Transcription of the episode “High school sports: Ethical challenges and considerations”

Amy H-L: [00:00:16] I’m Amy Halpern-Laff

Jon M: [00:00:18] And I’m Jon Moscow. Our guest today is Mark Jerome, basketball coach at Beacon High School in New York City. Mark was executive director of the Riverside Church basketball program and is currently president of Live City Basketball and Global Professional Sports. He’s also the father of Ty Jerome, now with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA. Welcome, Mark!

Mark J: [00:00:38] Thank you, Jon. Thank you, Amy. 

Amy H-L: [00:00:41] You’ve said that basketball helped you make it through high school. Why do you think sports does that for so many students?

Mark J: [00:00:49] For me and people I know who struggled with school or who didn’t love school, it was certainly, I don’t want to say it was, it was a way of thinking outside of academics to help us pass through the day or thinking about, “Oh, at the end of the day I’m going to practice, I’ve got to get through this class and I know I have to maintain a certain GPA so I can play on a team.” There were certainly classes I did like, certain subjects and certain teachers I did like, but I was always excited to go to school because I knew I had practice at the end of the day. I knew I had a game at the end of the day, and I played three sports throughout throughout the year. So that was like that dangling carrot for me and I knew at the end of the, at the end of that rope or at the end of the day I was going to be excited to participate in some kind of athletic event.

Jon M: [00:01:33] So sports and arts both seem to engage students who may feel a disconnect in their other classes. Like you were talking about. Do you see similarities between sports and arts? 

Amy H-L: [00:01:44] Yeah, absolutely. Sure. I mean, it’s an extracurricular activity . It’s something that that where some kids who may not excel in the classroom, and there are a lot of kids who do excel in both, that also find an outlet or find their place or their space where outside of the classroom, that they have such a passion for. Right. And so it doesn’t mean that you’re not smart just because you don’t like school or don’t do well in school, but maybe your passion is arts or sports. 

Jon M: [00:02:18] So my son Lev, who you of course coach the varsity basketball at Beacon and he coaches junior varsity. He compared your style of coaching to jazz because he said that there’s a structure, and  within that structure, you give the players a lot of flexibility and space for individual innovation and that this both makes your teams extremely hard to beat because other coaches and players don’t know what to expect since you don’t know what to expect, but also really helps your players develop in all sorts of intellectual and I don’t know if improv is the right word, improvise within a structure, but he just said that it’s a really exciting kind of thing to watch. What do you think of that comparison? 

Mark J: [00:03:15] First of all, I’m so impressed by intellectuals and smart people like Lev  who can make that comparison, not about me, but about anything or anybody. So thank you Lev,  and that’s very thoughtful and kind of him. I do prefer a style that has a lot of structure, but that also, if you have the talent where those kids or those individuals can create on their own too, I mean, that’s the perfect combination to a winning and successful. Any type of program where everybody buys in and you’ve created some form of structure within that group and then they still have the talent base to go off on their own within the system and with thinking of the other players and being considerable of the entire team. But understanding roles, roles are important too, because not everybody can be the best and not everybody can be the lead saxophonist or the lead point guard or the lead scorer.

So you have, on the court, most people know that there are five players on one team and everybody has a role. Everybody can’t do the same job. So it’s important for everybody to understand that role. And if you can get people to buy into that and create this. 

I dunno. There’s a coach from Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, who is, I think one of the, if not the all time winning coach in  basketball. When he’s coaching, when he’s coaches college basketball, and he’s labeled as this fantastic group, great coach. Whether he is or isn’t is a matter of opinion, he certainly won enough games, but he talks about an individual is one and can never beat, and he uses his hand, I think is as the metaphor, a group.  And that group, if everybody’s in line can be very successful. And if you can have that group, have some structure and individualism, I guess, where everybody agrees and is in harmony that I think you have a very successful ingredient.  

Jon M: [00:05:03] Do you see, I mean, it seems clear that that happens in large part because of the coach. Is that right? 

