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Rhode Island proposal: Youth sports oversight, or overreach?

  • Story Highlights
  • Conflicts between parents, coaches and officials all too common in youth sports
  • Rhode Island state senator wants state to create formal outlet for parents' concerns
  • Similar council exists in Waterford, Connecticut -- run by the town, not the state
  • Critic says giving parents a place for complaints opens "can of worms"
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By Kara Yates and Robyn Sidersky
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(CNN) -- An overcompetitive parent gets into an argument with a stubborn coach because he thinks his child isn't getting enough playing time -- it's a familiar scene on youth sports fields across America.

One critic of the Rhode Island plan said giving parents a outlet for petty complaints "opens up a can of worms."

Now, a Rhode Island senator wants the state to step in and create a formal outlet for the "concerns and objections" some parents have.

Democratic Sen. John Tassoni Jr. introduced a bill that would create a youth sports oversight council on the state level. The council would act as mediator in disputes between parents of youth athletes and sports officials.

In answer to critics, Tassoni said Friday that the notion the bill would mean "big brother" could begin to oversee youth sports is a misconception.

The bill cites the need for a third party to step in at times, stating that "parents lack a proper outlet to share concerns and objections about youth sports."

But the parents are the biggest problem, said Matt Rodrigues, general manager and owner of Teamworks youth sports program in Warwick, Rhode Island.

"They are crazy, especially in Rhode Island. The kids on the court are scared because the parents are yelling and screaming," Rodrigues said.

But the answer, he said, is not to create a council that "makes decisions we can deal with ourselves."

A similar council exists in Waterford, Connecticut -- run by the town, not the state.

"It kind of surprises me that [Rhode Island would] do it on such a large level like that," said Bruce Miller, president of the Waterford Youth Sports Council.

Waterford's council is made up of representatives from the town's 11 sports leagues.

Tassoni's bill states that at least four of the members of the state council would be regional youth sports representatives.

He said the council is needed because right now there is no place to go to resolve disputes.

"There's no place right now to bring a case forward and have a third party take a look at it," he said.

Under the bill, Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri would appoint seven volunteers -- approved by the state Senate and House -- to sit on a panel called the Rhode Island Youth Sports Oversight Council.

Tassoni said the seven-member council wouldn't be made up of politicians, but ex-coaches, ex-officials and ex-athletic directors.

Some adults involved in youth sports aren't happy about it.

One blogger posted concerns on the Web site of a Rhode Island newspaper, the Providence Journal.

"Hey Tassoni: What do you do, [lie] in bed and think to yourself -- 'what haven't me and my cronies either screwed up, bankrupted or embarrassed yet? Hmmmm ... haven't touched Little League yet.' Do me a favor -- and I ask this as a coach and a parent -- stay the hell away from my field!!!!" wrote the blogger.

Others think the government should "concentrate on the state."

Rodrigues of the Teamworks program said giving parents a place to do petty complaining only "opens up a can of worms."

He said the council just "sounds like another way to take power away from our programs -- they have enough [power]."

The governor has not taken a position on the legislation and will not until he reviews the bill, press secretary Amy Kempe said Friday. She added, however, that "there appears to be some vague language and constitutional issues."

The bill states that the volunteers on the council would be expected to "provide oversight and mediation" to youth sports programs in the state, as well as develop and adopt a process to review and address complaints.

In addition, the council would have the authority to establish and collect fines. But the bill does not go into detail about how to implement the reviewing and fining processes.

The bill, with some revisions, is scheduled to be heard by the state Senate on Wednesday. Tassoni hopes to have the council in place by June or July.

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