Forty years later, maybe the classic rock song lyric needs slight revision: Hey, keyboard warrior, leave those kids alone.

Steer clear of the referees, coaches and administrators, too, while you’re at it. Troll and taunt the reporters if you must, but at least remind yourself that we’re getting paid the least per hour and have the shortest life expectancy on that list of adults, and go easy on us.

Kalle Oakes, Sports Columnist

Youth sports should be that last bastion, the safe harbor where we can play or watch and enjoy without falling into the trap of believing it’s life-and-death and making fools of ourselves.

Of course, it rarely if ever works out that way. Bad enough when we berate officials and cut down coaches, ultimately leading to a shortage of qualified candidates in both thankless avocations.

The participants absolutely should be off limits. In a society that is obsessed with its feelings in the moment and outraged by everything, however, we’ve encroached on that boundary, as well.

A weekend Twitter exchange cast a contentious footnote and an unfortunate pall over what should have been a happy occasion: Bryce Lausier of Hampden Academy being named Maine’s Mr. Basketball.

Like the Fitzpatrick Trophy in football, it’s an award that inspires passion and no shortage of opinions from all corners of the state. People’s predisposition is to support the players they’ve seen in person and cry foul, perhaps even grumble about a geographical bias against their area, when their favorite doesn’t win.

It’s part of the excitement we all unabashedly experience from watching vibrant young people represent our extended communities, and most of us are guilty on some level. Still, there’s a way to express those feelings, or even offer suggestions about how to improve the process, without attacking the participants.

I won’t single him out by name, because the most recent posts under his presumed handle Sunday adopted a classier, more sportsmanlike stance. But a former winner of the award, commenting under the umbrella of his AAU program, initially lit the fuse with an immediate declaration that “the committee … got it completely wrong.”

His assertion, almost surely influenced by personal connections, was that the three state championships won by another finalist, Logan Bagshaw of Greely, should have trumped Lausier’s one this winter in the final analysis for what is considered a career award.

It was an ill-timed sentiment best ignored, but Lausier behaved as would any self-respecting teenager when seeing his name or accomplishments taken in vain: With a retweet and a snappy reply.

Not a fan of catch-all words such as every and always, but the adult is generally in the wrong when this happens. Yelling at any player in the middle of a game or calling them out in the public square with anything but praise and plaudits is the incorrect move every time.

All it accomplished here was to perpetuate the smarmy stereotype of travel-ball coaches, which isn’t fair, and dampen the spirits of an all-state banquet that exists to celebrate across-the-board excellence.

Happy to report nobody that I know of rained on the parade of Oxford Hills’ Julia Colby after she accepted Miss Basketball honors.

Yes, this is all a slippery slope, and one upon which I’ve tried to keep my balance through an entire adult life as a journalist. There’s always a fine line between staying true to the story and not calling out any player in print for a crucial error or missed shot. It requires delicate balance not to wax effusively about a star performer without ignoring the team that helped him or her get to that point.

Those are all realities of a job, and the people I know in this business care about it deeply and sweat those details daily. What neither we nor anyone else should do is attack a kid, either directly or indirectly, by casting his accomplishments in a negative light next to another.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t pile bad judgment upon bad judgment by continuing the fight when the adolescent does the human thing and fires back with a quick-hitter and a line of emojis.

Again, I’ll give the voice in the wilderness his benefit of the doubt for a day or two of reflection and recognizing that his words were an epic public relations fail. Sorry would have been a better follow-up, but sincere congratulations were a start.

We’d all do well to embrace this as a teachable moment. After all the time, money and emotions are spent, these children’s games we enjoy are exactly that: Only games, being played by young people who are as impressionable and fragile as we forget we once were.

It’s worth noting that a little flare-up on the web over a relatively meaningless trophy pales by comparison to the misdeeds of the idiot youth hockey coach in Massachusetts who raced onto the ice and tried to cold-cock an official this weekend. Also far more egregious will be the guaranteed, behind-the-scenes attempts to railroad fine coaches into resignation in Maine and everywhere else now that the winter season is pretty much over.

We all need to do better and get a grip. These activities are supposed to be an escape from the foolishness pervasive in a messed-up world and a crazy, 24-hour news cycle, not an addition to the cesspool.

Log off. Count to 10. No matter what your role in a younger athlete’s life, your time in that spotlight has come and gone. Let them have theirs without poisoning the environment.

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.


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