Hockey Associations Upset At No Jail Sentence For Father Who Choked Coach – But What Have They Done To Address The Real Problem?

by Robert Kirwan
Publisher of After The Whistle

  
Let's Address The Real Problem Here...

The president of the Greater Toronto Hockey League hopes it "won't be open season on coaches" following the decision in December not to jail a hockey parent for a violent, unprovoked attack on a volunteer coach on January 16, 2004 .

Bradley Desrocher received a $2000 fine, without jail, for choking coach Mark Tesky after the benching of Desrocher’s 8-year-old son.

Desrocher is still under a five-year ban that prohibits from from entering any arena where a GTHL game or practice is being held. The ban has three years to run and prohibits him from watching his son play hockey.

Described by Gardner as the worst act of assault on a minor league coach that Gardner has seen in the 25 years he has been involved in the GTHL, and the Crown was seeking a four-month jail term. Both Gardner and Hockey Canada President, Bob Nicholson wrote letters in support of the most severe sentence possible. Gardner and Nicholson are afraid that the court’s decision may discourage volunteers from coming forward to coach at the minor hockey level. Gardner praised the victim, Mark Teskey, for the courage to continue coaching.

Even Desrocher is remorseful and wishes he “could have those four seconds back” so that he could take a different approach in venting his frustration.

This wasn’t the first time there has been a violent outburst of rage that has resulted in physical assault. And it is clear that no one involved in hockey, or even anyone not directly involved in hockey would ever condone such an act of violence by a parent on a coach.

All that being said, it would appear, at least on the surface, as if the “root of the problem” is not being addressed. Rather than attack the judge for not taking the father away from his son and his family for a full four months, perhaps Gardner and Nicholson, as well as all other administrative and board members in minor hockey should reflect upon the situation and see if they can determine “why” a man would attack his son’s hockey coach.

Let’s look at the situation. Desrocher was upset over the recent death of his father. Apparently his father had suffered a heart attack in October 2004 and it had been several days before hospital officials were able to contact Desrocher to tell him his father was dead. We all understand how distressing it is to lose a parent, but in Desrocher’s case, he was denied the opportunity to be with his father during his final hours and as a result he went into a depression.

The family scheduled a trip to Mexico as part of a bereavement vacation. The Desrocher’s returned to Toronto early in the morning of January 16, 2005 . They got home at 4 a.m. after a 4 ½ hour flight delay. At his 8-year-old son’s request, Brad Desrocher got up in the morning and took his son to the 11:00 a.m. hockey game.

The court was told that at the game, Teskey, the coach of the Jr. Canadiens AAA minor atom team, informed Desrocher's son that he would bench him at the start because he had missed some practice time and had noticed that he wasn't focusing in the pre-game skate. Teskey wanted to tell the boy’s father about his decision, but Desrocher had left the dressing room before he got a chance.

Teskey benched the boy at the start of the game and as his rage built, Desrocher attached Teskey from behind and administered a choke-hold that caused the coach to black out momentarily.

"I only wish I had the opportunity to speak to the coach before the game, and this whole incident would never have happened," Desrocher explained.

As was mentioned early, there is no justification for the physical attack on the coach. That was absolutely wrong and was deserving of punishment. Desrocher must now pay a fine of $2000 and he is still banned from watching his 10 year-old son from playing hockey for another three years. Desrocher, his wife and his two sons have gone through two years of hell awaiting the trial and sentencing. The family has been put through a tremendous amount of stress.

Now, let’s look at the coach, Mark Teskey.

Who was Mark Teskey punishing when he made the decision to bench the 8-year-old Desrocher for missing a practice? The family had gone on a vacation to Mexico . Eight year-old boys cannot drive themselves to hockey practices. So who was being punished by the benching? To whom was Teskey trying to get the message?

If Mark Teskey was upset that the young boy had missed a practice, then it was Teskey’s responsibility to discuss the matter with the boy’s parents. It was Teskey’s responsibility to determine why the boy was not at practice and then to deal with the matter with the parent, who is ultimately responsible for making sure that players of that age are brought to practices and games. To say that Desrocher had left the dressing room before he had a chance to speak to him about the benching is not acceptable. Prior to punishing a child for the sins of his father (not making sure that his son attended a practice) it was paramount that Teskey seek out the parent and discuss the matter prior to the game.

