The rumors spreading through Roseville Area High School this spring were that parent complaints pushed the boys' hockey coach to quit and the activities director to take a leave of absence.
Ally McElroy, a Roseville student who played volleyball and golf, was fed up. She delivered a five-minute statement at a school board meeting May 22, saying that AD Scott Allen "helped us grow into the young adults we are. No one deserves this treatment.'' An overflowing crowd applauded.
"Personally, I feel like parents should stay out of it," McElroy said after the meeting. "Kids are in high school, and they should be growing up and making their own calls."
The Roseville situation, which included claims of bullying by former coach Jeff Pauletti and by parents, revealed publicly a growing conflict in youth sports between athletic officials and parents. Many student-athletes say they have had enough.
"Me and [my] teammates just want to yell at parents to grow up," McElroy said.
Steve Perdue, author of the book "Parental Ego and the High School and Youth Athlete," worries that intrusion by parents is an epidemic that is ruining the experience for kids.
"My fear is that this will run some kids off," said Perdue, a parent of two athletes and former coach of 30 years who is pursuing a master's in sports psychology. "Not because of their own personal experience, but because their parents' behavior is out of control.
"Parents need ... to really look at what is best for the kids. Some actions are not helping kids, it's quite the opposite."
Parents on the sidelines often react to their children's high school achievements and setbacks as their own.
In one instance last month, the Eastview High School's boys' lacrosse team celebrated on the field with the state championship trophy they had just won, and some Apple Valley parents in the crowd held nothing back.
"We did it, we did it,'' one mother said. "Six years of my life, finally worth it!"
Patiently waiting for their softball coach to wrap up his postgame duties late in the season, two Maple Grove seniors gathered their thoughts. The two, who were not on the starting lineup, were acutely aware that the next game would be played on senior day and each hoped it meant they would see their names in the lineup. Instead of their parents stepping in, they approached coach Jim Koltes on their own.
Koltes, who told the players that they would get their shot, says he's worked hard to achieve such order in his program. It wasn't always easy, he said. But with more of his players taking responsibility for addressing discontent, the environment has improved. Parent opinions remain mostly at home, he said.
"Everyone thinks their kid is the best," Maple Grove softball player Mandi Mauch said. "Sometimes you hear those parents screaming on the sidelines, not just at the coach, but at their kids. How can you even go home with them when they're screaming at you 24/7?"
Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson knows he can't control what outside coaching his players receive from their parents, but he can control how parents perceive the purpose of high school sports.
"Part of learning is when something is not going the way you want it to, take it upon yourself to have a conversation," Anderson said. "As adults, the toughest thing to do is confront or bring a concern to people that have control over a situation."
When a parent steps in, it can create a divide. Totino-Grace baseball players Derek Lordermeier, Sam Opat and Ben Peterson described the effects of when a teammate's parent complained to a coach about their son's playing time.
The team tried to ignore it, but the problem didn't go away. One risk is that athletes become embarrassed.
"They get down on themselves and sometimes they affect the team," Opat said.
The trio admitted there is only so much encouragement teammates can provide, and then team chemistry is tested.
"I think if [the player] has a problem with playing time, he should go to the coach himself ... instead of the parent," Peterson said.
Lordermeier, who also is a varsity hockey player, said winning sometimes requires sacrifices.
"Varsity sports is a higher level," he said. "It's not about fair playing time. You're there to win."
In Roseville, five of Pauletti's former hockey players agreed that talent expectations for varsity sports sometimes precludes complete fairness. Many student-athletes say it's difficult for parents to understand the inner workings of a team.
"All of us here did play at the A-level. ... We played at the varsity level," said Jim Betz a 2009 Roseville graduate. "And if we weren't looking to get pushed and have that competitiveness, we would have played somewhere else where we could have fair play and joke around on the ice."
Memories can linger
Parental involvement continues to haunt Phil Weldele.
As a 15-year-old sophomore at Osakis High School, he told his mother that he had lost his desire to play basketball and would not be going out for the team next season.
Then she revealed a secret to her son. During the season, Weldele's father had questioned the coach about his son dressing for varsity games. It was a short exchange and solved nothing. The coach retaliated by keeping Weldele on junior varsity. It cost Weldele his love for the sport.
Thirty years later, Weldele still speaks of this incident with remorse.
"I was partially a little stunned," Weldele said. "I didn't think my parents would do something like that. It does [stick with you]."
Weldele overcame the letdown to eventually become a high school coach. It didn't take long until he, too, was questioned in the same way that his dad had questioned his coach. More than once, he said, parents tried to get what they wanted and all it did was take away from the player's experience.
Jason Gonzalez • 612-673-4494