September 22, 2010

Steve Solloway: The silence that can say so much

Thank you for the interest and the opportunity to speak, Jon Shardlow said in so many words. But he won't.

He believes his sudden resignation as the Falmouth girls' soccer coach last week and his subsequent silence say enough. Maybe to his critics and supporters in Falmouth, and friends in the high school soccer community.

The rest of us wonder why a coach with a successful career record would abruptly walk away from a talented team.

Shardlow did nothing wrong or improper. The school, said Athletic Director Todd Livingston last week, supported Shardlow as its girls' soccer coach. Shardlow had philosophical differences with some in the town's soccer community but Livingston stood behind him.

Philosophical differences? Read that as who gets playing time and who doesn't. Read that as a coach's manner. Shardlow doesn't hug on Tuesday and bark on Thursday. He consistently challenges.

He appears to be another victim of a distortion of the old axiom that you can be or do anything if you work hard enough for it. What happens when the person next to you is working just as hard? Talk to Chris Treister, the Cape Elizabeth kid who has done everything he can to be the University of Maine's starting quarterback.

His challenge is that Warren Smith is working just as hard to maximize his talent and earned the starting job for Maine's last three games. As a fan you can line up behind one quarterback or the other, but no one should be blamed when someone else starts.

Too many good men and women are leaving coaching because of issues over playing time, and how they coach and communicate with athletes while parents look over their shoulders. Of course it's not every parent. It takes a few and the silence of the others.

Falmouth has lost a number of head coaches in recent years. Some would link the turnover to parents' accusations of favoritism and a precedent set when Dana Dresser wasn't rehired as baseball coach. Livingston disagrees. Deb LeBel, he says, left the soccer position after the 2008 season to start a family. John Keyes, the successful swim coach, retired.

George Conant left the girls' basketball program and Scott Rousseau, after more than 10 years, left the hockey team, citing his wish to spend more time with his young family. Rousseau did want the break from coaching, but the interference of a few parents was the tipping point.

Livingston did say Tuesday that Falmouth has outstanding sports programs and athletes, but he would be naive if he didn't believe the school could lose strong candidates for open coaching positions based on what Shardlow and others have experienced.

A more immediate casualty to Falmouth girls' soccer was the loss of Cassie Darrow, a sophomore and the team's leading scorer. Livingston confirmed she left the team. She and her family did not return a phone call to their home Tuesday night. Was her departure a protest and an act of courage? It appears so. Others may say she walked out on her teammates.

That was one of several reasons Shardlow wouldn't talk, he said Monday night, responding to an e-mail with a phone call. By resigning he had to know the hurt the players and parents who support him must feel. He doesn't think he should be singled out.

It's the trend nowadays to twist a few arms to remove coaches. Parents have lost sight of the team concept and of players standing up for themselves and being responsible for their own actions. What's happened at Falmouth happens elsewhere.

Too many high school coaches and athletic directors tell me they see more athletes who don't know how to resolve conflicts and are too afraid to fail.

Twelve years ago, Shardlow spoke to a Press Herald colleague about his day job at the Spurwink School and his other job coaching soccer at South Portland High.

"I think while everyone strives to be an individual in society, there's an element of team play. There are very few jobs where you don't have to interact with other people. You have to play by the rules to some extent. You have to work within an organization and a group that's headed for a common goal.

"And a lot of those skills can be directly correlated to athletics."

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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