Had Teskey initiated a discussion with Desrocher, he would have discovered that it was indeed remarkable that the boy was even at the game that morning, considering the long trip from Mexico . It would have explained why the boy wasn’t “focusing” during the pre-game skate. The boy was exhausted.

Minor Hockey coaches are volunteers. We all appreciate the time they put in and the work they do for our young boys and girls. But that doesn’t give them license to “abuse their positions”. It doesn’t meant that they can use their position coach to create situations and policies that are unfair and unreasonable to the children in their charge. It doesn’t make them immune from criticism and scrutiny simply because they are volunteers.

What Desrocher did was not only wrong, it was illegal, and he has paid a high price for his actions.

What Teskey did was also wrong, but it was not illegal. That is the difference between the two. That and the fact that Teskey attacked Desrocher by benching his son instead of using his fists.

Unfortunately, what Teskey did goes on all the time in hockey rinks across Canada every week. The Teskey’s of this world continue to do irreparable damage to young boys and girls by implementing policies and decisions that are absolutely “wrong” when it comes to dealing with impressionable young children such as the 8-year-old Desrocher who was benched for missing a practice and for his lack of focus during the pre-game skate.

Unfortunately, hockey organizations like the Greater Toronto Hockey League will continue to turn a blind eye to these types of practices because they are having difficulty attracting enough quality volunteers to run their teams. Let’s face it. Teskey is not running your normal run-of-the mill hockey club. He was coaching a ‘AAA’ Minor Atom hockey team filled with elite players who learn at a young age that the coach is in charge and it is not in your best interests to “rock the boat”. Teskey has passed all of the qualifications set out by Hockey Canada . He has been given this position over others who no doubt would have loved to be considered for the job of coaching a team in the Jr. Canadiens organization. And despite all of this training and certification, and despite all of his experience with young impressionable young hockey players, he still chose to punish an 8 year-old boy for missing a practice, when the person he should have been upset with was the boy’s father. The decision of the coach – wrong, but not illegal – was what caused this terrible incident. An incident that has torn a whole family apart for two years. An incident that would have been averted by taking 30 seconds to ask a simple question to the boy’s father before the game.

Desrocher has been taught a lesson by the courts. It is very serious to physically assault another human being. If you do so, expect to be punished, and expect your family to suffer the consequences of your actions.

Teskey has also been taught a lesson, and so have all others involved with minor sports. It is perfectly legal to create an “emotional assault” on another human being by punishing their child for something which the parent was responsible in the first place.

And so, as a final word, don’t worry Mr. Gardner. The decision by the judge won’t make it “open season” on your coaches. Just make sure you remind your coaches that they have accepted a tremendous responsibility when they go behind the bench with young boys and girls and tell them to think carefully before making decisions.

  
COMMENTS FROM READERS

Regarding the editorial on the Teskey choking verdict, I think it goes even deeper.  I agree with your point that it’s not as simple as saying Parent X attacked Coach Y, thus Parent X bears all the blame.  However, I do believe there are no circumstances that excuse the parent’s behavior in this case, regardless of him being tired and under stress.  I think we all believe that.

Your point about the coach’s responsibility is valid.  Coaches do need to seek to understand the root causes of behaviors more than just judging kids by them on the surface, and acting according the same old discipline playbook they use year after year.  I think we all believe that as well.

But let’s look further...

This was an 8 year-old boy playing AAA hockey.  Do you think if this same boy played house league and exhibited the same pattern of behavior that this would have ended up the same?  Parents need to take responsibility for the risks of putting kids of this age into the “meat grinder” – there are intense parents and intense coaches, it’s a known fact.  I know of many many parents who have “ringers” for kids of age novice and atom that hold them outside of the AA and AAA systems until peewee or so as they feel “the kids are not old enough to deal with those issues yet”.  Good parents, good decisions.

There are endless examples of these types of issues that stem from very young kids pushed into very intense and demanding programs at too young an age.  Could this player alone have managed this situation to a better conclusion – I doubt it; he likely doesn’t understand it to this day.  Given the obvious fact that parents should be fans only at the rink, what would you expect of your kid in this situation?  And perhaps more importantly, is it possible your kid is immersed within it already and you are not aware of it?

Very young hockey players and ultra-competitive hockey teams – all the ingredients you need for disaster.   

Signed

An Ontario House League Coach

 
 

 

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