Tag Archives: Features

Verbal abuse from parents, coaches is causing a referee shortage in youth sports

[READ FEATURE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

Warren Graver raised the whistle to his lips midway through the second half, bracing to shift his focus from the sideline hysterics to the girls’ soccer game at hand three years ago.

And that’s when the veteran youth soccer referee saw two men walking onto the field.

It was a Sunday afternoon at an under-16 tournament in Vienna, and Graver had just ejected an invective-spewing coach. Without warning or permission, two angry parents marched across the field to take the coach’s place on the bench.

Uncertainty gripped Graver. Emotions were running high. There was no field marshal or senior official in the vicinity. It was the only time Graver can remember feeling fear as a referee.

“It could have easily escalated into something physical,” Graver said.

Following a decade as a referee, Graver returned for one more season. But he said that incident in Vienna crystallized a creeping realization: His days in the job were numbered.

“I said, ‘I would rather spend my time on the weekends with my kids and with my wife than stand out here and be abused by these parents,’ ” said Graver, who kept good to his word and hasn’t been a referee in the past two years. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Graver’s experience — or something similar — plays out every weekend across the country.

Administrators contend that escalating verbal abuse is partially to blame for a dwindling referee pool in youth and high school sports. The fallout is crippling officiating bodies mired in a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard. Continue reading Verbal abuse from parents, coaches is causing a referee shortage in youth sports

This amateur soccer team, based in a liquor store, never practices and rarely loses

[READ FEATURE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

The plumber in the liquor store lowered his nearly empty can of Natural Light and laughed.

Collin Fisher, the starting right back on the team that doesn’t train, had just been asked how he stays in shape. Sure, Christos FC’s most tenacious defender plays pickup indoor soccer games on occasion, but what about off the field? Did he lift weights? Belong to a gym? Ogle a treadmill?

“The last time I ran was probably in high school,” he said.

[VIDEO: Scott Van Pelt spotlights article on SportsCenter]

Fisher doesn’t have time to train, at least not during the weeks he is on call 24 hours a day as a plumber/gas fitter. Neither does attacking midfielder Daniel Baxter, an X-ray technician working night shifts in the shock trauma center of Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center. Or starting center back Josh Taylor, an audio/visual equipment sales manager whose only practice tool is his daughter’s size-3 soccer ball.

All form part of the last amateur squad left in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a single-elimination tournament traditionally dominated by pro teams. Christos FC, the Baltimore-based club named after and headquartered in a discount liquor store, will take on four-time Major League Soccer champion D.C. United in a fourth-round matchup at Maryland SoccerPlex on Tuesday night. Continue reading This amateur soccer team, based in a liquor store, never practices and rarely loses

Luis Vilca plays every game with a bullet lodged two inches from his spine

[READ FEATURE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

On the Falls Church soccer field, diving is a sin. The act of feigning injury to draw a foul — or, worse, to catch a breather — is not tolerated at Paul Weber Stadium, not after what happened last summer. Even if someone truly endures a blow, teammates always bring each other to their feet with variations of the same phrase.

“Hey, Raymond got shot,” they implore. “Get up.”

Raymond is one of many nicknames for Luis Ronaldo Vilca, who also goes by “Shooter,” and not because he likes to shoot (he doesn’t). While on vacation to visit family in Lima, Peru last July, Vilca survived a gunshot wound to the stomach, not to mention the ensuing 16-hour wait in the hospital before undergoing surgery. The senior has since overcome incidental nerve damage in his leg and earned his way back into the Falls Church starting lineup, reprising his role as the tenacious defensive midfielder on a talented Jaguars squad bent on forging another playoff run next month.

“The team didn’t just gain another player,” Falls Church assistant coach Cristian Alvarado said. “They gained a brother back.” Continue reading Luis Vilca plays every game with a bullet lodged two inches from his spine

His family fled the Taliban. Now he’s one of Virginia’s most feared wrestlers.

[READ FEATURE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

There is an Arabic expression that transcends life’s daily trials, a phrase Zaki Mohsin invokes every day. Its meaning is “God willing,” but its power lies in something more self-reliant — that a little resilience today will yield greater outcomes tomorrow.

