Resolution for the New Year: Keep Kids Safe

Children Playing various Sports

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

As we come to the end of another year I thought it was a good time to reflect on some of the news events that have impacted our lives. This year we have heard about countless allegations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape from both men, women, boys and girls. We’ve also heard apologies and denials.

From Hollywood to USA Gymnastics and all the way to the White House and the Senate race in Alabama, a brave few stepped forward to put an end to what appears to be a culture of allowing sexual predators a free pass. One voice turned to two and then the numbers of alleged victims multiplied and could not be silenced.

The #MeToo movement gained steam and the faces of the accused and the tearful recounts of victims made headlines and started conversations that were long overdue.

No one should have been surprised to hear about the years of abuse at the hands of powerful people. Some people claim #FakeNews. But the rest of us know that this is an all too common problem and it must stop.

And it definitely must stop with our children. In our business of youth sports, we must be extra vigilant to protect the most vulnerable among us. Where there are kids, there predators.

The National Crime Victim Survey found that one in nine girls and one in 53 boys is sexually molested by an adult before the age of 18. In 1986, the American Medical Association conducted a study that said one in four girls and one in eight boys was molested before the age of 18. I doubt 2017 numbers reflect the true picture. I believe fewer boys and girls are reporting molestation for fear of ridicule or than no one will believe them.

The sad truth is that we don’t know the true numbers. What we do know from research and reports is that more than one in 10 people will not report the abuse for fear of ridicule, shame or a feeling that they must have done something wrong.

Read the stories about all the young girls who remained silent about the gymnastics doctor who has now been sentenced to 60 years in prison. He performed procedures on female athletes that made these young girls uncomfortable. Some dismissed their instincts believing this “friend” or respected doctor was doing something that would legitimately help them.

This is how predators take advantage of their victims.

Unfortunately, sports and any other youth activities are places where predators prey on unsuspecting, vulnerable victims.

So, what are we supposed to do? If you think that it’s too much of a hassle to screen everyone involved with a youth program, from volunteers to executives, you need to think twice. Screening is only one step to protect your young athletes and your organization. It’s not a question of if something will happen, but when.

Unfortunately, since many incidences of abuse never go reported, background screenings are only one part of the game plan.

Educate members of the organization and have a plan in place to screen, provide a safe culture and welcome open communication.

Make a resolution for the new year to keep kids safe. Your organization might implement a plan that includes simple rules such as: Only shoulder to shoulder hugs or high-fives, or that an adult and child may not be alone unsupervised. What do you have to do to make a difference?

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11 Sports Photography Tips

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

Sports-Photography

A picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve all heard that idiom and realize that the essence of the meaning is that a complex idea can often be understood easier with a single image rather than a bunch of words.

An image can quickly communicate pain, happiness, sorrow, joy and other emotions or actions that humans easily recognize through their own shared experiences.

When I first started covering news and sports I had several cameras with me at all times. I started with a Pentax K1000 and then moved on to a series of Minolta’s, Canon’s and Nikons with an assortment of long and short-range lenses, filters and lighting accessories. I also had the advantage of having both a black and white and color darkroom at my disposal in both my college and workplace.

Today it’s a lot less complicated with smart phones, digital and point-and-shoot cameras.

But if you’ve been assigned the task of capturing stunning images of your upcoming sporting event and photography is not your strong suit, don’t worry. Capturing memorable photos is easier today than ever.

Tip #1: Shoot lots of images. Professional photographers keep their eye on the action and continue firing the shutter almost continuously to capture those stunning moments we see on the front page of the newspaper or the cover of a magazine. It’s not all luck … keep shooting.

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Tip #2: Change your perspective. Most people are guilty of standing in one position and hoping the action passes by the lens. If you want dramatic still images, change the perspective. Move above the action. Crawl on your belly. Sneak up beside the athlete or zoom in close. The images that capture the raw emotion, sweat and tears are memorable.

Tip #3: It’s all about the venue. A high school gym or stadium is completely different from photographing in a college or professional sports arena that may be well lit or rigged with strobe lighting. Prepare for dark and grainy action shots if lighting is limited. With college sports or daylight photography, the lighting and action shots are easier to manage. The longer the shutter stays open the more light enters. Stop action with a fast shutter speed of around 1/1000. Similarly, a higher ISO setting of 1600 to 3200 is more sensitive and allows a faster shutter speed for the lens used. Don’t set the camera to automatic if you can avoid it.

