Catching Up… and Catching Huffman In The Act

Once in a while, usually when I’m perusing my Facebook account, I’ll realise that I haven’t put anything on my blog for… hmm… seemingly forever.  Given my life is hectic enough between hospital work, the occasional shift via nursing agency, and home life, let alone the jumping back into school to finish a BSN to MSN to Nurse Practitioner track, the vast amounts of time left open to me make me wonder how some bloggers find the time to blog every day.

But occasionally, I catch up with things, and hopefully someone out there in the vast expanse of the Internet universe will someday read and chuckle… somewhat like the hopes that NASA have of some intelligent life form somewhere in the universe finding the gold record on the Voyager (or whichever spacecraft houses it), playing it on some cosmic phonograph, and getting a chuckle that we human putzes had the foresight to not send a CD.  Maybe the next spacecraft will include an iPod with an MP3 recorded by President Obama.

But not every blog entry by every blogger can be either funny or can appeal to a mass, worldwide audience.  And so it is with this one.  Specifically, I’m going to spout off for a bit about something that I’ve seen as an affront to our local children, particularly those who play in the Scottdale (PA) Soccer Club.

All this has to do with one Duane Huffman, who (until now) has been the president of the Scottdale Soccer Club (or SSC as I’ll refer to it).  My daughter has been a member for the past couple of years, and in that time, my wife and I, and many parents (at least those who chose not to turn a blind eye) have seen and have been disappointed in the actions and performance (or lack thereof) of Huffman as president, U-10 division coach, and referee coordinator.

Though I could write a novelette about the missteps, miscommunications, outright head-turning on problems and arisen issues under Huffman’s tenure that would give Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors a run for its money, I will call specific attention to why I and I believe many other parents were shocked and disgusted with the end-of-season tournament on Saturday, May 30, specifically the U-10 division (in which my daughter participated).

The first problem we noted was that the referees (U-13 or older players) were calling large numbers of penalties in each of the games I witnessed, noting that they were all “offside” penalties.  The problem with this is that all season long in the U-10 division, we had not seen any offside penalties called.  In conversations, including one with my daughter’s very adept and competent coach (whom I applaud for his and his wife’s efforts throughout the season), I discovered that the U-10 teams weren’t even being taught this penalty and the skills to avoid it, as this was more of a U-13 division lesson.  For the referees to call this penalty wasn’t fair to the players, who were visibly confused, obviously wondering why the game was being stopped and what they had done wrong.  Yet Huffman, who also coordinated the referees, and coaches a U-10 team, clearly knew this was happening and obviously condoned it.

I won’t dwell too much on the skills (or lack thereof) of the referees chosen for these tournament games, except to note one of whom called as “no goal” a ball that clearly went across the goal line, hitting the back of the net in the process of it falling to the ground before the goalie tapped the ball back into the field.  Each game in the tournament was to have two referees, and they all did – except one, which was my daughter’s team’s last game which (I contend not coincidentally) was against Huffman’s team which would have determined who would have come in second place in the tournament.  This was the only game in which only one referee was on the field.  I charge that this was a deliberate act of unsportsmanlike conduct at the least, and outright cheating at the worst, on Huffman’s part that his team’s last game would be shorted a referee, which could well have determined the outcome of the game… which to some degree, it did, as the sole referee made clearly “questionable” calls and missed specific play action that served to favor Huffman’s team.  Even if the shorting of a referee would have been due to one having to leave early, I doubt that anyone, parents, players, or coaches (except for Huffman obviously) would have objected if the game was postponed for 15 minutes to allow the other ongoing game to finish, so that each of the remaining two games could play with the same number of referees that the earlier-played games had had.

The final insult took place at the award ceremony.  In every past season, every team got something, whether it was a trophy or a medal, depending on their finishing rank during tournament play.  Before the ceremony, our team’s coach was told that they would be receiving nothing, since they didn’t win first or second place.  Our children were very upset – my daughter was to the point of tears.  Though I didn’t initially want to confront Huffman with the problems we’d seen and heard of during tournament play, this last insult to our children was simply too much and I confronted him about this.  I only hope that the number of parents who overheard our discussion are just as disgusted as I am with Huffman’s outright lie that it was supposedly the trophy maker’s fault that there were no medals and that he would “try” to get them and distribute them to the teams.

