Rub Some Dirt in it

Courtesy by Naypong

Courtesy by Naypong

The email from the AYSO Region 122 – Infection Control Committee started out innocently enough (aside from the eerie Soviet era name): “In an effort to promote good hygiene and prevent the spread of disease” the board of directors of our local youth soccer group had formed an Infection Control Committee.

Okay, fine. We have a hard time getting enough parents to volunteer to referee and coach, but if they wanted form a committee to promote good hygiene I’m okay with that.

The first few paragraphs advocated what is basically common sense: stay home if you are sick; if you have a fever or other symptoms stay away from other kids until you’ve been well for 24 hours; don’t share water bottles, etc.

Even the suggestion to use “an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before handing out snacks and after a game” (as opposed to washing your hands) was probably a good one, though I wondered if perhaps we were going to be seeing “sponsored by Purell” embroidered on next year’s uniforms.

Our school district superintendent sent out a similar letter, cautioning parents to teach children not to share their personal items, wash their hands and, mostly importantly, keep their sick kids at home. Hallelujah, this is a huge pet peeve of mine.

But there was one key difference between the two letters. AYSO asked us to avoid “pre and post game handshakes and/or high fives.” Followed by the caveat, “we can still promote good sportsmanship with a post game cheer and by respecting our opponents, coaches and referees.”

Seriously, no high fives? No handshakes?

While I realize that cleanliness is next to flu-lessness and can appreciate the good intentions behind this, I wondered if the Infection Control Committee realizes there is a fine line between healthy hygiene and obsessive germophobia. I’m all for keeping our kids healthy, but seriously, no high fives? That last bit of physical contact is more than just tradition. It’s an important sign of good sportsmanship, a visible symbol that we all played our hardest and, win or lose, we can walk away from the field feeling good about the game.

Seriously, no handshakes?

Sure enough, the ban on hand-to-hand contact was enforced after our game on Saturday, when the kids had just spent the last hour rolling around the grass together, chest bumping, wrestling and helping each other up when they fall down.

The kids didn’t know what to do. Were fist bumps okay? One adult suggested shoulder taps, which I was sure, would result in a brawl.

My response was to giggle at the absurdity of it all. I wasn’t the only one. A referee commented on how odd it was that the kids were forbidden to shake each other’s hands, but that didn’t stop them from all coming to politely shake his hand and thank him for officiating their games. “Next time I’m going to hand out wipes,” he joked.

“I suppose latex gloves are always an option, and how about face masks,” said another soccer mom.

“Oh puleeeeeese,” said another friend. “Might as well have your kids just stay home FOREVER!!!”

Some saw the move as an indication of more than just a flu scare. “Ridiculous,” said a dad. “It seems part of the increasing attempt to teach every child to be afraid of everyone and everything… all for the sake of protecting other entities from liability. Invest in some hand sanitizer if the need arises but let the hugging and high fives commence/continue.”

Another said, “Must have been a big disappointment to have to cancel the planned mandatory AYSO feel good group hug. If I was still coaching I’d name the team the Snot Rockets and dominate.”

When asked about the handshake issue, assistant commissioner Eric Sanborn responded, “Please picture what the average six year old looks like after a soccer game. Sweaty and dirty, with a ring of Gatorade, snot and little bits of orange and watermelon all around his mouth. His shirt and hands were used all game to wipe his nose and they are now all covered with “snail trails” of snot. Would you want to slap ten hands like that and then eat a snack and lick your fingers? Especially during this cold season?”

I’ll admit, that’s not a pretty picture.

“We discussed what other sports leagues, including some professional soccer leagues, have done to reduce the spread of germs in a sports setting and we determined that the after game handshake/high fives followed by postgame snacks, was the likely time for kids to share germs with their teammates and opponents,” Sanborn continued. “We decided to take the focus away from handshakes and high fives for this season only and try to promote good sportsmanship in other ways. It was amazing to see how well parents responded last weekend. … The feedback from our families has been overwhelmingly positive, with a ratio close to 20 positive emails for each complaint.”

Okay, I get it. I wouldn’t want to be the one who gives all the kids in Santa Barbara the swine flu either. No hard feelings. High five!

When Leslie’s not trying to avoid an off-sides penalty, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 25, 2009.