Tip #4: Built-in flash is worthless. Don’t use a built-in flash on your camera unless you are taking team or group shots. Flashes can be dangerous to participants and will do little for your photography other than causing red eye or washout. Experiment with aperture settings, f/stops and ISO values. Use the Auto ISO feature with max sensitivity to ISO if in doubt.

Tip #5: Don’t forget the spectators. Capturing the action on the field or race course is the highest priority, but don’t forget to look for crowd shots. You want to photograph what was happening around the event. Look for fans standing along the barricades cheering their team to a win. Try to photograph spectators along with the action if possible to provide more perspective to the viewer.

Tip #6: Athletes are people, too. When athletes take a water break, wrap a knee with ice or just need a break from play, the dirt, sweat and emotion is a powerful visual of what was happening. Move to the benches, tents or water cooler to show a different view of the event. Don’t forget coaching moments when the team is huddled around the chalkboard.

Tip #7: Avoid background distractions. Bleachers full of cheering fans behind the action provide some insight for the person who didn’t attend the game, but remember to focus on one or the other and blur the action when necessary. Banners, billboards, empty stadium seats or portable toilets detract from the message. If possible, step in another direction and cut those distracting elements from your field of view.

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Tip #8: Get in front of the action or in it. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but when you can get directly in the action – such as under a basket at a basketball game or alongside the net at a volleyball game or tennis match, move in and provide your audience with the sort of up-close view they rarely experience.

Tip #9: Glad bag shots. Before the event starts, spend a little time capturing images of all the people and things that make this one event unique. Photograph volunteers arranging branded water bottles. Stage the trophies and medals for a beauty portrait. Photograph the banners, signage and scoreboards. And don’t forget to shoot some images of the equipment that will be used: think cleats, jerseys, bike pedals, balls, hockey pucks. These are the images that can be used to produce a package to tell the whole story of the day.

Tip #10: Beware the sun. This may be obvious, but make sure the sun is not directly behind the subject of your photo unless you are attempting a silhouette or artsy shot. Allow the sun or artificial light to shine on the subject either from the side, directly above or head-on.

Tip #11: Sports are about people. We want to see faces. Remember! Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. If the action is moving away from you, stop and reposition or wait for the action to move in front of you. Your photography may not show a player’s eyes open and that’s okay, but do try to show the face – grimace, sweat, blood, tears, smiles and all.

Now get out there and have some fun!

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Haunted Sports Stadiums, Fields and Eerie Stories

Haunted-Stadiums

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

It’s that time of year again when people dress up in strange costumes and everyone talks about spooky things. No. I’m not talking about when the Florida Gators wore those alligator-styled uniforms last week, but they were pretty spooky. I’m talking about Halloween.

Since we’re in the sports business, this seems a good time to talk about some of the sports legends and stories of haunted stadiums and ballparks. Athletes are a superstitious bunch of people in the first place, so it’s not difficult to find stories of ghosts or supposedly haunted places.

The Gipper

One of the most famous stories about haunted sports facilities is probably the story of George Gipp and the University of Notre Dame. “Win one for the Gipper!” is a long-told story about the All-American football player who died of pneumonia after sleeping on the steps of Notre Dame’s Washington Hall.

As the story goes, in 1920 after returning late to campus, Gipp found that he had been locked out of his dorm. He slept on the stairs that night and contracted pneumonia that would lead to his death. On his deathbed, he begged Coach Knute Rockne: “Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”

Immediately after his death, students reported that doors to Washington Hall and across campus began to close, papers rustled and an eerie French horn could be heard. Was it the Gipp?

Wrigley

Chicago’s Wrigley field has its own spooky story. Security guards who patrol the park say bullpen phones ring late at night when the ballpark is empty. Legend is that the Cubs player and manager, Charlie Grimm calls the bullpen to make pitching changes. Problem is, the bullpen phone is a direct line from the dugout and can’t be dialed from any other location. Some security personnel also hear their names being called or they see Grimm in the hallways. Many people believe Grimm’s ashes are buried in left-center field.