There are several problems with Huffman’s statement.  First, I personally checked with the trophy maker (my wife and I had a good working relationship with him from our own orders in years past for an exotic car club) and confirmed that while medals were ordered, they were for the younger division’s tournament, for such achievements as “longest kick”, “fastest runner”, etc. Nothing else except 1st and 2nd place trophies was ordered for the U-10 and U-13 divisions.  Second, Huffman had all season to order these awards and ensure their delivery; there is no excuse for not having ordered medals in the first place, or for blaming the trophy maker for something that was obviously not the trophy maker’s fault.  Third, even if we should believe Huffman’s claim that he would “try” to get them and distribute them to the teams, he made no mention of this during the awards ceremony.  No parent at that ceremony could claim that Huffman said “I’m sorry your kids aren’t getting medals, I’ll try to get them out to you later” – because he made no public apology, no public claim that there was an ordering error, and no offer to rectify the situation.  He simply awarded his own team second place, and Juan Rodriguez’s team first place.

Each parent pays $45.00 per child per season for the children to participate.  A pure estimate based on the number of divisions, teams, and participants, would add up to approximately $8,000 in revenue this season alone.  With all this, and the fundraising that took place earlier in the season, did the SSC not have enough money to buy medallions (even plastic ones) for the other teams in the tournament?  Given that coaches and others volunteer unpaid (and most likely pay for some things out of their own pockets), the photographer gets paid by the orders for which families pay, that the grass was barely cut this season, and that Fox’s Pizza (who supplies the end-of-season pizza party) probably supplies the food at less than retail (or they should, given that they get free advertising for their efforts), I think that parents would do well to wonder where the rest of the money goes, and exactly why our children needed to be left with the feeling that if they didn’t win first or second place, their efforts didn’t matter.  Huffman’s flippant ignorance this effort and his arrogance at not even apologizing to parents, is totally inexcusable.  His actions not only angered parents and coaches, but worst yet, confused and disappointed our children, many of whom only wanted to go out there and play, have fun, and be acknowledged for their efforts.

The whole purpose of the SSC, the overarching reason parents enroll their children in the program, is not simply to get kids out and exercising, it’s not to teach them how to just win games so they can be travelling team stars, it’s not even just to teach them the game.  They should be learning teamwork, how to play fairly, consistently, and by the rules, and how to win with humility and how to lose with grace.  All these aspects are what our children need to succeed in live, and officers and volunteers should recuse themselves from participation in the club if they don’t believe in these principles and/or if they don’t want to teach and model these ideals.

We enrolled our child in the Outward basketball league that was sponsored over the winter by a local church, Pennsville Baptist; and the difference between the Christian-centeredness in that program and the secular-centeredness of the SSC aside, there was much more of the “learn the game, play fair, winning isn’t everything” attitude in the Outward program than I’d seen in several seasons at SSC.

Some coach or volunteer may condemn my comments and rush to Huffman’s side in a futile attempt to defend what are clearly indefensible actions, and may well attempt to cloud the issues by whining “why, then, don’t you volunteer”.  However, the issues here have less to do with who has and hasn’t volunteered, and much more to do with “who knows who.” Last fall, I emailed Huffman to volunteer my talents to the woefully inadequate club website.  I never heard a reply – no phone call, no email, no personal contact at a practice or a game saying “hey, thanks for volunteering to work on the website – here’s the info you’ll need.”   And notwithstanding the past and ongoing issues, I’ll still state publicly my offer to volunteer my talents to the club’s website so that parents and visitors can actually use the site for its intended purposes, and not as a laughing-stock of old, outdated information that has little relevance to the current season.

I think the next president of the SSC should be someone who not only knows the game, but has actual business sense, someone who has a passion for our children and their efforts, someone who is committed to proper fiscal management and the principles of consistent fair play and education of our children.  There should also be an independent audit conducted of the Scottdale Soccer Club’s books (if one hasn’t been done already) and for an open and public review of such an audit, so that parents who put out their hard-earned money can see where their collective funds are going.  And finally, the SSC volunteers shouldn’t take my comments as an affront of their appreciated efforts on behalf of the club, to not attempt to rally behind a failed president who (thank God) has stated his intention to step down as of the end of this season — which, when I heard that news, made me feel like breaking open my mutual fund piggy bank, and petitioning the mayor of Scottdale to allow me to pay for a parade to celebrate, with the Southmoreland marching band walking down the street playing “Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead”.

The volunteers, coaches, and officers of the SSC should commit themselves anew to the overarching principles for which the SSC should be standing; as it is all about and for our children, not about adult politics.