Inshallah.

Mohsin muttered it upon waking each morning at 3:30 to pray in his family’s 15-person citrus home on the western edge of Kabul. He whispered it before earning accolades across Asia as a rising star in the sport of judo. And he repeated it as his family spent a frantic two weeks uprooting their lives and fleeing Afghanistan, putting Mohsin’s dream of an Olympic gold medal on hold. Continue reading His family fled the Taliban. Now he’s one of Virginia’s most feared wrestlers.

How an accomplished college hoops coach landed at a tiny private school in rural Virginia

[READ FEATURE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

THE PLAINS, Va. — Butterflies surge through the old coach’s 6-foot-5 frame as he ducks into Activities Bus No. 2, a white, 14-passenger GMC van idling at the top of a steep and winding road. His teenage players file in giggling, their heads buried in their phones, their minds too preoccupied to dwell on the game three hours away.

At last, Joe Harrington wraps his right hand around the gear shift and his left around the steering wheel, the red-and-gold marker of an ACC championship reflecting from his ring finger onto the windshield. At Maryland he used to board a charter bus that cruised to the airport with a police escort in tow. At Wakefield School, Harrington drives the bus.

A former Boston Celtics draft pick after his playing days with the Terrapins, Harrington crisscrossed the country as a head coach at four Division I schools and as an assistant for the Toronto Raptors. He mentored the likes of Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups. He chased rebounds as an 11-year-old Stephen Curry — the son of former Raptor Dell Curry — heaved three-pointers before games at Air Canada Centre.

This season Harrington, 71, is immersed in the unfamiliar realm of high school basketball. At 13-2, his Wakefield Fighting Owls have matched the best start in school history. And their sophomore-laden roster is doing it on a remote, 63-acre campus 60 miles west of where Harrington’s career took flight as the right-hand man for Lefty Driesell, the legendary former Maryland coach.

“We actually don’t know how he came here,” Wakefield senior forward Colby Weeks said. “That’s somewhat of a mystery to us.” Continue reading How an accomplished college hoops coach landed at a tiny private school in rural Virginia

Olympic champ Kyle Snyder returns to high school gym to wrestle for Ohio State

[READ IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

Kyle Snyder stood in the corner of Good Counsel High’s gym Sunday afternoon and waited to reacquaint himself with the launchpad of his sparkling wrestling career. The navy-and-gold center mat looked exactly the same as he had left it in 2013, but everything that has happened since — a world championship, an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal — rendered this an entirely different spectacle altogether.

For starters, Snyder was no longer sporting his high school’s colors. The burly 21-year-old donned a black Ohio State warmup pullover as he prepared for a home dual meet roughly 405 miles off campus. The unusual showdown — held just 15 miles from College Park — was the result of a recruiting pitch from Ohio State Coach Tom Ryan, who promised Snyder a home meet at his old high school at some point before he graduated.

Snyder, a junior, paced the warmup mat, but he wasn’t getting loose for his upcoming heavyweight bout just yet. Instead, he was signing hats and T-shirts for giddy children as parents leaned back to take pictures. A sold-out crowd of 1,200 spectators filled the bleachers on either side.

“It’s nuts,” Snyder mumbled as he scrawled his name across another hat’s bill. Continue reading Olympic champ Kyle Snyder returns to high school gym to wrestle for Ohio State

Varsity field hockey has arrived in Loudoun County, but there’s still work to be done

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

The novelty of the scene at Briar Woods was evident only in the players’ faces.

On one side of the field, 25 members of the Heritage field hockey team decked in candy red uniforms giggled through their warm-up shooting routine. On the other, two of Stone Bridge’s 21 white-and-navy clad stick wielders stopped to laugh at a whiff that sent dirt flying over a stationary ball.

Just about anywhere else in the Washington area, this is a totally normal Tuesday evening in September. In Loudoun County, this is unprecedented. Continue reading Varsity field hockey has arrived in Loudoun County, but there’s still work to be done