But Grimm’s ashes aren’t the only ones. Rumor has it that fans drop ashes into the ivy and songwriter and diehard Cub’s fan, Steve Goodman’s are said to be buried under home plate. Other Wrigley stories say balls are hit in the ivy and then disappear and Harry Caray’s ghost remains at Wrigley along with other figures who hang out in the offices and bleachers.

Dodger’s Stadium

Los Angeles Dodger’s Stadium is said to have many ghosts, including a couple on their honeymoon who plummeted to their deaths from a hillside overlooking the City of Angels. Many Dodger’s employees reported seeing a woman dressed in white diving over the cliff. Others say the field is haunted by the souls from the Hebrew Benevolent Society whose cemetery was moved to make room for the stadium’s parking lot. Other people reported stories about the stadium’s underground vaults and tunnels, where Lizard People live below the stadium in one of three lost cities of the Hopi people.

“The Rock”

Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium known as “The Rock,” is supposedly haunted by IU student, Michael Plume. During construction of the stadium, Plume was found hanging from scaffolding. Plume’s shoes were polished and the soles of his shoes clean even though he supposedly had walked a mile from his dorm room to the stadium which was a construction site with mud and dust. Investigators ruled his death a suicide by broken neck and asphyxiation, however when the body was later exhumed it was determined he did not have a broken neck. Workers claim to have seen a ghostly figure hanging from the same location where Plume’s body was found. Is Plume still trying to prove his death was not a suicide?

Frontier Field

Home to the Rochester Red Wings, Frontier Field in Rochester, New York, is said to be built on a site where human bones were uncovered. Ghost experts from Rochester Paranormal were called in and officially concluded the stadium to be haunted. Many believe the spirits that reportedly float around eerily are happy the stadium is in its current location.

Owen Hart

In 1999, professional wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death while being lowered 78 feet to the ring for a WWF wrestling show in Kansas City’s Kemper arena. Employees claim to have seen and heard Hart’s spirit walking the rafters dressed in his blue blazer. Other people claim they hear Hart adjusting his harness and when they hear or see him, the lights flicker in the arena.

Nationwide Arena

In Columbus, Ohio, Nationwide Arena is built on the site of the deadliest prison fire in U.S. history. The fire killed more than 300 prisoners and people claim the smell of smoke, the sound of men screaming and pacing their cells and the sound of the flames burning the prison can still be heard, particularly around the parking garage. Others say ghostly figures could be seen only in the ruins of the old building.

Are these places really haunted? Well, only if you believe in that sort of thing.

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Building Relationships at S.P.O.R.T.S.

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By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

This year’s S.P.O.R.T.S. conference was an amazing experience. As a first-timer to the annual event, I didn’t know what to expect. I suspected there would be long days, a whirlwind of activities and an abundance of information to learn and share. I was not disappointed.

DKPWEDS_042.JPGMostly, S.P.O.R.T.S. is all about building real relationships with the people we meet during our time at the conference. That’s why people told me they continue coming back to the conference year after year. Industry conferences should be about making long-term connections and becoming more than someone you occasionally email or talk with on the phone. At S.P.O.R.T.S., the people you meet become friends who welcome you with a smile and often with a hug when you offer to shake hands.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was the host city for this year’s conference and the city and Go Cedar Rapids rolled out the red carpet to the event and attendees.

From a welcome to the city event with pizza and beer pong, to an opening night progressive dinner complete with human foosball, a marching band, food stations, ice skating, hockey, curling and batting practice at the local stadium, the folks at Go Cedar Rapids presented their city with pride. At the same time, those fun events gave our group a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed environment prior to the opening of the conference.

With networking receptions, sports courts for play between meetings, meals and speakers and fun activities planned after hours, the days were long, but always fun.

But S.P.O.R.T.S. is about relationships and building business relationships in a way that is like no other conference in the industry. With appointments set in advance for attendees with the people they most wanted to meet, representatives from destination marketing organizations and the event planners and right holders came together to share information and do business.

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It’s those one-on-one appointments that sets S.P.O.R.T.S. apart from the rest of the industry, according to our feedback. I heard comments such as: “I’ve been to a lot of conferences, but it always feels like speed dating. These appointments give me enough time to actually learn something about the other person and share information.” Or, “I am so happy about the appointments I had here. I’ve booked my calendar for the year.”

