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Opinion: Concerned parents can always sit in on practice


Refrain from passing judgement until the upcoming trial, and show up to practice - you'll discover that there's nothing to worry about

When the news about former St. Helens soccer coach Ryoma Ajisawa's arrest broke last week, the response was exactly as expected: outrage, a smattering of largely empty threats and a widespread outpouring of distrust in the man who once ran the boys' and girls' soccer programs.

    Some were shocked, wondering how in the world such a resume could slip through the fingers of the administration, and while those voices are justified in their anger – it makes perfect sense when trust is broken in a manner like that – parents need to understand something: no matter how deep the background check goes, it only picks up on prior offenses.

And an interview can only do so much to judge character. I have complete confidence in former Athletics Director Cyndy Miller, and current director Matt Morgan and their ability to screen and aptly choose coaches in the St. Helens athletic department.

We also have yet to get real details on what the charges actually entail, and whether they stretch back to when Ajisawa was a coach in St. Helens, and so there's no point in passing judgment on any piece of the story – the district's responsibilities included.

The only solution to quell fears and concerns until next week's hearing is to take matters into your own hands as parents and community members and do as several readers suggested and show up to practice sessions.

But can we? Is that okay? From the coaches I've spoken to, absolutely.

In fact, and this is a personal note, it's something that might go a long way toward the development of the athlete. Having a parent standing on the sideline might be a little un-cool for the kids, but it gives you a far better understanding of exactly what the team goes through in preparation for the season.

Does cross country practice make great theater? Probably not, but soccer, volleyball and football practice is certainly great entertainment, even the straight conditioning.

It's a chance to see the inner workings, watch the kids work on a new play and finally thread the needle with that pass. You get to watch as the goalkeeper develops and the senior libero takes a freshman alongside for one-on-one advice.

I don't see a problem with that. And, as long as there isn't any disruption during practice, the coaches don't seem to have a problem with that.

By all means, show up. If you want to see how your kid is doing, show up. If you want to see how the coach treats the players during practice, show up.

And if you're worried about nefarious behavior from the coaching staff – being “creepy” – you're still welcome to show up.

I just don't think you'll find anything. From top to bottom, the most you'll discover is a no-excuses atmosphere and a little tough love. It's hard to lay it on the line and say that no one on the current coaching staff would be capable of breaking our trust, but it's even more difficult to make the jump to accusations.

Sure, every coach has their fun quirks. Sean McNabb never wears long pants. Jay Allen only smiled once, on his birthday. David Spirlin wears purple pinstripe suits. Billy McKinney is almost always eating during phone conversations, and you can tell when Miranda Little's playlist comes on the speakers due to the sudden influx of music from the ‘80s.

But never once in my year working with each of these men and women have I ever once picked up a bad vibe. Throughout the wins, the losses, the easy conversations and the tough interviews, each coach has shown what they value most: the kids on the field.

So sure, go to practice. Get a sunburn and learn a little about the effort the athletes put into the game every single day. Be respectful as any guest should be, and I think you'll discover there's nothing to fret about.

By John William Howard
Sports Editor
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