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Some Parents Suing Over School Coaching

Aired May 15, 2003 - 19:36   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here's a case of how seriously some parents take youth league baseball and how that can get out of hand. A Massachusetts mom is charged with assault and banned from her son's games. Why? Well, she allegedly kicked an 11-year-old boy in the head after he rooted for the opposing team and got into a fight with her son.
Another unbelievable sports related story. As parents get more and more involved in their children's athletic commanders, disputes with coaches are taking on a whole new dimension.

As Frank Buckley reports now, there is a new player on the field -- lawyers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Number 44, J.D. Martinez.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): J.D. Martinez was a high school baseball pitcher who made the varsity team his sophomore year.

JOHN EMME, HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL COACH: Empty cage, let's go. Let's go!

BUCKLEY: John Emme was his coach at California's Corona Del Mar High School.

EMME: He was an average high school pitcher, fast balls, 78, 79, pretty good change up, a decent curve ball.

BUCKLEY: By the end of his junior year, some 30 colleges had expressed interest in the young pitcher, according to his dad. Marc Martinez, who is also a physician, says his son had by then damaged his arm from overuse and when he complained to the coach and suggested he was going to report him to school district officials, Martinez claims that Coach Emme threatened to keep his son from ever playing beyond high school.

MARC MARTINEZ, FORMER PLAYER'S FATHER: His actual words were, "I'm going to shut the door on J.D. playing baseball in college."

BUCKLEY: And so Martinez sued the coach, twice, first claiming Coach Emme thwarted J.D.'s chances of getting a college baseball scholarship. Then, J.D. and his father sued for slander.

EMME: I absolutely could not believe it. And then when I read it and read what was asserted, I became angry.

BUCKLEY: Emme denies the claims and he fought the suits, which were eventually dismissed. The coach says the lawsuits were filed by a dad whose dreams of baseball glory for his son went unfulfilled.

EMME: Someone's got to be to blame, and that's me.

BUCKLEY (on camera): And Coach Emme is only one of about 200 coaches sued every year by parents. Most of the lawsuits are related to injuries. But a professor who tracks such lawsuits, Bob Jarvis, at Nova Southeastern University, says that about 20 coaches are sued every year in what he and others are calling disappointment lawsuits.

(voice-over): Parents who see their child as having the potential to be the next Tiger Woods suing when they believe a coach hasn't done enough.

JAY COKELEY, SPORT SOCIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: A lot of these parents are standing on the sidelines and they feel that every pitch and every hit and every goal and every first down is connected with the future success of their children. And that's tremendous pressure for parents to feel.

BUCKLEY: But this coach is hitting back. Coach Emme is among the first coaches to file a countersuit, seeking a million dollars from Dr. Martinez and his lawyer for malicious prosecution.

EMME: My case is a symptom of a bigger problem that's getting bigger and bigger, and it's got to stop. A statement needs to be made.

BUCKLEY: As for J.D., his father says he tried out for the college team at the university he now attends. He didn't make the team.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Newport Beach, California.


COOPER: In a statement to CNN about the malicious prosecution suit filed against him, Dr. Martinez said, "I exhausted every remedy possible before I filed my lawsuits. I had no choice but to file them. If I had walked away, then Coach Emme would have gotten away with what he had done to my son."

Coach John Emme joins me now from Los Angeles, along with his attorney, David Shores.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us.

I think a lot of people, when they hear this story, John, just say, you know, I cannot believe this. You're a coach. You're doing this. It's not like you're making huge bucks coaching.

What went through your mind when you first heard you were being sued, not once, but then a second time, as well? EMME: Complete and total disbelief. I never thought I'd have to deal with something like this ever.

COOPER: And you say basically that the kid was not -- I mean he was an OK ball player, but just not a fantastic ball player?

EMME: He was an average baseball player. You know, he was five and seven in his career. His ERA was close to five. You know, he threw 78, 79 miles an hour. He's a great kid, a very good kid.

COOPER: So a lot of people, you know, they hear this, they think, all right, this is just ridiculous. But now you are counter- suing. Why?

EMME: Two reasons. One was that this is the only way I knew of to get him to stop. Secondly, every coach that I know and many, many that I don't have prodded me to do this because these, you know, and I guess the best word is disappointment lawsuits and things like this have to stop. It has no place in the courts.

COOPER: David, you're the attorney representing John.

Are you seeing more of these disappointment lawsuits out there?

DAVID SHORES, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING COACH IN LAWSUITS: Well, I've heard an awful lot about them lately. I get calls every day from lawyers and coaches around the country cheering us on with regards to the stand that Coach Emme is making. These are suits that people feel that they can take a shot at somebody to get even where, in fact, what we're saying is that you're not going to be able to get away with it, you're not going to file a lawsuit that's malicious the impunity.

EMME: So, David, now what are you asking for in this suit? What is John asking for?

SHORES: John's asking for a million dollars and, quite frankly, I don't think I'd go through what John went through for the million dollars.

COOPER: John, how long has this been? I mean this has not just been a couple months. This has been going on for quite a while, hasn't it?

EMME: No, this has been two and a half plus years.

COOPER: And has it cost you? I mean I guess, you know, you've had to hire attorneys and the like. Or has the school represented you?

EMME: Actually, and this is probably even more unfortunate, the school district was great and backed me up and about $17,000 of our hard earned tax dollars have been put towards this which, you know, in the economy in California, that's not a good thing.

COOPER: Why do you think this stuff is happening, these disappointment lawsuits? I mean do you think parents are just taking sports way too seriously at the high school level? I mean there is a lot of money to be made down the road. You know, we saw, we've heard about basketball players just graduating high school who suddenly make, you know, $50 million endorsement deals.

EMME: I think a lot of money is being invested when kids are young with private coaches, clubs, all those things, and, you know, the bottom line, the statistics don't lie, that five percent of kids who play high school baseball get to go on and play any level of college. And when the end of the line comes for the other 95 percent, there's some pretty disappointed people. And if the parent's not to blame and they believe their, you know, son is a good enough player, then it, basically it's the coach.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.

John Emme, David Shores, appreciate you joining us.

Love to have you back when your lawsuit is resolved.

Thanks very much.

SHORES: Thank you for having us.

EMME: Thank you very much.


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