We also participated in some sessions where we shared information about issues facing the industry and brainstormed ways to address those concerns in a meaningful way.

With speakers scheduled throughout the program and plenty of activities and time to relax between sessions insured that conversations that started in an appointment session could continue long after the meeting was complete.

Before heading back to our respective homes across the country, we visited a working Iowa farm for a final night of festivities. With a corn maze, pumpkin cannons, zombies, zip lines, great food and an amazing band, attendees enjoyed a closing reception to remember.

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The night ended with SportsEvents Publisher Talty O’Connor, the Winston-Salem staff and the Wake Forest Demon Deacon announcing that next year we’ll be in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’m looking forward to another great S.P.O.R.T.S. conference and the new relationships we’ll build.

To learn more about S.P.O.R.T.S. The Relationship Conference, visit www.TheRelationshipConference.com.

See you next year in Winston-Salem, North Carolina!

Click here to view more pictures from S.P.O.R.T.S. 2017.

 

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Parents Know Best

Parent-Knows-Best

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

As medical research continues to focus on concussions and the long-term effects of injuries to the brain through sports, it’s a wonder anyone plays sports at all.

The statistics about brain injuries in contact sports continue to shock and worry us, and rightfully so. We still don’t know how this will affect these athletes throughout their lives. We are learning, but we don’t know.

I suppose there are some who will deny their child a chance to participate in physical contact sports for fear of injury. The numbers already show that more parents are worried about letting their children play tackle football even though, equipment, coach and player education and continuing research is leading to a safer game.

Other parents are choosing “safer” sports such as soccer, where punishing body and head blows are not allowed. As we’ve learned, the highest number of concussions happen among high school female soccer players, even though more children play high school football.

We’ve also recently seen the statistics on cheerleading and concussion. I remember when cheerleading wasn’t even considered a sport because it was not deemed physical enough. Because of that perception, many high school programs failed to provide adequate equipment, coaching or education for girls who wanted to cheer.

We must have been in a fortunate situation in my high school. We had a coach who was very knowledgeable about sports and preventing sports injuries. She coached both volleyball and cheerleading in addition to the required physical education classes with the same concern for safety and a love of the game.

Our gym was equipped with thick mats, mini trampolines with swing harnesses and wall padding to prevent injuries. There was always one spotter for each position and the coach was always watching and instructing on form and safety.

I’ve heard that other schools relegated their cheerleaders to the parking lot, practice field and even the cafeteria sending a clear message that safety was not a concern.

But now we know safety is important in all sports. It’s important in life.

Kids are going to get hurt. Even kids who never play an organized sport in their life will probably end up with an injury during their lifetime. I got a broken nose and a concussion from raking the lawn. Well … I got a broken nose and concussion from sliding into a leaf pile and some kid twice my size slid into my face. I didn’t tell my mom my nose had poured blood that day. I also didn’t tell her the time a kid threw a rock at school and hit me in the temple and knocked me out. But she noticed something about me after both of those incidences; something wasn’t right. I was nauseated. The light hurt my eyes. I wanted to sleep more than usual. I didn’t feel well.

I wasn’t playing football, hockey, soccer or flying from the top of pyramid. I was just playing – like kids do.

If my mom told me then that I could no longer slide into a pile of leaves or run around a playground at school or tryout for cheerleading, I would have been a sad kid.

But my mom did something right. She took me to the doctor when she noticed I wasn’t acting normal.

We all know the risks and it is our responsibility to continue to learn as much as we can to prevent injuries and keep our children safe. The decision to play or not to play is ultimately up to the parents. Hopefully they will remember that the positive benefits of participating in sports far outweigh the negative. Watch your kids when they play. If you think your child isn’t acting normal during a game, have them sit it out.

Most importantly, learn about the signs to watch for and insist that rules are in place and policies followed if a brain injury is suspected. Let the kids play sports, but educate them about how to play safely and remind them that it’s okay to let a coach know if something is wrong.

