Parents voice opposition at athletic commitments forum

Why should students work four days a week per academic subject, yet practice six days a week for their sports? Why can’t students get homework over vacation yet be required to attend practice?

These were questions asked on Thursday, Sept. 19 in the MLK room, when an open discussion was held for parents, students and coaches to voice their opinions on the balance of time in a student-athlete’s year. The main topic of discussion was the boys cross country team’s policy of cutting runners for missing three practices, including those during vacation. This was just a forum for thought and not a policy making event.

On one side of the room sat the coaches and administrators, including Headmaster Deborah Holman, Athletics Director Pete Rittenberg, cross country coaches Michael Glennon, Lee Eddy and Mike DeYoung, crew coach Katy Ruderman, field hockey coach Brittaney Stevens and ice hockey coach Steve Trundle. Across from them sat over twenty parents, teachers and students.

One such parent was Deborah Costolloe, the mother of junior Ollie Costolloe, who was kicked off the cross country team last year, along with a few other runners for missing practices over vacation. Costolloe, along with many of the parents from the discussion said she wanted transparency in both rules and punishments for failure to comply with the policies and also less inconsistency in policy across teams.

She suggested that all coaches post their policies online, that there be schoolwide guidelines for these policies and that each player be given a few free passes for missing practice. Costolloe, who said she appreciates both the work ethic and the lessons the coaches teach the athletes, also suggested that there be no mandatory practice over vacation, as she referred to it as “family time.”

“There has to be recognition that family time is also of significant value,” Costolloe said. “We are their teachers, too. We’re teaching our children values. People need downtime; it is physically healthy and psychologically healthy, and its healthy as a family to take time off.”

Another parent at the meeting said that if adults need vacations, then children do, too. They argued that vacation is a time for family bonding, and that time-consuming athletics disconnect family members who would normally use the time to be together.

Costolloe said the problem is not just the policy.

“The problem is that this flies at BHS,” she said. “Brookline is not a family friendly/student friendly town if it allows this kind of destructive and demanding coach prerogative.”

Costolloe said it is ironic that cross country, one of the few sports you can practice anywhere, unlike crew or diving, is the team with the strictest policy. She said members of the cross country team were kicked off the team last year for visiting colleges that invited them as potential recruits.

Cross country coach Mike Glennon said in an email, “I have no interest in speaking to the Sagamore.”

Sophomore Ryan Cullinane, a runner on the cross country team, also believes that this policy is too severe.

“I feel like it can be strict at times,” Cullinane said. “I understand when people skip practice, that our coach doesn’t like that, but I feel like he’s too harsh on people who can’t really get out of family commitments. He doesn’t give them a chance.”

Junior Jalen Chow, a rower on the crew team, agrees that students should not be kicked off the team for missing practices during vacation. He said that there will be natural consequences for skipping practice, such as the loss of fitness, and therefore the athlete will be less competitive.

“I think that you should be able to skip practice over vacations,” Chow said. “If you need to skip for family vacations or college visits, that’s more important, but I think you should be prepared to deal with the consequences if you are going to skip.”

Costolloe said that athletic attendance policies actually teach students negative lessons.

“Several students have skipped class over sports because the consequence isn’t so great,” said Costolloe. “Children feel a pressure to lie or to forge fake doctor notes.”

Suzanne Steele, the parent of both sophomore Robert Steele, a member of the crew team, and freshman William Steele, a member of the cross country team, said that coaches have inconsistent policies.

“I had an experience this past weekend,” said Steele. “I sent [rowing coach] Katy an email saying Robert had to miss Friday and Saturday, and I sent coach Glennon the same email. Katy says, ‘Make sure you work out over the weekend,’ while he says, ‘That’s two out of three, [referring to the three-strike system].’”

The difference in the coach-athlete relationship also shows in how motivated the athletes are, said Steele.

“I see a difference in my sons,” she says. “Robert is very motivated, out of respect for his coach. I don’t see that in William. He has a fear of being kicked off the team.”

Varsity field hockey coach Brittaney Stevens also stressed the importance of strong and honest athlete-coach relationships.

“I do think it’s a problem if players feel that they can’t have an honest, respectful discussion with their coach,” Stevens said. “That should be addressed.”

Stevens also said that the forum was productive for her and other coaches at the meeting.

“I was quite frankly very surprised by the conflict and tension,” she said. “I didn’t realize such conflict existed within the athletics program at large. It was a little difficult to sit there, not knowing that, and then starting to realize the tone of some of the perspectives that were in the room.”

Stevens said that although she empathizes with the parents, because she, too, wishes she could spend vacations with her family, the  school’s sports teams function within the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association, and that the season  is predetermined to an extent.

“We all have the same conflict [of family time versus sports] in that way and as coaches,” Stevens said. “We have social lives and families too. Some of us may also want to spend more time with family on vacations, but we function in a season that is determined for us.”

During the meeting, Holman said that the main takeaways were the need for transparency, clarity and communication. She said that the coaches need to realize the effect of the time commitment on the athletes and their families, while the parents need to realize that to remain competitive at the varsity level, rigorous practice is needed.

Rittenberg suggested that students join an intramural sport if they are not willing to commit fully to a team. He said that this is especially important in sports with cuts to the team because it would be unfair for students who make the team to not give it their all. Multiple coaches suggested that students prioritize their activities and that if athletics is not at the top of their list, then maybe varsity sports are not for them.

In an email from Peter Rowe, Brookline’s Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance, to Costolloe, Rowe said that the issue discussed in the meeting “doesn’t resonate with [him],” but rather the issue is that parents of athletes do not show enough support to their children.

“I actually think that the conversation among BHS parents on Sept. 19th should be about how to get more parents involved in their sons’ and daughters’ athletic lives,” Rowe said.

As the meeting was just a discussion, there were no official plans announced afterward.

Alex Friedman can be contacted at [email protected]