Mark J: [00:05:13] I think sometimes, but it also happens on the college level and the NBA level, at the highest level, you have to have a lot of talent. It’s not like you can have some guys who are average players. You can, they’ll be, they’ll become better if a coach is really good, but it’s not like they’re going to beat five top great prospects. Right. I mean, you have to have pretty good guys or pretty solid boys or girls or men or women to beat a really good team. 

Jon M: [00:05:40] Right. But I wasn’t thinking so much in terms of the talent. Obviously. But in the sense where you were talking about the cohesiveness and of beating a group, and of course you hear this a lot in terms of professional sports and you know, you can have an all star team, but if they don’t fit together with each other, then you can have five great individuals playing five different games of basketball  and losing.

Mark J: [00:06:05] Absolutely. So it starts with the coach. It starts with, with whoever’s running the program. I started at Beacon four years ago. My first year we were four and 14, four and 15, whatever it was, and it was painful to go to practice because there were 14 or 15 guys on the team, and we were averaging seven kids in attendance and we were losing games.

And there were times when, when some of the student athletes were plotting how to get out of practice and would say, “Hey, let’s go do this.” And I got wind of it a couple of times or once, and I told the kids, you have a choice. You can either be on the team or you can go to whatever event you want to outside practice. But this is a commitment. And the the assistant coach, who’s also the athletic director, he and I changed the culture and we said, okay, at the end of the season, everybody’s going to have to work out in the spring and summer. And they committed themselves. And I think it starts with the culture and people talk about culture often, and it really does make the difference of creating a positive, healthy, making people be committed, culture. And so that’s what we did. And we’ve had very successful seasons since.

Amy H-L: [00:07:11] Mark, families often make great sacrifices for their children to participate in competitive sports. Given that very few of these young athletes are going to play professionally, what is it about team sports that parents find so compelling?

Mark J: [00:07:27] That’s a great question. I just was reading an article about helicopter parents and why kids are so over scheduled. And it was basically saying it was a parent who’s struggling on how to handle, what strategies to use for his kids, and right now, during this pandemic. And he was basically saying this is a tme actually for us to reflect and to show our kids so much love instead of having them so over scheduled. And the reason why people over-schedule, there was a study done, I think by Michigan University, he alluded to, was that it doesn’t help with the kid’s anxiety. It helps with the parent’s anxiety, right. It was a fantastic outcome of the study.

It is a great sacrifice. And I think there are very few kids who are going to make the hoop, are gonna play in college. The numbers are staggering. It’s, I think it’s like 5% of the kids who play basketball at the high school level that end up playing college basketball on some level, and there’s different levels in college basketball. And I think to play at the highest level, which is Division One, I think is 0.0 something.

So people do commit a lot of time and it’s a  hot topic. And there aren’t many family dinners, right. There aren’t many. There’s not a lot of together time. So people are sacrificing that. And I think part of it is, you know, recreation and health are so important, and being part of a team is so important, and there are so many positives to being part of a team. Building relationships, self-esteem. When it works, when it works, and it doesn’t always work. And I’ve seen them, the great sides of of team sports and basketball and other sports as well. And I’ve seen the ugly side and my kids played and I played all sports, various sports. So I think the reasons why are the values that people can gain being on a team.

And at the higher levels, you don’t see your kid often. My kid played for, he played high school basketball and he was always at practice and then his AAU team traveled. He was on a high level AAU team, a Nike team that, 

Jon M: [00:09:31] Can you tell us what AAU is? 

Mark J: [00:09:33] Thank you. Sorry about that. Amateur AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union, and it encompasses… The AAU is actually an organization, a not for profit organization based in Florida, headquartered in Florida. And now everybody just calls every team outside of school team AAU. It’s actually not, they’re not AAU. You have to belong to that organization to officially call yourself AAU.

Jon M: [00:09:59] And it starts how, how young, high school or younger?

Mark J: [00:10:02] It starts at five, six years old and goes through high school, so until college. So my kid was flown all around the country and, and was celebrated and played in front of the top college coaches and we didn’t see him a lot his senior, his junior year. I fortunately, I also coached, I coached him for many years, so I got to spend time with him on trips when we would travel and playing in tournaments or playing in leagues or playing in events. But it’s a hot topic. And Amy, it’s a great question and I think if people can find the balance somehow, I think it’d be wonderful. It’s hard to, very hard to.