 

 

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The Ridiculous Business of Football Scholarships for Kids

Youth-Football

by Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

I heard the other day that a 9-year-old was offered a college football scholarship. My first thought was ‘this kid must be really good.’ My second thought was about the pressure he will face as he tries to take his young body through strenuous workouts and conditioning until he is a senior in high school – the time when young people actually become eligible for college scholarships.

It’s not that uncommon for young children to set their sights high when they or their parents believe they have athletic potential.

We don’t really think too much about the ages of gymnasts, figure skaters or swimmers who proudly claim they learned their sport as toddlers and were competing competitively in elementary and junior high. After all, prime competition for these athletes’ peaks around 14 to 18 and by the time they reach 25, they fade into obscurity unless they are among the few to win Olympic medals or world titles.

But football is different. From elementary school to college a youngster undergoes so many changes that it is really difficult to predict physical and mental ability, or even stature. Of course, a 9-year-old won’t be competing against college men until he’s in college. And obviously, the offer of a scholarship is non-binding on the college and child. Why would someone offer a scholarship to someone who won’t be eligible to play for eight or nine more years?

This young boy was reportedly seen on YouTube and caught the eye of many people, including the college coach who offered the scholarship. The thinking must have been: “That little kid is so much faster than all those other little kids we should recruit him.” Or maybe it was, “Does anyone even know we have a football program? What’s the most outlandish thing we can do to get some publicity?”

My only hope is that this 9-year-old is able to keep his head on straight. My wish for him: Play football if you enjoy it. Break sprint records and entertain crowds on Tuesday evening at the local ballpark but also keep studying and plan for what happens if that coach moves on before you graduate high school. Stay healthy. Stay strong. Don’t let it go to your head. You’ve got eight or nine years to decide if and where you want to play football, but you might also rather play baseball, lacrosse, tennis, hockey or golf … or all of them.

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Don’t Forget the Water!

Water
By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor, SportsEvents Magazine

I attended a community-based athletic event a while back and I’m still puzzled by some of the things the organizer failed to do.

On this day at the beginning of the school year, boys and girls showed up to participate, hoping for a chance to perform well enough to qualify for the next level of competition.

Temperatures that day peaked at 90 degrees with 83 percent humidity at noon. By the afternoon when the event was scheduled, the temp had fallen slightly, but the humidity had increased. The sky was azure with no clouds in sight.

Cars pulled into the parking lot and excited children raced toward the open field where the competition would take place. Many of the children were still wearing school clothes. Parents hurried after them, some of them still in business attire.

A registration table was positioned strategically to funnel the children and parents to workers who instructed each person to complete a form and show birth certificates. Volunteers and event staff waited patiently on the field. Athletic equipment was in place. Lines had been chalked. When the paperwork was complete, the children were encouraged to run and stretch prior to the start of the competition which was scheduled to kick off minutes later.

Children were then placed in lines or groups based on their ages. And they waited.

You might imagine what happened next as they stood in the sun, sweat pouring off their faces. If they left their groups, they might miss the chance to compete, so they stood and called for parents.

Within minutes, parents returned to the registration table to ask about water for their sweaty kids. Some parents returned to their vehicles to retrieve water bottles. Some parents asked for water fountains. Some parents told their children to stay with friends while they drove to the store to purchase water.

You’ve probably already guessed what this planner forgot. Um-hum. Water.

When people started complaining the planner suggested that maybe the parents should have brought water for their kids. It went downhill from there as parents took to Facebook and Twitter to complain. And you guessed it. They didn’t just complain about the lack of a convenient source of water.

They complained that there was nowhere to take shade while they waited.

They didn’t know they needed a birth certificate to participate.

The restrooms were too far away. The concession stand was closed. Leaving was not an option if you wanted to compete in the hour and a half long event since large groups of organized practice teams were also now showing up to register before time ran out.

But it was the water, or the lack of water that made everyone so angry.

One could argue that the kids could wait until afterward to get water because the event took less than two hours from beginning to end. What’s two hours without water?

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How difficult would it have been for the organizer to send someone to fill the empty orange field coolers from the back of the organizers truck and bring cups from the field house?

Wouldn’t it have been better if they thought of water in the first place since sports and hydration go so well together?

Instead, rather than having a positive experience, parents used social media to point out a basic item the organizer forgot.

When people say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff,’ they aren’t talking about water. And don’t forget…social media can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

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