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Tufte speaks at West Fargo High

University of Mary professor John E. Tufte, who wrote a book called "Crazy-Proofing High School Sports," speaks about youth sports on May 21, at West Fargo High School. David Samson

University of Mary professor John E. Tufte spoke to community members on Wednesday evening in the West Fargo High School gym.

Tufte – who wrote “Crazy-Proofing High School Sports” – shared stories from his time as a high school coach and encouraged the crowd of 100 people to keep in mind that school sports are meant to be a distraction for students, as well as a source of life lessons.

“We have an education program here, and this is the fun part,” West Fargo High School Activities Director Curt Jones said. “It is just a game. Any outcome of a game is not going to affect whether your son or daughter is going to graduate. If we keep that in mind and just reward effort, I think we have a good thing going.”

He asked the audience to think of professional and high level college sports – events that are televised nationally – as “soap operas” and athletes like Lebron James as characters of a TV show. He then said applying the same level of “obsessive passion” to high school sports that is often applied to the NFL or NBA does not help the student-athletes, the program or its fan base.

“This is not our life,” Tufte said. “We need to be the passion police for the kids and provide mature, level-headed perspective when they need it.”

Tufte came to the school thanks to a request from the district activities task force, which formed in January after assistant football and basketball coach Jim Jonas resigned from those positions after the district received complaints about his coaching style. The incident revealed a disconnect between the activities office and the community, and Jones hopes Tufte’s presentation helps the two parties get on the same page.

“If someone makes a mistake, let’s learn from that and work with each other,” Jones said. “We are here for the betterment of these kids, so we need to communicate when things happen.”

Tufte reminded the audience that it is not the adults’ job to contribute passion, but rather to teach students how to be passionate.

“All of us get a little overboard with our own children from time to time, and coaches can go a little overboard with their team,” Sheyenne High School principal Greg Grooters said. “You just have to step back and remember this is meant to be a quality experience for the kids.”

Tufte reinforced the necessity for responsible, supportive adults to be involved, but said the harmonious passion – the kind of passion that wants improvement – must come from the kids, and never from parents, coaches and administration.

“We need strong adults to lead the charge with sports, but it takes an adult to screw things up,” Tufte said. “Youthful passion is fantastic. A desire that fills your gut where you just have to win is perfect. We want to teach that ... but we can’t be the ones with our fingernails in it.”

Ultimately Tufte said one of the most important lesson sports teach children is how to handle failure, and encouraged adults to let them do that on their own.

“Let the student-athletes have some fun and learn some lessons,” Grooters said. “Look at what they take away from the process. If they leave happy, everyone else should too.”