Amy H-L: [00:10:42] Well, another balance. Sports are by definition competitive. So how do you balance the intense desire to win with building a culture where winning isn’t everything?

Mark J: [00:10:55] I’m not the person to answer that question. Unfortunately, I am extremely competitive, and winning is the ultimate goal. Oh, well, let me take that back. Winning is really is very important and that’s what we practice for. We practice to win. We practice to improve. We practice to create healthy environments. We practice to make our to make the kids on our team, I do, I practice make the kids on our teams more educated on the court. To try to, if they want to get to the next level, to help them get to the next level. And you can’t do that unless you’re competitive. And the person, the people who are the most competitive,  are going to, I think it’s a quality that someone has as part of their spirit on the court. And often the people who are more competitive are going to have that edge to help them win. It doesn’t mean that they are going to win. So I think that’s a really important piece to have competitiveness on the court and I don’t think it’s something that that should detract, should be a detractor. I also think that you can still be a great sport. It doesn’t mean you have to kick somebody and try to intentionally hurt somebody and be malicious, but I think, it can be healthy. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. Competitiveness is not bad. At least that’s the way I see it. I know some people don’t. 

I was, we were talking about this earlier about a story that where I, everything I do is competitive, which is not necessarily healthy. I play Monopoly with my kids, and, and sometimes the games get heated. Um, but it’s like everything. 

Jon M: [00:12:20] Do you ever play Risk with them?  

Mark J: [00:12:24] Oh, 

Jon M: [00:12:24] yeah. 

Mark J: [00:12:24] Yeah. The  board game. Yeah. 

Jon M: [00:12:27] Cause I’ve just seen families torn apart by that. That was a total aside. 

Mark J: [00:12:31] Yeah, absolutely. Anything that I do with my, my son, my two sons, we are extremely competitive. We can’t walk down the street without, you know, well not everything, but a lot of times a week. I mean, we talk trash playing backgammon and it’s, it’s a healthy trash talking, but, so I don’t think being competitive is bad. Off the court and to understand, and if the kids, if your players know, well, you’re creating a competitive environment and a creative climate for everybody to play hard. And they know off the court and even on the court, if it’s done in a healthy way, that you have their back and that you really care about them, right. They’re going to support you and they’re going to go out and try their best, and they’re going to do their best to help the team win.  I hope I answered that question.

Amy H-L: [00:13:18] I’m curious how you, you’ve mentioned that when you’re with your kids, you play games a lot and they’re by nature, competitive. But how about in other situations? How do kids differentiate between being on a team and being ultra competitive and being citizens and family members and you know, in their other roles in life?

Mark J: [00:13:45] I think it’s a, it’s a great avenue and it’s a great opportunity for coaches to try to create that environment where… So at University of Virginia basketball, where my oldest son played, the coach has created this culture with five pillars, servanthood, now it’s more religious than I am, but they’re based on being a good citizen, humility, building, self esteem, and so on, on and off the court. And so that’s the type of culture that I think kids can get the message from certain coaches and take that to the outside world as well. Like I think it’s important for people just to have respect for each other, right. That’s maybe the most important quality we can have, and I think that’s a great place to be able to teach your team great avenue where you have, everybody’s captive, where you have everybody’s attention in a captive place, and you can really teach those lessons.

Jon M: [00:14:40] Kyle Guy, UVA, University of Virginia star, who’s now with the Sacramento Kings, has talked publicly about his struggles with anxiety. Of course, as a star since high school, he’s been under pressure way greater than than most high school players. He said he’s heard from lots of high school athletes on Instagram thanking him and /or sharing their anxiety. As a coach, how can you help players cope with anxiety or with embarrassment after a big loss or a bad play? 

Mark J: [00:15:11] So I’m just going to add something. He was one of the stars on the Virginia team last year. He wasn’t…There were three star players last year. Two of them got to the NBA. Well all three of them got drafted to the NBA. So his story was that you two may not be aware of this, and a lot of your audience members may not be aware of. Virginia was the number one team in the country in 2018-2019 season going into the March Madness tournament, right, which is maybe the biggest event, and consider all the games that are played and in sports, one of the biggest events is the March Madness tournament, which is trying to win the national championship, that the college team trying to win national championship.

