This letter responds to the letters written both in support and against the Sisters High School girls’ basketball coaches. Rather than delve into case-specific details of the complaints against those coaches, I would urge the community to step back and consider the purpose of high school athletics. The real intent of athletics is to teach our kids about teamwork, leadership, persistence, goal-setting, and how to treat one-another in a group setting. These are the values that help players win throughout their personal and professional lives.

Bullying is an impediment to these values and is a big problem in schools. Bullying is not something unique to kids. They learn it from adults. That’s why it is so important that teachers and coaches model appropriate behavior. The Sisters High School Coaches’ Manual contains several passages imploring coaches to instruct in a positive and energizing way to advance the athletes’ physical, emotional, and moral development. In other words, coach for character. The coaches manual also states “Our coaches believe that their work is an extension of the classroom.”  Do we expect our schools to practice what they preach? If so, then we should challenge any coach that models bullying as a coaching style.

A child should not have to endure the threat of public humiliation and intimidation to participate in a publicly-funded school program. The purpose of school sports is to teach kids skills they can use in the classroom, in their careers, and in personal relationships throughout their lives. If a coach’s behavior would not be tolerated in the classroom, workplace, or family environment, then it should not be tolerated on the field, on the court or in the locker room. Otherwise we are teaching our kids a double standard.

For decades we have given coaches license to express behavior that would not be accepted in any classroom, workplace, or home. That license has been revoked at the college and professional levels, where coaches are now expected to treat their players with respect. So, why hasn’t Sisters High School changed its ways? Why does it not only tolerate, but encourage, behavior by coaches that has been universally rejected as unfit for college and professional locker rooms since the turn of the last century?

Certainly, not all of the athletes have experienced bullying. That is, of course, the nature of bullying. Bullies often isolate individuals within a group for a variety of reasons. Those not being bullied are often just glad that they’re not being picked on. Just because one child is not bullied, doesn’t mean that child is unaffected. In fact, the kids who are spectators to such bullying are prone to model that behavior and become bullies themselves.

There are times when parents need to advocate for children because kids are not always equipped to handle issues like bullying and abuse, especially if the source comes from another adult. Parents can model support and compassion by standing up to inappropriate behavior.

Whether or not a student athlete has been bullied or abused is not something that should be decided by which side generates the most media attention or by how many supporters show up to defend a coach at school board meetings. Forcing kids, the victims of any abuse, to defend themselves in the media only perpetuates the

problem.

Finally, let’s put this topic into perspective and put our kids first. In today’s climate, we should be demanding that our sports programs be an extension of the classroom. Coaches should model appropriate behavior so that our kids can learn what it’s like to be a good human being.