsuits yet. For now we'll have to settle for a journalistic brouhaha.

Of course, the Prince George's County Boys & Girls Club football league is not the only football league to choose from. There are a number of such leagues. Some classify players by both age and weight, some just by age. Pop Warner football leagues have less stringent weight standards. The Mid-Atlantic Unlimited Youth Football League uses "suggested" minimum weights, not maximums.

Unsurprisingly, parents do avail themselves of those alternatives. But still, leagues that practice and play farther away add to driving time ? and there is still no government program to deal with that problem.

So some kids are still turned away because they don't make the weight. And thus, the kids suffer. Harris provided some examples of what has happened to youngsters when they've clashed with the standards, failing to meet the weight standard to play on the team they wanted to play on.

"It crushed him," said Charles Rivers of his son Charlie, who failed by one pound to make the team that went to the Metropolitan Area Youth Super Bowl Tournament.

Now, Charlie has sort of rebounded. As folks are known to do. He's the star running back for Largo High School's Lions. But the horrible life forced on star running back Rivers, now reportedly hounded by major college scouts, isn't the only damage caused by these weight classifications.

Andrew Dillon's struggle is another. He couldn't play on the team close to home unless he lost some weight. Well, his Mom put it bluntly: "We cut out all junk food and snacking and sodas." Andrew ended up losing the weight and making the team.

Said Andrew: "I was happy. I was finally on the team."

So, there you have it: Requiring kids to meet standards causes very real trauma. Trauma that may indeed alter these kids forever.

Life is full of pain and failure. And yet, some silly people go on living nonetheless, facing challenges, handling disappointment, exceeding expectations, only to find success and happiness. Maybe there is a lesson here, somewhere . . . if only our village can find it.