Repeating to restore slug
HOLLISTON, Mass. (AP) _ Tom Collins was caught off guard. For 22 seasons he had coached high school boys and girls. He talked tough, never gave an inch and the kids won. This year it got him fired.
Arthur Winters, whose daughter was one of the coach’s stars several years back, says the rules of the game changed and Collins didn’t realize that some parents wanted a kinder, gentler approach.
″These are parents who are basically interfering in coaching - it’s happening all over the country,″ said the 47-year-old father of three. ″When I was in high school, yelling was an everyday occurrence. Short of abusing my kids, I’m pretty liberal about what coaches should be allowed to do.″
But Winters’ philosophy is no longer the norm, said Frank Kovaleski, an assistant director at The National Federation of State High School Associations in Kansas City.
″(Collins) isn’t by himself. Not at all,″ said the former Richmond (Ind.) High School athletic director. ″Parents’ expectations are changing ... They’re telling coaches to use postive motivation.″
Some parents in Holliston said Collins, who started coaching girls sports 12 years ago, was just not polite enough.
″I have no problem with the coach being tough. Toughness is not the issue. The kids have to respect the coach,″ said Michael Raftus, whose two daughters have played for Collins. ″The humiliation, downgrading, insulting - physically, mentally, psychologically - should not go on.″
It all came to a head in a wrenching meeting last month when the school committee voted not to reappoint Collins, who also teaches junior high social studies. The teaching position is unaffected by the vote.
Plenty of moms and dads recalled their daughters’ improved self-esteem and confidence under Collins. They discounted the moaning their daughters sometimes did after a particularly tough practice.
Parents say the tough days were offset by the chocolates Collins brought his girls each Valentine’s Day, the Italian dinners he would take them to at Speroni’s, even when money was tight with five kids at home.
For more than two decades, he never had a complaint. Parents respected the winning record he compiled and his girls loved him. Even today former players keep up with the coach, bringing newborn babies by for a visit or offering an update on their college careers.
The high school’s superintendent, principal and athletic director all recommended Collins be kept on, but when it came to the vote the school committee apparently took the parents’ pleas into account.
Raftus said he and other parents don’t like to look like they’re ″meddling, but there comes a time when you just have to do what’s right, even if you’re not getting cooperation from proper school administrators and other people.″
The 54-year-old coach couldn’t believe it.
″I’m tough, yes, but so is the real world,″ Collins said recently, standing in the idle, dusty gym where he had sparked many a comeback. ″You’ve got to push yourself, get out there and work or you get left behind. It’s a discipline.″
″I taught the girls the same as the boys and we turned the whole program around that first season,″ said Collins, who said he hopes to land another coaching job. ″I showed them about desire and determination.″
Among the allegations discussed at meetings was a team member’s claim that Collins slapped her during a practice. The coach calls it a playful chuck on the chin and his accuser has conceded the ″tap″ was in jest. But she didn’t like it.
That’s something Collins says is hard for him to understand, and harder still to accept.
″These days you’ve got to keep your distance,″ he said. ″Don’t touch, don’t even fool around. That’s not the kind of person I am, though. When I see someone with a problem I want to console them.″
But, Collins says, it’s just not safe to do anymore. It’s a shame, he says, because that teasing closeness has always been a part of his coach-player relationships with boys and girls alike.
Sometimes he barks, but Collins says he was also the first to applaud a player with heart.
″I raised my voice. I was hard. But they always understood when I did that,″ he said. ″It was to get them to push themselves harder. Most everyone knew what I really meant and felt, but things have changed.″