Leslie Dinaberg Watches a Game With John Maloney

Courtesy by Naypong

Courtesy by Naypong

Think herding cats is tough? Try organizing 2,900 kids into 268 teams, then dispersing them among 25 fields for games and practices each week. Once the kids are settled, then try keeping their parents in line. Sound like a challenge? It’s all in a day’s volunteer work for AYSO Commissioner John Maloney.

Leslie Dinaberg: When did you start volunteering with AYSO?

John Maloney: I started as a referee a long time ago, when I was 12.

I grew up around soccer. I played in college (at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA) and then when my youngest daughter Meghan started playing I started to ref and just went on from there, so that’s 12-13 years.

LD: And what was it like then?

JM: We had about 2,500 kids back then…we used to practice all over town and games were all over town. We didn’t have UCSB back then, Girsh Park didn’t exist, so on a given Saturday you had kids (all over town). You would have about one or two fields per location so it was tough getting goals set up and making sure we had refs at each field.

LD: What a huge logistic nightmare.

JM: We probably have actively involved over 20 people to help make things happen. Each age group has administrators that run it.

LD: How do people begin as volunteers?

JM: They start out coaching, and then they say “Have you guys ever thought of …” and we say, “No, how would you like to…” Suggestion is a great foot in the door to being a volunteer.

…We’ve got referee administrators for both genders. Making sure we have refs. …(There’s our) picture day coordinator, our volunteer coordinator, ….our party angels, that run the volunteer party at the end of the year. … People find things they like, you get them doing it and you try to get them to do it for five or six years so you get some consistency, and it helps.

LD: Do people generally stay for the life of their child’s involvement?

JM: Generally but … we get a lot of people who stick around after their kids grow up.

LD: What are the biggest challenges you face?

JM: There aren’t enough fields … we’re by far the largest youth sports organization in town. And for most kids it’s just from the week after school starts until the week after Thanksgiving, but for the talented kids that want to keep playing we have all-stars and that goes all the way to June or July.

LD: After all these years of involvement, do you think the girls and boys teams behave differently?

JM: Oh, absolutely. I’ve coached both and yeah, there’s a difference. You motivate them differently. In AYSO you don’t yell at kids, you try to keep it positive, but you can discipline a boy differently than a girl. … But both are really rewarding, especially this age group (8-10) because you see so much improvement throughout the year. You look at the first game and the last game and there’s a huge improvement. I just love to see kids when it starts to click for them.

LD: Do you have any tips for parents to be a better soccer/sports parent?

JM: Just watch. Every year we have problems with parents … the cheering stuff is good, but the parents that try to get into coaching that aren’t coaches … we get some that stand behind the goal and talk to the kids. We get some that counteract what the coach is trying to tell them to do. That’s kind of frustrating sometimes.

LD: I assume you’re not going to be the commissioner forever and ever and ever.

JM: Not if my wife has anything to say about it.

LD: What kind of advice would you give to your successor?

JM: Get a lot of people to help you, and don’t let things get to you. We’ve talked about mostly good stuff, but there’s stuff that I have to deal with every year that’s not too pleasant. We’re dealing with almost 3,000 kids, and 6,000 parents, and we’ve got divorces, restraining orders, one parent on the other, child protection issues come up.

LD: What’s your favorite thing about AYSO?

JM: What everybody says on the board is, “If I got paid I’d quit. You couldn’t pay me enough to ref this game with some of these parents. It’s a good thing I do it for free.” The board members get a really rough time at time. We’ve had these new coaches get hit with some of these parents who are just high maintenance…

For every little bad thing there’s like 20 good things. There’s so much. When you watch these kids just having a blast and get so excited at the end of the game is the best.

Name: John Maloney

Born: New London, Connecticut

Family: Wife Valerie and daughters Meghan, 17, and Carleigh, 14.

Civic Involvement: AYSO Commissioner; Sunday School Teacher at Holy Cross Church; runs the Society of Professional Engineers’ Math Counts Program for Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties

Professional Accomplishments: Electrical Engineer, owner of JMPE Electrical Engineering and Lighting Design with offices in Santa Barbara and Bakersfield.

Little-Known Fact: John’s first job after college was as a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown.

Originally published in Noozhawk