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Fargo-area youth sports groups say rules keep parents in check: None has required class, as Winnipeg mandated after fight in Fargo

WEST FARGO — A Canadian youth hockey league decided this week to require parents of players to take a sportsmanship class after a fight at a tournament here Sunday between parents and coaches of two teams from Winnipeg.  

The teams linked to the fight, which didn’t result in criminal charges, were for 7- and 8-year-olds.

While local youth leagues don’t require a similar sportsmanship seminar for parents, many have policies in place to keep parents’ sideline behavior in check. Local league officials say enforcing those regulations is effective in handling any unruly parents.

West Fargo Hockey Association President Scott Krank said parents’ bad behavior has always been a problem in youth sports, but teams are paying more attention to it.

The West Fargo Hockey Association — which hosted the tournament at which adults affiliated with the Canadian teams resorted to fisticuffs — requires parents to sign a code of conduct at the beginning of the season, which lays out expectations for parent participation.

The association’s compliance committee investigates any parent code of conduct issues — such as criticizing an official, verbally abusing players or interfering with coaches.

In severe cases, Krank said parents who violate the code of conduct can be asked not to attend practice or games.

“Our first priority is to keep the association a safe and fun place for these kids to learn and develop their hockey skills,” Krank said.

He said parental incidents don’t happen often, but it helps to have protocols in place to hold them accountable.

Dennis Bushy of the Moorhead (Minn.) Youth Hockey Association agreed strong rules are important to urge parents to be on their best behavior.

“You need a real good policy in place and a hockey director that is going to be on top of it and enforce it,” said Bushy, who has been involved with the league for nearly 40 years.

When parents get out of hand, a talking to from the coach or hockey director usually solves the problem, he said.

“They sure don’t want to jeopardize their son or daughter from playing hockey,” he said.

Youth leagues have to be willing enforce the rules or conduct codes are meaningless, said Noel Nyborg, executive director of the Tri-City Storm soccer club.

“If you don’t enforce them or hold people to the standard that you have set it, doesn’t make a difference what you say,” Nyborg said.

Parental misconduct can jeopardize a player’s practice or game time and even get them released from the club.

Conduct issues are not taken lightly, he said. A parent might have to write a letter of apology to the coach or team to get back into the league’s good graces.

The director of the youth hockey league in Winnipeg said required sportsmanship training was prompted by several incidents of “parental misbehavior,” the latest of which being the incident in West Fargo last week.

Director Monte Miller said league officials had been in discussions to implement the program, called Respect in Sport, for almost a year. He said the program has successfully reduced parental incidents in other Canadian leagues.

Starting next season, one parent or guardian for each player must complete the training.

“We know it’s not going to stop everything that goes on in the rinks,” he said.

But more education and awareness among parents should improve the atmosphere, he said.

“If there’s 15 parents and the parents have all taken the program, there’s 14 parents that are empowered to tell a parent they’re out of line,” he said. “And say, ‘Hey, maybe just calm down, go for a walk and get a cup of coffee.’ “

A few years ago with a now-defunct Moorhead youth club, Nyborg said they tried to require a parental education program.

The Minnesota Youth Soccer Association promotes the Parents and Coaches Together program developed at the University of Notre Dame to help foster a positive environment in youth soccer.

While the program is gaining traction nationwide, Nyborg said it was hard to enforce here.

“You can’t get enough people to do it,” he said.

Even though the club doesn’t address parent sportsmanship on a major scale through the PACT program, he said it works to get in front of the issues as much as possible.

“Education is critical to parents doing the right the thing,” he said.

Officials from each of the leagues expressed concern about parents’ hyper-competitiveness and poor sportsmanship, especially in the recreational leagues for younger children.

Bushy said parents are better than they used to be, but there are a few “wing nuts” in every competitive youth sport.

“You can’t be perfect with some of these parents,” he said.

Nyborg said he still sees unsporting behavior from parents too often, but parents who recognize other parents’ conduct and report it are a big help.

“People are starting to see how abusive they can be to certain kids and other parents and how it affects their children and the atmosphere,” he said.

Nyborg said sideline behavior shouldn’t be abusive toward officials, coaches or players.

“Cheer on your children, cheer on your team, and be a role model,” he said.