By Katie Collins News Eagle Reporter
WALLENPAUPACK - Basic, everyday life lessons, Tom Peifer
said, are things people who participate in athletics learn. The general concept of sports, he said, reflect on life because people are forced to learn about defeat since there is only one winner at the end of every game. This, he said, has been true no matter when people have participated in any game, but now, there are more politics involved, whereas 50 years ago that wasn’t the case. Fifty years ago, you either won or you lost. People, he said, "have to face the reality that sports and living in life are all synonymous, they all go together." Aside from playing sports as a kid in the 1950’s, Peifer was the superintendent of Wallenpapauck Area High School and he coached various levels of sports over a 40 year period. Through the years, as society has evolved, so to, have sports and many aspects to them. When Peifer first started coaching, there were just six games scheduled for the 1968 baseball season, but he quickly worked to change that. For more practice, during the off-season, because of Peifer's efforts, athletes traveled south and practiced on Fridays and Saturdays, but not Sunday because that wasn’t allowed. Eventually, the athletes started to play schools that were further away, even going out of state. Priorities have also changed, because there was a time when kids didn’t leave school early to travel. Money, Peifer said, has always been an issue, even more than today. He explained that the varsity and junior varsity teams had to share uniforms that were supposed to last for 15 years. The facilities, he said, weren’t much of a concern either, but they were nice and safe.
Years ago, maintaining the baseball field was not of importance for custodians and so the team typically had rakes and buckets at practice to take care of the fields. Peifer said, "you did what you had to do, to play games under adverse conditions." Because the kids just wanted to play, no one complained. Kids today, he said, don’t have an idea of what things cost or the preparation that is done since there are custodians to just take care of fields.
Today, the expectations parents have for coaches, is quite different than it was years ago, said George
Werthmuller, the Athletic Director from Wallenpaupack Area High School. Because parents were so busy working, they felt coaches would give kids lessons in life, and if the coach had problems, when the kids got home, there would be consequences. Today, he said parents’ expectations are unrealistic because they feel their kids can be like the professionals on TV. As an, "old-time coach," Werthmuller said the way things are today, aren’t necessarily good.
The way sports have changed for women, Werthmuller said is probably one of the biggest changes. Boys used to get the gym first and only if there was time, the girls would play. Money, time and effort, he said wasn’t given to girls like it is now. Having coached in the 1970’s and seeing kids today, he said kids don’t seem to be as committed and part of that is because people specialize too much. He explained, kids focus on only playing one sport, which is "counterproductive," because kids are more competitive when they play several sports, he said.
Kids today, Werthmuller said are: bigger, stronger and faster and he credits the understanding of nutrition and coaches who are more knowledgeable. Despite the fact that athletes are better, he said teams haven’t improved because players’ are more concerned with themselves. A coach and the Principal at Wallenpaupack South Elementary School, Mark Kirsten agreed that kids aren’t as team orientated and the teams he played on years ago, were actually more connected and worked harder as a group.
Having coached since 1972, Bob Simons said student athletes today, have more choices to make. There were the basic sports, but today with more extracurricular activities and sports like lacrosse, field hockey and wrestling, there’s more for students to choose from. Athletics, he said, make kids better people because of the lessons they learn.
Kirsten said the pressures placed on kids today, is different because it starts when they are younger. He explained that kids participate in travel teams, and so they experience things before reaching high school. He said it’s, "hard to keep them motivated," because there isn’t much for them to continue to work towards.
Sports, he said, are a great way for kids to develop self-esteem and leadership skills. But now, people are losing track of that, as sports are about the competition and winning, "verses developing a passion for the game." He added, "that's the different between then and now."
Of parent support, Kirsten questioned if it’s the same as it was years ago. Sports, he said, used to be a family event, but now parents, "almost use it as babysitting services," where kids are dropped off and the parents leave. Of the babysitting idea, Kirsten said, "it’s almost like an entitlement and part of that comes with when they pay for the program."
Criticism today, isn’t as accepted as it once was, Kirsten said. Kids, he said, don’t understand that it might seem like a coach is criticizing, but really they are just trying to help them. When kids have issues with others on the playground, he said people immediately call it bullying because kids don’t learn how to have conversations, whether positive or negative, "because there’s always a helicopter parent or someone to mediate." Years ago, kids worked things out, but not today because people are afraid to tell kids the truth he said. "Somebody telling you something isn’t necessarily picking on you, they’re trying to make you better," he added.
High school sports, Kirsten said, have been ruined because they have become more of a job than about being fun. Sports need to be an "avenue for teaching teamwork, dedication, commitment and cooperation, where kids will learn skills that will make them successful in their future careers," he said. Memories and being on a team with teammates are what kids should remember about high school, he said. Sports, he said, "are about working hard and trying to get better and be part of something successful because as a group you’re working towards that one common goal."