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Learn from hockey-dad case

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Human tragedy looms large in the case of the Massachusetts "hockey dad" convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

The end result will be two fathers taken from their families: the slain, volunteer hockey coach Michael Costin; and the convicted, Thomas Junta, who faces a possible prison sentence of three to five years. All of this over a disagreement about whether play was too rough on the youth hockey team, on which both men's sons played.

We would also count as victims the boys who witnessed the fatal assault, as well as staff of the hockey rink.

The larger and sadder point is this tragedy was entirely preventable. Unless parents of children who participate in youth sports get a handle on their behavior and decorum — regardless of what's happening on the field of play — we likely will see some repeats of this horrific event.

Basic biology programs parents to protect their young. It's a parent's duty to intervene if they believe a legitimate danger exists that their child could become seriously injured because of unsportsmanlike conduct or, worse yet, behavior that is clearly banned by the rules.

But parents have a wide variety of avenues in which to address their concerns. They can do so in a civil manner with their child's coach. If a parent tactfully raises his or her concerns, common sense suggests that the issues will be given a fair hearing. If that's not the case, the parent should appeal to the site manager or program director. Since many youth sports programs are part of a municipal recreation system, parents can take their complaints to the respective sponsoring governments.

A parent can always move their child to a program that's more in line with the parent's particular philosophy on fair play and appropriate behavior. Moreover, they can volunteer to coach themselves.

Most youth sports coaches are volunteers. They volunteer because they enjoy working with children and want to help them develop skills that could benefit them as they enter more competitive play. By and large, they are not judges or social workers. Often, they coach because their child plays on the team.

Make no mistake, youth sports aren't just about perfecting the three-point shot on the basketball court or defending goals on the soccer field. They also are about developing sportsmanship. Children learn that from example.

We shudder as we consider the legacy left by Junta and Costin. We hope this case will encourage parents whose children participate in youth sports to re-examine their attitudes and behaviors. Moreover, we hope this cautionary tale clearly demonstrates that a few moments of unrestrained anger can result in a lifetime of consequences.