Brainerd boys’ basketball coach Scott Stanfield drew national attention after an unusually public announcement last month that mounting hostilities from parents had convinced him to resign at season’s end.
Since Stanfield went public on Jan. 11 through a letter written by Brainerd activities director Charlie Campbell, coaches and teachers around the country responded with hundreds of e-mails.
This is why I left, many wrote.
Stanfield’s resignation inspired Campbell, who said he took the situation personally, and his peers throughout the metro area to revisit how best to make coaches want to stay in an environment fueled by intense parental expectations that can boil over into conflict. Keeping coaches in the game ranks as perhaps the biggest challenge in high school sports.
“I feel like it’s created a safe way to talk about programs across Minnesota,” said Campbell, who heard from about 40 colleagues. “I’ve heard, ‘I know these are challenging situations’ and ‘You’re not alone.’ ”
He said parents who confronted Stanfield were “volatile and threatening in their demeanor, posture and tone.” Stanfield, whose staff is resigning with him, said he was cursed and threatened and received anonymous letters.
Stanfield built a 99-66 career record in his first six seasons as head coach, including a 28-2 record in his second season and leading the Warriors to the Class 4A state tournament. Last year, when Stanfield said he started to experience the threatening behavior, Brainerd finished 11-16. Heading into Tuesday’s game at Wayzata, the Warriors are 8-10.
After word of Stanfield’s resignation came out, Campbell stepped in to shield him from parent confrontations during and after practice and after games. Stanfield, a coach for 22 years and a retired police officer, considers those parents to be “good people who lost the meaning of what the high school experience should be.”
Educating parents about the core values of high school activities and resolving conflicts when expectations don’t align remains a challenging long-term goal for Campbell and his peers.
“Some parents will try to avoid making it a playing time issue, but playing time is the lion’s share of it,” said Ricardo Jones, in his second year at Maple Grove. He previously spent six years as an assistant activities director at Eden Prairie. “You ask a parent, ‘How does your son or daughter feel?’ and there’s usually a pause. Parents are not at practice every day. They just see the games and that their child is not playing.”
Playing time was a chief concern in Stanfield’s case. In his letter to parents, Campbell wrote, “Questions or concerns about playing time or coaching decisions should NOT be brought up to the staff immediately following a game. Any issues you may have with our coaching staff over the remainder of the season should be addressed directly with me.”
The message should come much sooner, Stanfield said. “Third and fourth grade should be where it starts, when traveling teams start,” Stanfield said. “That’s where a lot of opinions are formed.”
Stanfield also said he believes parents should be required to take a course in behavior and expectations before they’re able to register their kids for high school athletics.
Honesty, Campbell and his peers believe, is the best way to align the expectations of players, coaches and parents. When parents contact him with a complaint, Campbell tries to get the player, parent and coach to the table. The conversations are often enlightening to parents, Campbell said, though he only succeeds in setting these meetings about 10 percent of the time.
“Parents often say, ‘My child would be mortified, don’t tell Coach,’ ” Campbell said. “My response is, ‘If we can’t be honest, it’s hard for us to move anywhere.’ ”
Campbell, who is also a ninth-grade football coach, said he has “tentative plans to get in front of all spring sports parents” and also create a departmentwide protocol for how coaches should handle parent complaints. From there, he would like to see a level of accountability to ensure parents follow the protocol. Measures could include barring a parent from a game.
At Maple Grove, coaches are encouraged to review the athletic department handbook with parents. After the season, parents and athletes can submit online surveys. Jones said the return rate is about 30 percent. He reviews the feedback with each coach.
When conflicts arise, Jones offers to reach out to concerned parents and be the first point of contact in hopes of “blocking coaches from some of the criticisms.”
North St. Paul coaches conduct preseason meetings to discuss expectations with parents and student-athletes. At Totino-Grace, activities director Mike Smith, who is also the baseball coach, instructs coaches to hand out rules but to talk to parents about culture.
At St. Anthony, coaches lead weekly character lessons, 15-minute reflections on education-based athletics, “which is very different than the club or AAU model,” activity director Troy Urdahl said.
Exit interviews with seniors gives Urdahl feedback on their best and worst experiences and suggestions for coaches to improve the experience.
“There’s no coach that is unreceptive to feedback or legitimate concerns,” said Urdahl, who believes “99 percent of parents are supportive.”
Urdahl said “activities directors across the country are asking themselves daily, ‘How to I get the culture where it needs to be?’ With the Brainerd situation, I admired their bravery and honesty. I just felt bad about the entire situation. The end goal is to have less and less of this.”