So  2017-2018 Virginia was the number one ranked team going into that tournament. Of 64 teams. So there are four different regions, one through 16 and the North region, the West region, the East region, the South region. Never had a 16-seed team beaten a number one team in the history of college sports. University of Maryland, Baltimore County [UMBC] was playing Virginia that year. Virginia has probably best player, arguably best player, who was drafted to the NBA and the number after this past year, and I think he was drafted fourth or fifth or whatever it was. He got hurt in a game prior to the game versus U Virginia was going to play UMBC. So Virginia was down a man, but it was still like, okay, Virginia is going to beat the pants off this team. They’re the number one seed.  The other team’s number 16 seed. It should be a blowout. Lo and behold, it’s considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of college basketball. And UMBC is a 16 seed beat the number one seed. After that game, Kyle Guy stated that he suffered from anxiety, which is why he didn’t play well.

The next year, this last, which was last year, 2018-2019 , Virginia was ranked number one again. They had three games that are known as classics that will live down in the history of college basketbal as three of the greatest basketball games ever played. Virginia was in the Final Four game. Which is the final, which are the two final games before the championship game to see who goes to the championship.

In front of 75,000 people in the stadium, usually stadiums, basketball stadiums might be in college, anywhere from 3000 to 16,000 somewhere around there. The champion, the Final Four and the championship game are played in football stadiums, indoor football stadiums, which are like seventy five thousand, eighty thousand people, right. And if you have a seat way up.there’s no way you can see the game, but people just want to be around it. And so the cities expand, they double in population for that weekend. Right. It’s, if you’re a sports fan or a basketball fan, it’s the greatest experience ever. I’ve actually had somebody tell me that, literally. So Kyle, at the end of the game, Virginia is down by five points with like seven seconds left and everybody’s going, the game’s over,  they finally lost. They’ve worn out their nine lives because they’ve had some games prior to that that were like impossible. They weren’t going to win. Kyle Guy hits a shot. They are down by two now with like four seconds left, the other team gets… Virginia fouls. The other team, which was Auburn, Auburn misses the free throw. Virginia dribbles down court. Anyway, Kyle Guy, with one second left, takes a shot. It goes, and I’m sitting right behind the Virginia bench. With 75,000 people, you can’t hear anything. The place is going crazy. It was one of the greatest games in the history of college basketball. The shot goes in and out and he misses and everybody’s like, okay, we lost. You can’t hear what happened on the court. Two seats down from me, my younger son goes, “He got fouled, wait, he got fouled.” It was unbelievable. Everybody. I was like, I was in disbelief. So he now has to shoot three free throws in front of 75,000 people at the game and this massive stadium and millions of people watching. The year before, he didn’t play well, suffering from anxiety, and I think he possibly went to go see somebody professionally, as I understand it.

Jon M: [00:19:45] I think he said that he did. 

Mark J: [00:19:46] He did. So he’s got to sync these three free throws for Virginia to win, or at least two of them for Kyle to send the game into an extra four minute or five minute overtime. Here’s the first one. Meanwhile, there was like the Auburn team and fans were protesting and screaming “BS! No way. He didn’t get fouled,” so it was a huge controversial call. It’s the second one. And everybody was like, Oh my goodness, this is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. And he hits the third one and Virginia goes on to the championship game, ultimately winning the championship game in dramatic fashion as well. 

So how you deal with that? I mean, certainly there is an opportunity to overcome it or at least deal with it as Kyle did by seeking professional help if you have the resources, I think that just listening to people sometimes and having conversations can help deal with it. I think writing about it and writing stories can be therapeutic and helping to deal with it there. There was a lot of pressure on these kids at young ages. At the highest level, there was a ton of pressure put on by their parents, by coaches, and if you’re a high level player and you’re celebrated, and then in social media. You’re getting recruited by lots of coaches. Well, which coaches want you? What school should you go to? And if you’re thinking about, so my son dealt with  last year because he was, he was on the team and he was a fairly high level player. And at some point the agents start calling, the NBA just start calling.

