MISSOULA — Working with high school coaches is one of the perks of my job.

Some of my best friends are/were coaches.

It's almost as if a part of me never changed from high school. Locked inside this 54-year-old dad is a teenager that was always eager to please and fearful of letting the coach down.

There's still a lot of us around. Unfortunately there's also a lot more overbearing parents that generally view high school coaches, like teachers, in a different light.

Which brings me to my point:

Last month, the Missoulian ran an editorial submitted by Karissa Niehoff and Mark Beckman on behalf of the Montana High School Association. The theme was that parents have become so out of hand at sporting events that they're scaring away officials.

After thinking on it for a month, I'm ready to expand on the thought. While officials deal with irate parents a couple times a week at the most, coaches deal with dissatisfied parents much, much more often.

It's not a new problem. It's just worse now.

Back in the 1990s, one of my best friends took a rotten high school softball program in Iowa and turned it around. He devoted a good chunk of his life to helping his players and doing all the upkeep on the field and fundraising so the kids had nice uniforms — all for about a dollar an hour in pay — only to be chased away by vicious parents.

The problem has morphed into something mighty scary. Take it from me, even coaches at the University of Montana are not immune.

Unreasonable parents will go to amazing lengths to inflict grief on coaches that aren't meeting their expectations. Some old-timers will tell you there's simply no respect for authority anymore, but I'll take it a step farther:

Some of this has to do with money. Parents shell out gobs of dough so little Johnny or Jennifer gain an edge on their classmates by playing on travel teams in their formative years.

There's nothing wrong with spending money on the athletic endeavors of your kids. My wife and I did it and we'll do it for our grand kids someday.

But, repeat after me all you entitled parents: You can't buy happiness in high school athletics. You can't buy a starting job for Johnny and you can't buy more playing time for Jane.

For that matter, you can't buy a feature story on your kid in the local sports section no matter how much you think he deserves it. But I digress.

Later this week, parents will converge on places like Great Falls and Billings and Belgrade to watch their kids compete in state basketball tournaments. Then later this month, parents will send their kids to spring sports practices with high hopes for April and May.

Parents, please keep in mind coaches who have led their teams to state this week have put in an astronomical amount of time for little pay. And please remember it's hard to keep these high school coaching positions filled in Montana, especially spring sports coaching positions.

Criticizing the coach to your neighbor or, worse yet, your teenage member of the team, is poison. Even if you sincerely believe you're right and the coach is dead wrong, your negativity helps nothing. 

Coaches are human and it's high school sports, for crying out loud.

These coaches crave success as much as you do. The difference is they put in all the work. Think of it as having a second job, only much worse because that second job carries with it critics.

Parents, take my word for it, five years from now, no one is going to give a hoot about who averaged the most points on your kid's high school team. But your kid might just remember how you bad-mouthed the coach or, worse yet, confronted the coach.

My suggestion? Simply thank the coach when the season is over. These people deserve our appreciation.

Note: This column is dedicated to all the football, baseball, basketball, tennis, volleyball and soccer coaches that had such a big impact on me, my wife and my children during our high school years. You will never be forgotten.

Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@missoulian.com or bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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