Longtime New York sports personality Peter Schwartz brings us a unique glimpse into youth sports as a concerned and responsible parent.
My wife Sheryl and I both knew it was a money grab, but it seemed like a good experience for our son Bradley. After all, he loves football and any opportunity to get on the field and get some added experience couldn’t hurt so when his coach became involved with a youth football “showcase” event in New Jersey a couple of weekends ago and Bradley was afforded the opportunity to play, we went along with it.
The thought of a day trip from Long Island to South Jersey for a special football event that our son would play in seemed like a nice way to spend a Saturday and it would also give us the opportunity to see some family from nearby Pennsylvania. And for my wife, it was her birthday, so seeing Bradley play in an “all-star” type game was an exciting proposition.
The series of games, fourth grade through eighth grade, featured teams from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The event organizer needed two teams to round out the field so he contacted a coach from a Long Island team that just happens to be in the same league as my son’s team. He then contacted Bradley’s coach to see if he could help out by recruiting players to play and to coach the New York team in the fourth grade game.
When we received a group text message to alert us about the game, my wife and I were intrigued by the idea. My initial issue with the game was that it was billed as a “showcase” game where the kids playing having the opportunity to gain exposure for high school coaches that might be at the game and who might be interested in recruiting kids to their schools.
I was very skeptical because Bradley has one year left of town youth football before he goes on to play for his middle school team and then hopefully his high school team. My wife and I don’t have any plans on moving anytime soon so we know that Bradley is going to middle school “X” and high school “Y” so there’s no such thing as any school “Z” trying to throw their hat into the ring. I’m not exactly sure how private schools go about this recruiting thing but it doesn’t involve us and it was something that was a red flag to me about this game.
There was also a triple digit fee to play in the game and that included a jersey, pants, a bag of SWAG, a clinic with a local NFL player, a barbecue and a bus trip to a park. Because our coach became involved just a couple of weeks before the game and people already had things going on, a lower rate was negotiated that just included playing in the game along with a jersey and pants.
But during the week, we were told that the fancy pants to match the cool looking jersey would not be ready and that they would provide blank pants. Then, the night before the game, we were told that we would not get any pants and to offset the cost the organizers hired a photographer to take pictures of the kids. Keep in mind that the guy who was putting this dog and pony show on was the owner of an apparel company. How do you not have the pants ready and how do you not give the kids some other kind of SWAG with your company’s logo on it?
I’ve been a sports reporter for almost thirty years and I’m pretty well connected in the sports world these days but I had never heard of this company or this guy. In fact, it seemed odd to me that when he came to one of our practices on Long Island, he was wearing apparel from another company. Just not a good optic for me but at the end of the day there was a football game that our son was playing in and that was the most important thing.
On that note, Bradley’s coach was running the fourth grade team and the coach that was asked to put this all together was in charge of the 5th grade team. Bradley, along with two of his regular season teammates, was on the 5th grade team that was made up mostly with players from the coach’s team, a rival club on Long Island. We were told that everyone was “guaranteed to play” but this coach ran out his players as well as one of Bradley’s teammates out there for most of the game. Bradley, one of his teammates, and the other kids on the team from other teams played sparingly.
The good news was that Bradley and his “New York” team beat New Jersey 13-0 and the day was generally a good experience. I would have liked to see some more pomp and circumstance around what was billed as a special event as well as a little more planning and organization around the series of game. My wife and I would certainly let Bradley play in another game like this but I’m not sure we’ll do this same event again.
The message to parents about these “showcase” games is simple. Just do your homework, research the organizers, and just make sure everything is legit, especially if there’s a fee for your child to play. Also keep in mind that these really aren’t “all-star” games. It’s not like the kids are selected for these games and they’re not necessarily the best 10, 11 or 12 year old players from a particular state.
They’re also kids. We don’t know how they’re going to evolve so these games should be treated as a fun experience. I really think games and events like this can work if they’re done the right way. It was clear that this past Saturday’s event could have been much better with just a bit more thought and preparation.
Just be careful!
Peter is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network and WCBS 880 Radio in New York. His son Bradley plays youth football on Long Island while his younger son Jared will begin playing flag football this coming fall. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.