Well now you’re talking about a whole nother level while you’re in college. You’re talking about doing this professionally for a living, something that you’ve done your whole life and you’ve dreamed about your whole life, and now you’re talking about getting paid millions of dollars. It is a life changer. So he had people, there are scouts and people who predict and project where people are going to go in the NBA draft. And so he said at some point, I’m looking in the draft, but what are called the draft boards projecting where a kid might go, be drafted. And it was, it was tough. It was challenging to deal with during the season. And my son wasn’t playing that well because of it, partially because of that. So we had some conversations. He actually spoke to a sports psychologist. So if you’re asking, was the question, how do you deal with it?

Jon M: [00:22:05] Well, I guess the question is, I mean, that was, what you just described is just incredible. I mean, I was just visualizing, you know, being in that situation with the 75,000 people, not to mention everyone watching on TV and so forth. And I know that after the first stuff that, that he and I don’t know about other members of the team, got death threats from fans.

Mark J: [00:22:28] Losing the year before.

Jon M: [00:22:29] Right. But okay, so you’re talking about, you know, what you’ve described as the .0004, whatever. On a day to day basis for most high school kids and most high school coaches, you’re not talking about anything like that, but still, for a kid, if you’re playing in front of your parents and your girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever, it can be anxiety producing and traumatic. So how do you, you know. When this just arises, I mean, do you have, I don’t know, strategies?

Mark J: [00:23:02] It’s another good question. All the questions both of you are asking are so great. So, you know, as a culture of a high school team where most people are either teachers or have other jobs, I don’t think the people are giving us enough time to think about, and a lot of kids do suffer from it, from anxiety or depression, and we’re finding this more and more. We’re discovering it through people who are sharing it. Right. And who are expressing and being public about it. Because I guess for so many years, people may have been embarrassed by it, and I deal with it as a coach. I deal with pressure where I have to win and I have to win. Right. So that’s one of the negatives of feeling like you have to win because you have to deal with this pressure and anxiety. And so one day somebody actually suggested meditation for me. Right. And so I think that can be really helpful. Just talking about it and being public about it and not being ashamed of it, I think can be helpful because then you get people to understand and say, let’s back up a little bit. Let’s actually enjoy it. Let’s let the child enjoy it. Let’s let him or her enjoy the experience on the court. What happens if you don’t win? If you don’t win, is life going to go on? Are you still going to have to eat dinner? Are you still going to… And this is how I coach sometimes, when I remind myself the right way it should be done.

I was like, guys, guess what? After practice, even if you make 1715 mistakes, you still get to go home and have dinner. You still get to go home and do your homework. The homework one doesn’t always go over well with kids who aren’t, don’t love school. But you know, I tried to make it fun. So I think people, you know, it’s hard to, to share that  maybe it’s just a little bit of a stigma to say, to share and be expressive and be public that you deal with, with anxiety, but it’s important maybe to share it and then people can be aware of it and talk about it. And that can be very therapeutic. 

Amy H-L: [00:24:53] You told us another anecdote about Kyle Guy that when Kyle once helped a player on the opposing team get up from a fall, and how unusual that was in the world of high level basketball. Would you encourage that on your high school teams or do you think there’s value in the unwritten rule that players only help their teammates during a game?

Mark J: [00:25:15] What you’re talking about is sportsmanship. Typically. On the highest level, and I think all, most levels, I don’t know, most coaches aren’t gonna think about it one way or the other. But you’re talking about would most coaches say if another player is down, don’t help that kid up, especially if the game is still going on and where the were a referee has not blown a whistle to stopped the play where you know, the game can stop and then we, you can gather your thoughts or gather or help or talk to your teammates.

