That scenario occurred at an Ohatchee junior-high basketball game on Nov. 20, when Richard Peterson brought a sign he held up at the game questioning the coach on his grandson’s lack of playing time. Peterson, 68, said he requested a meeting with the coach the day of the game, but was refused by the vice principal.
“The only purpose I had for this whole thing is to get him more playing time,” Peterson said.
According to Peterson, the principal asked him to leave the game. Peterson said that when he refused, Ohatchee police removed him from the gymnasium. Police Chief Wayne Chandler said officers arrested Peterson because he was “exhibiting disorderly conduct.”
Calhoun County Schools Superintendent Joe Dyar said he and Peterson had a civil conversation after the incident and have “agreed to disagree on his efforts.”
“As guardians and parents, we try to make sure that we model great characteristics and traits that will be uplifting for children,” Dyar said.
Dyar’s expectations for parents at sporting events are to “cheer for the kids, the coach and school and provide a safe environment.”
Dyar said it’s normal for parents to want to communicate with coaches, but the right timing is everything.
“Ninety-nine percent of parents or guardians show enough respect for coaches and administrators and wait for the appropriate time to talk with them,” Dyar said.
A matter of propriety
According to Ron Ingram, director of communications for the Alabama High School Athletic Association, it is a privilege for parents to attend games and for students to play in them.
“Schools have the authority to ban anyone they might deem destructive,” Ingram said.
Ingram said it’s common for parents to become upset over a child’s lack of playing time.
“When there’s an irate parent, typically it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about letting the kid play,” Ingram said.
Ingram also said there’s a proper time for parents to meet with coaches and discuss such matters, but that is not before a game.
“It’s not about the game, it’s about someone thinking they know better than someone else,” Ingram said.
Ingram said the AHSAA encourages coaches to allow every athlete to play, but that can’t always be the case.
“When a child goes out for a team they agree to do whatever role to help that team,” Ingram said. “Sometimes it’s being a good practice player and good encourager.”
Ingram said schools run their own regular-season events, and the AHSAA gives guidelines to parents, coaches and student athletes to keep events running in a “safe, wholesome, sportsmanlike manner.”
Chris Randall, the boys’ basketball coach at White Plains High School, said he hasn’t had many issues with parents in the 12 years he’s been coaching. He lets parents know at the beginning of the season that he won’t have meetings discussing players directly before or after a game.
“I’ll talk the next day, especially if it’s after a loss, cooler heads will prevail. We never talk after games,” Randall said.
Randall said parents tend to take things personally when their children don’t play. However, he said, it’s never anything personal with him; it’s business. Randall said sometimes parents need to help children understand that they’re helping the team, even if it’s by being a great practice player.
“The number-one way to keep from having parent problems is to communicate with the players,” Randall said “If you have a good relationship with your players, that will fix most of the issues.”
A vested interest
Several parents at an Oxford High School basketball game on Tuesday said they hadn’t noticed particularly unsportsmanlike behavior coming from other parents.
Dodie Wilson, whose son plays guard for Oxford, said parents know what the school expects of them.
“We support the kids and coaches and represent the school like we expect our kids to. For the most part that happens,” Wilson said.
Donnie Adams came to the game to support the school’s athletics program; his three sons play baseball and football for Oxford.
“I would never question playing time,” he said. “I feel like kids have to earn that playing time.”
Adams said he believes most parents understand what coaches have to do to win games, but that there will always be differing opinions.
“It’s tough when you have a vested interested and that’s seeing your child play,” Adams said. “The more interest you have the more of an opinion you’re going to have.”
It will be difficult for Peterson to pursue his interest in his grandson’s play, at least for a time. Several days after his arrest at the game, Peterson received a letter from the school’s principal stating he would be banned from three basketball games and would not be allowed on the Ohatchee campus without prior approval.
Peterson is set to appear in court Jan. 3 on the charge of disorderly conduct.
“It’s quite embarrassing to be handcuffed and drug out for a sign,” Peterson said.
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.