The core message: respect
Frank White speaks nationwide, reminding those involved with youth sports it's supposed to be fun.

By John Millea

Staff Writer   

Frank White has been involved in sports throughout his life as an athlete, coach and official. The St. Paul native, who is manager of recreation programs and athletics for the city of Richfield, began noticing a troubling trend in the late 1980s: Referees and officials were being abused and, sometimes, attacked.

This wasn't happening often in Minnesota, but the more stories White heard from around the country, the more his concern grew that something ugly might occur in his home state.

"I didn't want that to happen here," he said.

As he learned more and talked about how to deal with the escalating problems, he realized he could do something about it.

"It just made sense to me," said White, 59. "Some people said, `You have a story here and people really need to hear this.'-"

Over the past two decades, White has become a nationally known spokesman for sportsmanship. He travels the country conducting workshops on how to combat poor sportsmanship. So when the Minnesota State High School League held its first Sportsmanship Summit earlier this month, finding a keynote speaker was an easy call.

Not coincidentally, on the same day the Sportsmanship Summit was held, White was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame. He was inducted as an official, based on his 25-year officiating career and work as a basketball rules clinician for the MSHSL. But his contributions go further.

"Frank obviously has a passion for sportsmanship and sport-related issues," said MSHSL associate director Jody Redman, who directed the summit. "He was a natural fit with his experience and his passion for trying to instill positive messages of sportsmanship."

White also helps train coaches, starting with volunteer youth team coaches. He argues that if sportsmanship problems are addressed when kids are young - and their coaches and parents also are beginning on their paths - the chances of trouble later are reduced.

"I think people are looking for ways to improve the sports environment," White said. "They are tired of seeing what happens to kids."

There is no magic to White's message.

"It's common sense," he said. "We just sometimes forget and need a reminder."

White said he believes something has been lost over the years. Youth and school sports once were havens for simple enjoyment and fun. That is, sadly, often not the case these days.

"There has been a dramatic shift in youth sports away from a sense of enjoyment, physical fitness and sportsmanship to intense competition," White said. "In our attempts to create a better program for our youth, we've used an adult or professional model for these programs, creating a winning-isn't-everything-it's-the-only-thing attitude."

White does not advertise. Every time he is asked to speak by a school or a sports organization - he holds 40 to 50 workshops a year - it's from word-of-mouth testimonials. He has a website - - that explains his program. Its mission is twofold: raising awareness about the violence and abuse that occur in sports everywhere, and providing a model for leaders, administrators, parents and participants in order to create a safer, healthier and more positive sports environment.

His presentation is titled "Violence in Sports: It's Not a Game Anymore." Many of the problems in sports today boil down to a simple lack of respect, and White's workshops stress that fact and how to change behaviors.

In this age of rage (road rage, checkout-line rage, etc.), White says it is easy for people, especially adults, to get too worked up over their children's sporting activities.

"I think it happens more often than people realize," he said. "We let our emotions and our vested interests interfere with what's right. We need to think about the values we are teaching and what we're role- modeling for our kids.

"Some of these things, people are afraid to talk about them. But we all need to stand up for what's right if we care about the image of our schools and our communities."


Copyright 2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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