And so Kyle has done that a number of times, which is not seen typically as something that that’s preached by coaches. And I think it’s different because we’ve all been taught as high level players, you don’t help the other team up, right? The unwritten rule, you don’t help the other team up, but as soon as your player falls down, you should need to rush over and support your teammates. Show solidarity. But what’s wrong with helping the other team up during stop play? If a player falls, why can’t you say, hey, good job, and help him up in the, in the heat of competition. I think he could help transcend the thought about playing sports and being, it’s okay to be nice. Now football is maybe a different story because the goal is to kill the other team, but in basketball or or baseball or something else, there’s nothing wrong with helping your team out. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m sorry, the opposition up. Sometimes I think that there’s some trash talking going on, so you might not want to help that other guy who you’ve got, you’re having an individual personal war with. If it’s ugly, but if it’s, you know, if two teams are playing hard and the kids are all nice kids, help them up. I think it’s, I think it’s a great gesture. So as a matter of fact, his dad texted me last night to just to check in, Kyle’s dad. And so I told him, I was like, you know what? I was thinking about how Kyle helps other players up, and it’s such a fascinating gesture, and hopefully that can, that can change, help change sportsmanship in general.

Amy H-L: [00:27:16] We’ve all heard about parents becoming way too involved and even abusive at their kids’ sports events. How can coaches deal with this and how can schools and the community at large try to change the culture that allows this?

Mark J: [00:27:29] This is a tough one for me. So if you look, if anybody were to google me and my son, the narrative has been how hard I was on him growing up and the question mark did that help him become more competitive, and it’s nothing that I’m proud of, nothing I wear as a badge of honor. And there were times when I would go home and I would be like, look at my behavior and look in the mirror and saying, you were a bully. Right. And I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it on the worst levels. I’ve seen a parent punch his kid in the face after a game. I’ve seen parents scold and yell at their kids. I’ve seen parents tell their kids in the middle of games, stop and do pushups while the game of the teams are going back and forth. It’s humiliating, right? And it’s embarrassing and it’s, and it’s bully type behavior.

And at some point, I know that Beacon High School last year was playing a game against another school. The girls team and the coach, the father of a girl on the other team, on the opposing team, was abusive to his daughter, was abusive to the coach, was abusive to the referees, and somebody said something to him and it got really heated. Apparently it was almost a fight. I left. I didn’t see, I wasn’t there when the confrontation happened. And I think I’m mixed on it because you have to be careful when you approach people and confront people, right. Certain neighborhoods, people are less respectful of the environment. And so a friend of mine was walking his dog the other night and somebody threw something on the ground and he said, “Dude, there’s a garbage right there. Why can’t you just throw it in there?” And he says, “You’re not talking to me, are you.” So I think you have to be careful and  is life worth it. And I’ll be. But, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about, and that can happen to sports too. And the cardinal rule is you don’t say anything about anybody else’s kid.

And you should not say anything about your own kid either. You shouldn’t be yelling at your kid. What happens in practices now and some of the teams I coach or some of the teams in my organization outside of Beacon High School, is that when parents misbehave, we threaten them that they cannot watch practice. If you’re going to talk to your kid during practice, it’s disruptive to the entire team. Right. And also a parent doesn’t understand a lot. Lots of parents, and I was guilty of this, too, think that they know more than the coach, but the agenda, the parent’s agenda is their kid, and it’s not the team. The coach’s agenda is the team. Right. And every parent knows more than the coach. At least they think. Now in my case, of course, I’m going to tell you it’s different and I’m going to say, of course, I knew more than the coach, right? And whether I did or not, I should not be talking to my child during the course of a game because the coach has a plan and a strategy for the entire team, and it’s disruptive for my kid who would look at me during games to tell him what to do. The game’s going on, how could he, why should he stop and look at me? Right. And I’m showing him maybe a move to do or how to shoot it, or a certain strategy or technique. So I think it’s an ugly, ugly, ugly part of sports. And at some point, I think that, and it can escalate into fights and it can escalate into the worst even, I mean, just ugly scenes.

And so  I think schools have to, at some point, either there can be a contract, and so that’s what I did when I was executive director for the Riverside Church Hawks basketball team. We had parents sign contracts on behavior and said if they didn’t behave certain ways, that they weren’t going to be allowed to to watch games or come to practices. I’m not sure if there’s much else you can do. 

