Mckeithan column

Published 11:10 am Friday, July 18, 2008

By Staff
Editor’s note: This column (with some modifications) was originally published Jan. 18, 2008. It runs again today because of a severe case of writer’s block that so frequently infects the columnist. It is his hope — like manure used as fertilizer — that recycled columns can serve a purpose.
I have two sons who are actively involved in sports. It seems most kids are these days, doesn’t it?
An entire industry has evolved to equip, train and market athletics to youngsters. Call me cynical, but in some ways, I think youth sports today can be more about winning and losing than about how the game is played. Have our kids’ activities become a smokescreen for parental competition and pressure?
I am surprised at the way “grown-ups” are acting at some athletic events. They fight with each other, curse officials and generally act in ways that would shock Emily Post. Baseball games for 7-year-olds shouldn’t be more out-of-hand than a Jerry Springer show.
I guess that makes me an idealist.
There are many kids with dreams of athletic stardom. Such aspirations can be very positive things if these dreams are counter-balanced with a dose of reality. Statistics show that the chances of a child becoming a professional athlete are slimmer than Nicole Richey. Can I tell my kids that without seeming like a dream basher?
Perhaps, I won’t need to. Sometimes, reality sinks in for children when parents remain blinded by ambition. Suddenly, a kid quits playing a sport upon which parents have already pinned hopes for a college scholarship.
Do we put too much pressure on our kids? I have identified three basic types of parents that can be found at any local youth athletic event. (I won’t say which of the three I am.)
1) The I-was-not-a-good-athlete-and-I-will-live-vicariously-through-my-child’s-success parent. There were no All-Star teams in this person’s childhood. Little Johnny can make up for Pop’s ineptness and prove that the family gene pool includes markers for hand-eye coordination.
2) The I-was-an-exceptional-athlete-and-my-child-will-be-too-darn-it parent. Sure, sweet Sarah is intelligent and well-adjusted, but if she doesn’t get three hits today, she’ll be in timeout until April.
3) The I-just-want-my-child-to-be-happy-and-learn-about-good-sportsmanship parent. The future of the world is not riding on their child’s shooting percentage. Participating in sports is just one outlet of many that combine to make a well-rounded individual. If this child is successful in sports, fine. Most importantly, is this child successful in life?
Watching children compete, I am often reminded of my near-brush with athletic Superstardom.
I once dreamed of being a professional tennis player. Don’t laugh. It almost happened in the days when racquets were made of wood and tennis shorts looked like underwear.
Worldwide fame was in my grasp just after I received the runner-up ribbon for the Robeson County 12-and-under tennis tournament. Finishing second out of four players saddled me with the “next big thing in sports” tag.
Sure, I reveled in the adoration heaped upon me after the mention in the Laurinburg Exchange. If memory serves, my story was placed under the standings of the “Just Happy to be Alive” senior bowling league. It read like this, “ … and Ray ‘Questions’ McKiethen (note misspelling of name) earned the runner-up ribbon.”
I still get chills.
In case you’re wondering, “Questions” was my nickname. I’ve had many nicknames. (I’m told I have several here at the WDN.) “Questions” is one of my favorites. I was the annoying kid hanging out at the tennis center who peppered the pro with thousands of questions each day.
I’m stringing a tennis racquet, Questions.
(No response.)
(No response.)
(Faint mumbling.)
(Louder mumbling.)
Go practice your serve, Questions.
Sadly, my tennis glory days were short-lived. I folded under the intense pressure of the media spotlight following the newspaper story and its prominent placement on our refrigerator. I wanted so much to be “just a regular kid” at school, but jealousy and envy caused classmates to shun me.
I soon stopped wearing my Questions line of clothing and 24-carat bling. I smashed my Tad-Davis Highpoint racquet and left it all behind.
If the time comes that my kids’ dreams of athletic stardom aren’t realized, I hope I’ll be grown-up enough to leave those behind, too.
Ray McKeithan is associate publisher of the Washington Daily News. If you have questions or comments about operations, policies or content in the WDN that can be addressed in future columns, please send an e-mail to: or call 252-940-4205.