With four of her children playing basketball, baseball and softball in the Chanhassen Athletic Association, Mary Valentine’s life revolves around youth sports. These days, though, she doesn’t dare go to a game or a practice.

If she does, the Chanhassen Athletic Association has threatened to throw her entire family out of the program.

Since February, the association has barred Valentine from attending any athletic event or communicating with any coach or official.

Did she head-butt a ref? Show up drunk at a game? Scream at a coach?

No, it was Valentine’s repeated use of the phrase “Who is playing in left field?” and a decision to attend a meeting where a coach was present, according to disciplinary letters sent to Valentine by the association in December and February.

Valentine said she feels her right to free speech is being violated. But she signed the parent conduct code that gave the association the power to declare her parent non grata.

“Are they hurting me? Or are they hurting my kids?” said Valentine, who has missed 28 games. She and her husband, who coaches baseball with the association, pleaded their case to the board last week. Nothing has changed, she said.

CAA Board President Brian Benkstein issued a statement Friday saying the association’s “main purpose is to provide sports opportunities for the kids, and by extension the families in our community. Given this purpose, CAA would not have taken the steps it did in this situation unless it believed it had valid reasons for doing so.”

Representatives of youth sports associations say it’s not common for parents to face this kind of sanction. Overbearing and sometimes abusive behavior by parents is making it harder for these volunteer organizations to find coaches, so they applaud those organizations willing to take a hard line.

Earlier this month, a high school hockey coach in Stillwater resigned after what he called “vicious” verbal attacks by parents.

“I do believe that the degree of disrespect and frequency has escalated over the past 10 years,” said Dan Klinkhammer, executive director of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services. He said his group is the unofficial governing body for youth basketball and baseball in Minnesota. Some common transgressions: Parents berating officials, coaches and players at games.

“In my opinion, a Code of Conduct has no backbone unless the organization has the guts and procedures in place to enforce it,” he said.

Valentine, who has coached and raised money for the Chanhassen Athletic Association, has clashed with board members before. She successfully fought an effort to kick her family out of the program in 2014, after leaders complained about her text messages about a team having no competitive pitchers.

The current trouble began with her question to a scorekeeper about “Who’s in left field?” at a June 2015 softball game. A coach said it insulted the player and complained.

In subsequent e-mails and a Facebook post, Valentine used the phrase “Who is playing left field?” under her signature. “It was never to belittle any 13-year-old girl,” she said. She thought it was funny.

The Chanhassen Athletic Association did not. In December, Valentine received a letter telling her she had violated the parent code of conduct and social media policy.

As a result, she was restricted from communicating with anyone affiliated with the association, aside from one board member, for a year.

In January, Valentine attended a team parents’ meeting and the basketball coach was there. She realizes she probably should have left then. In a certified letter Feb. 24, the association brought down the hammer. “This latest incident, in combination with what we believe has been a pattern of problematic behavior contravening reasonable Parent Codes of Conduct and CAA’s expectations, is a very serious problem from our perspective.”

Valentine understands the need for these policies; after all, she’s been on the other side. If this is all the Chanhassen Athletic Association has on her, it certainly seems like overkill. Under the terms of the sanction, she’s not supposed to talk to any association coach. “So I’m not supposed to have contact with my husband?” she asked.

In Friday’s statement, the association signaled it might ease the ban. It noted that it had imposed no restrictions on Valentine’s children. Or her husband.

“We are also actively considering Ms. Valentine’s recent request that certain limitations on her participation be lifted. We hope to find a solution, provided the organization receives some assurances from Ms. Valentine on any such future participation.”


Contact James Eli Shiffer at james.shiffer@startribune.com or 612-673-4116.