Jon M: [00:31:12] I’m just thinking as you were talking that it really sounds, it sounds a lot actually like domestic violence and child abuse and how for so long the culture just sort of accepted this, even made jokes about it on late night TV and stuff, and then suddenly, or over a period of time, the culture was able to be changed. So that while it’s still, I mean, both of them obviously still go on. It’s no longer something that’s acceptable. And I’m thinking that, you know, clearly individual coaches can’t do much other than the kinds of things you’re talking about, contracts, you know, talking to people where they feel literally that it’s safe to do it, but then it is going to require some kind of major cultural shift where we collectively just say, this is no more acceptable than child abuse and other forms or domestic violence would be.

Mark J: [00:32:09] I’m not sure. I don’t see it immediately, and I’m not sure what the answer is, and I don’t know if there’s a fool proof strategy.

Jon M: [00:32:16] Oh yeah. I mean, it’s really just my thoughts and it’s not going to be something  they can do, but it’s gotta be dealt with somehow because you’re certainly not the only people person who’s told these kinds of stories.

So I have a question. You said that kids could get better coaching if the Public School Athletic League in New York City, the PSAL,didn’t require coaches to be teachers. On the other hand, some teachers say that it really increases the bonding between them and their students. And this of course is if the coach is a teacher from that school. So if there are coaches who has, you know, frequently has the student in their class if they coach them as well. So what are your thoughts? I mean, both of these seem like… 

Mark J: [00:32:59] That’s a potential to increase bonding, but also the other side of that is kids will know if a coach knows what he’s doing. And they will spot that out immediately and it can also decrease the amount of respect a kid has for a coach right ,outside, off the court. So if I spot someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing because they’re the science teacher who really likes basketball but doesn’t have the time to devote what it takes to help a kid get better or study that craft because they’re overworked already as a teacher, or whatever the reason may be, and can’t give that kid a quality coaching experience, i’s not fair to the kid. Just like every kid deserves a top quality education and a great teacher in the classroom, they deserve a great quality coat, a quality coach, and on the court or on the field or whatever sport they play. And so I’m not sure. I’m sure there’s a good reason why the PSAL or I’m sure there’s a reason why the Public School Athletic League in New York City and most schools around the country don’t permit, prohibit non-teachers from coaching, but I think that there can be a lot of benefits to having someone who is an expert in their field, just like in the classroom, coach a team. I mean, you’re talking about perhaps potentially helping a kid get into college and perhaps it’s, it’s a first generation kid who has the opportunity to go to college through sports, right. Because they’re, they can be, a good coach can, can really help develop a kid. A coach that doesn’t know what he’s doing or likes the sport, but doesn’t study it and doesn’t have the background, doesn’t have the history, doesn’t understand strategies or isn’t studying the game on computer or on TV watching. I watch two or three games at night, college basketball, because I love it. Right. And, and I’ll sometimes I’ll watch old games on computer and I won’t just watch the game for entertainment. I’m watching the game to watch what the different strategies are that the coaches have implemented. And to the game within their team and picking up different offenses that the coaches designed, or defenses and spotting them out. Or I’m taking a variation of something like that. And that’s, and, and so the teams we typically play against at Beacon, the majority of them have no strategies. And some of them have really good players and really good athletes, and those kids are not developed. And so they missed out on an opportunity to be able to play at the next level and be developed into a kid that can reach another level of potential.

Amy H-L: [00:35:29] From an equity point of view, what differences have you seen among New York City schools and funding for phys ed and sports and access to gyms? 

