Maori Davenport’s story: ‘youth’ being taken out of youth sports

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Maori Davenport is a high school senior in Alabama at Charles Henderson High School. She represented Team USA on their Under-18 team in August at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. She has signed a letter of intent to play for Rutgers, but when USA Basketball mistakenly sent her a cheque, her eligibility was stripped by the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

The cheque, for $857.20, was sent to Davenport as a stipend for lost wages and costs as a result of representing Team USA. USA Basketball noticed their mistake in November, Davenport gave back the money, and USA Basketball notified the Alabama High School Athletic Association of the honest mistake that had been made.

The association wouldn’t budge though — as they ruled Davenport ineligible for her senior season. Plenty of big names in the sport, including some sporting goods companies, spoke out on Twitter in the past few weeks calling for her eligibility to be reinstated, and allow Davenport to finish her senior season.

Davenport was reinstated this past week, where she then returned to play capping off her first game back with over 20 points.

The bigger question from this story is — does everyone really know who youth sports are for? Davenport was the victim of an innocent mistake made by the administration at USA Basketball — USA Basketball reached out to the AHSAA to explain what had happened, and yet they still ruled her ineligible. For what reason? A mistake was made, the money was returned. What good reason does that athletic administration have for not allowing Davenport to play after things got resolved? Simply put, it comes down to people involved in the behind the scenes aspects of sports thinking that their power should overshadow the main focus of youth sport.

Parents, referees and administrators are constantly taking the youth out of youth sports. What is the purpose of youth sports? For kids to develop physical skills, develop skills that can translate to their life beyond sports, to build relationships and learn how to work with others, and have fun. As kids get older, some get more competitive and winning becomes one of the ‘important’ aspects of sport for them. That’s undeniably a part of youth sports as players move up to more competitive teams — but that doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t — take away from the fact that youth sports are for the youth. No one shows up to a football game to cheer on the referees or to clap for the coach who yells the entire game. No one is there to watch adults put on a show at a youth sporting event.

Parents, referees and administrators are absolutely necessary for the success of youth sports — but remember what your role is. The role of these adults is to make sure that youth athletes are able to strive, build confidence, and develop a lifelong love for sports that will keep them active for life. For some, they may have a job of making sure their teams win games, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there for the kids — everyone has to be there for the players. Not for themselves. Not to live the life they envision through their kids — make your youth athletes’ experiences meaningful for them. Fulfill what they need to get out of those experiences — friendships, confidence, competence, respect, character and everything else in between. Keep the youth in youth sports.

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