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Kids, God Help 'Em, Learn By Hanging Around Grown-Ups.

By Tom Danehy

AUGUST 10, 1998:  I WOULD LIKE to think of myself as a Jack of All Trades, but in truth, I'm only like a seven or an eight. Besides being a parent, my next favorite activity is coaching. There's nothing to match the exhilaration one gets from showing a kid how to do something and then watching him or her do it. It's very simple, very basic, and wonderfully fulfilling.

Plus, you get to be around kids and get to witness their joy, their innocence, their...oh, I don't know, stupidity, I guess. It's just so easy to fool a kid into thinking you know what you're doing. I'm writing a book on the subject. I've already got the title: How To Be A Winning Basketball Coach Using Trickery, Humor, and Almost No Discernible Coaching Technique.

Being around kids, I'm happy to report that, for the most part, they're still kids. This is amazing considering that some of their parents are, also for the most part, still kids (in that self-absorbed, irresponsible, acquistive adult way.)

I deal with this in the other book I'm writing, called Parents Need To Be Shot (Or At Least Slapped Around). I see kids today who live in conditions which would have been unthinkable one or two generations ago, and much of the trouble can be traced to parents who put themselves ahead of their kids.

But that's a subject I'll deal with at a later time. Right now, we're on the kids. Kids will always be impressionable. They'll try things on for size, and if they don't get any negative feedback, they may absorb them into their persona.

This is a common thing in sports and, until recently, was generally positive. You'd see a sports star make a move on TV, and you'd go to the playground and try to incorporate it into your repertoire. But just as easily as the positive stuff had an effect, now too does the negative.

The good news about this is that most kids are receptive to discipline. Set boundaries for kids and 99 percent of them will adjust. It's the one percent that doesn't that needs attention. All too often, that one percent is composed of athletes with, in the words of Crash Davis, "a million-dollar arm and a 10-cent head."

Good athletes get spoiled for a lot of reasons, by a lot of people. Teachers let them slide, coaches overlook transgressions, girls give them too much credit, and parents live vicariously through them. It's all rather pathetic. All you have to do is let a kid know what's acceptable and what isn't and then stick to it. If he wants to play badly enough, he'll straighten up. And if he doesn't want to go along, sleep peacefully knowing you did the right thing when you bounced his sorry butt out the door.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the coaching fraternity will do this, but I sincerely believe that most will. That's why I'm hoping the latest craze will fizzle out before it becomes part of the athletic scenery.

No longer is it good enough to work hard, be a productive team player and maybe even dream about getting a scholarship. No, today you're not an athlete unless you transfer to another school. Or, at the very least, think and talk about transferring a lot.

Arizona Interscholastic Association rules are relatively strict on transferring. Generally, a kid has to live with a parent in the school's boundary area. But with private schools, desegregation orders, and magnet programs, there are loopholes aplenty.

Just this week, I've spoken to a girl who left Palo Verde for Rincon, another girl who has been All-City the last two years at Cholla who is talking about going to Santa Rita, a boy who left Tucson High for Sahuaro, and another Tucson High boy who wants into Salpointe so badly he's thinking of turning Catholic!

This nonsense has been going on in Phoenix for quite awhile, and I guess it was inevitable that it would find its way down here. Last year Phoenix St. Mary's had kids transferring in from all over the country in hopes of assembling a championship squad. Alas, there was an ego explosion at the end of the year. St. Mary's staggered into the playoffs on a losing streak, and was upset by Tucson Pueblo in the first round.

This isn't all good news, since Pueblo, which should be one of the top-rated teams in Arizona this year, consists of a forward who bailed out on Tucson High and a point guard who ditched Santa Rita. And late last semester, it was announced that two All-State girl players, one 6-foot-3 and the other 6-foot-7, from two different schools, were both "transferring" over to traditional powerhouse Chandler for their senior years. Both had come from teams which reached the state playoffs last year. One girl said she was "dissatisfied" with her team, which went 20-5 last season.

Whatever happened to loyalty? What happened to playing for your home school? What happened to parents having enough integrity not to shop their kids around like meat? It's disgusting and it needs to stop.

As I said, sometimes kids learn things from adults. Maybe we should all set better examples. This came to mind when I learned late last week that Curly Santa Cruz is still without a football coaching position. Born and raised on the southside, Curly was a star athlete, a great teacher and a spectacularly successful football coach.

When Pueblo's job opened up last year, then-athletic director Santa Cruz, feeling the urge to coach again, applied for it. Despite his being far and away the most qualified applicant, the principal hired someone else.

Curly resigned from Pueblo and was considered the clear front-runner for the vacant Tucson High job. But at the last minute, that principal, too, went with someone else. Now Curly is in limbo. At the risk of sounding trite, kids on the southside need someone as dedicated and skilled as Curly Santa Cruz. Instead, rumor has it that he might be offered an assistant's spot at Sabino, which would constitute a case of the rich getting richer.

Sabino reached the state Class 4A title game last year and is a perennial title contender. They don't need Curly, but they're smart enough to take him.

Oh yeah, Sabino should be good again this year, thanks in part to the All-State caliber quarterback who transferred over from Rincon. Can someone please say "No!"?


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