Mark J: [00:35:40] It’s, it’s depressing when you look at certain schools. When you look at the private schools in New York City, in terms of just the classroom and you walk into a building and the building is gorgeous and there aren’t metal detectors and the gyms, they have two gyms that are just gorgeous gyms with tons of space. Um, and then you go into some public schools where you have the metal detectors and you have one gym and it’s small and it’s caged in. And there’s iron bars on the, on the windows. And the lights aren’t on and the uniforms are dilapidated and have been worn for three years. The numbers are falling off and the gym floors have dead spots in them. And some of them have wood back boards and they look like their gym is from the forties or fifties. It’s depressing. If the schools have gyms, right, and then where does the money come from? Uniforms, teams have to raise money. And yeah, and then you go play in some of these private schools, or, or I’m watching a game in a private school and it’s like a college campus, a gorgeous college campus. And when you look at the comparison, it’s ugly. It’s sad. It’s really sad. And again, some of these kids, if they had the opportunity to work out and go to school and practice and play, and facilities that they had access to because some of these gyms are shared by three, four, or five schools. And then on top of that, schools were renting rent their spaces out to earn extra money, earn extra income too. Private corporations who you want to use the gym for, adult leagues. So kids don’t have access to, maybe I want to shoot around after six o’clock or after seven o’clock, but the gyms are rented out to let’s say there’s a group called Urban Professional League, which is fine again, and I understand that. Guess what? We’ve got to be creative, how we’re going to raise some money here, but I don’t think it goes to the, it’s not like it’s going to the athletic fund, right, to help raise money for the, for the schools, which could be, which I think could be, should be part of the formula. And if we’re going to rent the gym out, some of that money should go to the athletic program. 

Jon M: [00:37:46] So let me ask you a question. You were talking a few minutes ago about the private schools, but obviously some of these disparities also exist among the public schools. And when you’re talking about their rental of the gyms, I’m not clear whether you’re talking about this in terms of the public schools or if you’re still talking about the private schools.

Mark J: [00:38:03] So you’re right, there’s a disparity amongst public schools too. Beacon High School. We have a big beautiful school. Our school is gorgeous. And you walk in and the gym is absolutely, I’ve heard people say it’s the nicest high school gym in the city, and then you can go to a school like Thomas Jefferson in Brooklyn where they have really good players, and then you’d be surprised, you would think the gym would be a bigger gym and fairly new and corporations, even Nike might dump some money in because of the, they produce some players that play in college on high levels. So there’s a disparity at public schools as well. And then there are a lot of corporations who have started adult leagues, and these adult leagues are making millions of dollars. And though within those leagues, they rent spaces and public schools and private schools. So when they rent those public space in public schools, they have to get signatures from the custodian and from the principals. Both have to agree on renting the spaces. And now maybe the rules changed it, but that’s has been the rule since I’ve known it. So I don’t know where that money goes. I can’t tell you that, but I think if you’re going to be renting from a gym that’s going to keep a kid out of being able to practice some of that money should go to the  go to this athletic fund. Yeah. 

Jon M: [00:39:21] So another question is that, obviously you mentioned Nike, and you mentioned corporations. So you know, it’s been said that sports at all levels have been greatly commodified over the last couple of decades. What role do corporations play in all of this? And to the extent that it’s negative, are there alternatives at this point? 

Mark J: [00:39:42] Yeah. Well, the, the the corporations, the Nikes and the Adidas and Under Armours have created leagues for the highest level. And so they are, it’s one of the ways they are, I guess, promoting their products. So some of the kids, like my older son played on a Nike team, and their 40 teams that Nike selects to play and travel around the country, and they were given the latest in gear and everybody, the whole country follows the kids that play in the Nike circuit.  If you’re a top player on the Nike circuit and they all have videos and someone shoots videos of them on these different webs, basketball websites. And so it’s a machine. It’s a well oiled machine and it’s run incredibly organized. And because of it, I mean, Nike’s not doing it because they’ve giving back, right. They’re doing it because they’re kind of, it’s a strategy to make more money and I happen to like it. I happen to really appreciate it because it’s one, gathering of a collective group of high level players playing against each other. And the level of basketball is so fascinating and so incredible. And it’s when you look excellent, it’s like if you’re, if you like the opera or if you like, you know, Broadway plays, it’s like going to one of those shows. It is fascinating level of talent. Thye, try to, I don’t know if they’re successful or not. Um, try to say that they give money to organizations or to put on clinics and camps for free at times or for low cost. I don’t know how successful it is. I can’t tell you that. I don’t know if there’s a stigma or something bad or wrong with it. I have to think about it. 

Jon M: [00:41:32] Well,  thank you, Coach Mark Jerome of Beacon High School.  And thank you listeners. Check out our website, for more episodes and articles. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to support use in professional development and we offer professional development and social emotional learning with a focus on ethics in New York city area. Contact us at We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Till next week.

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