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Sports Parents, the Movie
Treading the line between fun and frenzy

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, January 13, 2008

The guy with the buzz cut next to me on the bleachers wants to know if we're allowed to eat in the gym. I tell him I saw some people with pizza, but I wouldn't risk it. "Did you see the movie?" I ask him.

"Oh, yeah," he says.

We had to watch a movie. We, the parents of the Comets -- a grade-school girls' basketball team -- had to watch a movie and sign a form saying we watched the movie and understood its point.

"Did you understand the point?" I ask the buzz-cut man.

"Good manners in the stands makes for good manners on the court," he says, quoting the movie. "A lot of rules. Are they worried we'll throw glass bottles at the opposing team or something?"

I tell him I think the point was to remind us not to behave like a snarling caged animal just because our kid gets called for a foul.

"I think they're more worried about the uncaged version," he says.

We lament that it has come to this. A movie. Apparently, parents are behaving so crudely at their kids' games that schools and clubs are feeling the pressure to retrain us on matters of fan etiquette: Please stay seated. Refrain from stomping your feet on the bleachers, making that obnoxious rumbling noise of battle. Don't yell out suggestions for a different zone defense to the coach. Don't yell at your kid for missing a shot; realize she's just a child. Don't yell out demands to replace a player who can barely dribble; realize she's just a child. And this is supposed to be fun!

Fun. Right now, this isn't fun. I am worried about doing something wrong, getting caught, say, eating pizza outside of some pizza-eating zone I may not be aware of. I console myself with the thought that my mother never had fun at my basketball games; she was so bored that she used to bring a book. I double-console myself with the thought that my husband's parents never even came to his games. "Back in the old days," he said to my daughter at breakfast this morning, "parents did parent things and kids did kid things. There wasn't all of this . . . mixing." His point was an optimistic one. He thought the mixing was a wonderful evolution in family life. He was thrilled to be able to come to this, the first Comets game of the season.

I'm wondering where he is. Soon, I see him approaching, carrying two pieces of pizza. Oh, dear. The buzz-cut man sees him, and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of wanting to pretend I am not married to my husband. "I'm not sure we're allowed to eat in the gym," I say when he arrives. He says he saw other people with pizza. "He didn't see the movie," I say to the buzz-cut man. (Only one signature per household was required on the form.) "What movie?" my husband asks.

"Sit down and hide the pizza," I say to him.

He sits, gets in position, stomps. "Woo!" he shouts. Oh, dear. He watches, chews, stomps some more, turns to me: "They're playing man-to-man? In the first quarter? Why would they not put those girls in a zone defense?"

"I wouldn't suggest it, Sweetie," I say. "Just -- stay calm." (I wish he had watched the movie.) A girl on the opposing team, the Wildcats, steals the ball, goes for the fast break and scores. My husband erupts, leaps to his feet, careful to cradle the soggy pizza plates: "Wooooo! What a play!"

Ordinarily, I would be embarrassed that he's rooting for the wrong team. (He does this with pro sports, too -- he cheers individual accomplishment rather than, well, the good guys beating the snot out of the bad guys, the more classic style of spectatorship to which I subscribe.) "Honey, you have to stay seated," I say. " I signed a form. " He looks at me like I've turned into a nun or something. The buzz-cut man backs me up. "You sorta had to see the movie," he says to my husband.

With two minutes left in the first quarter, substitutions are made, allowing for the exciting appearance of player No. 41, my daughter. "Woo!" my husband shouts. "That's my girl! That's my girl!" She waves. She seems happy to see him. "You get in there and have fun!" he shouts to her. "Just like I told you the first time you tried to swim! Your only job is to have fun!"

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of pretending I'm married to the buzz-cut man. I slide closer to him, ask him about his daughter. He says she's No. 25, and she's still benched. My husband, all swept up in his fan frenzy, overhears this information and punches the air with a new chant: "Twenty-five! Twenty-five! We want 25!"

The buzz-cut man ducks his head. "He didn't see the movie," I mumble to anyone sitting nearby who might need an explanation.

At halftime, my husband offers to buy a round of ice cream sandwiches for anyone within earshot. "God, this is fun," he says to me. "My parents should have come to my games."

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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