Deadspin Loves Lacrosse “Trend” Spotting


When I think of stultifying “trend” articles, my mind immediately jumps to the New York Times style section. Stories like “Dogs: the new accessory!” or “Brooklyn: Is it too cool?” offer very little to anyone, but the old Grey Lady still loves to find fully waxing societal trends and then amplify them into even larger non-issues.

My problem with these pieces often stems from the fact that these trends have been going on for long periods of time before they were “discovered” by the NYT (and yet the Times acts like it is breaking news). Moreover, the pieces tend to miss any larger picture, or potential implications for the future. “Beards: so hot right now!” Next topic!

In the sports world, it looks like Deadspin is dipping their big hairy toe into this festering pool of preposterous journalism. It didn’t start with their recent story on “rich lacrosse parents making their kids repeat a grade,” but that’s as good a place as any to start for us, because I know this situation pretty well, and I know how bogus the premise happens to be.

The notion that the author, Dave McKenna, puts out there is summed up thusly: There is a new trend amongst private school parents to hold their kids back a grade for sports, especially lacrosse, in the DC metro area. This means rich lacrosse parents are holding their kids back solely for sports. It’s cheating and it’s not fair.

This is incredibly lazy reporting and storytelling.

First of all, this is by no means a new trend. Parents have been doing this at private schools for decades, in and out of lacrosse. In New England, there is something called a PG year, where high school graduates go back to private schools for an extra year. There are also private schools that run from K-9th grade. When students graduate, they often repeat their 9th grade year at the next school they attend. Kids also often transfer schools and stay back a year. A couple of schools offered that to me in the 1990s. I went to public school in Maine as a child, and if you weren’t ready to go from Kindergarten to 1st grade, you did a year of K-1. This was in 1986. It’s why I was 18 for my entire Senior year.

Connor Wilson 4th grade lacrosse weston
Hold me back, Dad! I need to develop more!

I know hockey players who entered college (NCAA D3 colleges, by the way, not D1) at 20 or 21 years old. Basketball players who did a PG year were often 19 or 20 by the first day of classes. Kids routinely found ways to do five years of high school, and they often played all five years. We saw less of it in lacrosse, but even at the D3 level, we were far from immune. I saw it in public schools, private schools, and catholic schools. The point is that holding kids back for sports, or otherwise, is NOT a new thing in any way, shape, or form. To act like it is shows a total lack of understanding.

But let’s give McKenna the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps this new type of “holding kids back” as the parents in the DC area are supposedly doing in droves, is actually new. Does this guy have any numbers to back up what he is claiming? Or is it all anecdotal evidence derived from a player named Topper? The last time Deadspin gave lacrosse a good thrashing was over some MadLax emails from a while back. Do the editors at the site not remember how crazy and vindictive that correspondence was? So how are they now accepting anonymous lacrosse parent quotes as gospel? How can they all be crazy on one hand, and at the same, be legitimate sources for articles? The fact that McKenna mentions the MadLax article means he read it. There is a major disconnect here!

When he starts talking about Mater Dei middle school, I began to have some hope for a reconnect.

Here was a school with a reputation for holding kids back, with a roster of players, whose ages could actually be determined… and… NOTHING was done about it. McKenna “asked” for some numbers but didn’t get any that backed up his story. I don’t know, maybe he could have done some research? Is the average age of lacrosse players higher than it was 10 years ago? FOIL requests could easily get that data. Is the average age of lacrosse players in private schools in Maryland any higher than it is in Massachusetts? Is it higher than the average age in MD? Is this perhaps not a new trend, but perhaps MD parents learning from what New England parents have been doing for years? Is it even happening more often? No usable numbers were offered. Sad face.

I am not trying to argue that kids aren’t being held back for sports (or other reasons) more today than they were 10 years ago. They certainly could be. But the article on Deadspin offers up no concrete proof either way, and relies on a couple of anonymous quotes for validation. It’s shoddy trend spotting, and brings little to the table. In the end it just looks like a clamor for page views, but hey I’m writing about it, so maybe it’s working!

Are parents holding their kids back? Sometimes, yes. Is it fair? I have no idea. At this point, I don’t even know what fair means. Is it fair that certain families can afford top notch private schools, travel teams, and PG years? Is it fair that some kids get a Mercedez on their 16th birthday? No, of course it’s not fair. None of it is. Since when has that mattered?

Was it fair for Chris Weinke to play football at FSU after years of playing pro baseball? Ricky Williams got paid after he was drafted in MLB while playing football at Texas. Kids go from Juniors to NCAA hockey all the time. AAU players are treated like pros once they turn 13. In all of these sports, lacrosse included, it helps to be older and more experienced. Some people can pay for that advantage, others can’t. I’m not saying it’s right, but how is this not the American Way of today? How is this a “rich lacrosse” problem?

Dan McKenna knows that the words “rich”, “lacrosse”, and “parents” will generate page views and outrage. His editors surely love him for it. But he is also a serious journalist on some level, and I can read that he is actually interested by this idea and story. Why not put in a little more effort, and look at the broader topic of holding kids back so that they are older when they go to school? Isn’t that an important topic to discuss? Maybe lacrosse kids are being held back more often… I’d love to see some numbers to back it up!

A friend of mine went off to college at 17.5 years old. He was fine. I went off to school at 19, and if I had gone at 17.5, I would not have been fine. Thank goodness for the year of K-1 in Maine! I know countless kids who were not “ready” to go off to college, who could have benefitted from another year of growing up. Why are we assuming this path has to be a bad thing? There always has to be a villain, right?

Connor playing for Weston against Concord-Carlisle in 1999. Power cradle. lacrosse
Almost 19 in high school? UNFAIR!

There are so many questions left unanswered here. What could have been helpful and interesting became a shot at rich people and lacrosse. Sure, that’s a lot of fun, but on an important issue like this, can’t the site try to be a little more nuanced? Wouldn’t that be more humorous than simply picking on a kid named Topper?

Maybe I’m all jacked up on this because I play lacrosse, but since I can see McKenna’s potential point, maybe not. I just wish he actually looked at the situation a little more deeply, as it is interesting, relevant, and under-discussed.

McKenna finished the article by saying that the schools accused of doing this are all ranked near the top of the standings. He equates one to the other. Of course he never mentions that they have all long been the top programs, nor does he state how long this new trend has been going on. It’s just another example of convenient, lazy storytelling and trend spotting.

This is the type of story only Deadspin would dare to break wide open… Or Dan McKenna can just take pot shots at prep school kids with shoddy math. I guess that’s good too. They’re 19, right, so that makes it just fine.