Sunday, August 14, 2005

Winning At All Costs? Tee-ball Coach's Actions Reprehensible

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty, at least in theory. We are not supposed to convict a person until he or she has had a trial before a jury of their peers. Until then, all actions that the accused is purported to have done should have the word "alleged" preceding them.

But I don’t care about all that right now. I want to put Mark Downs’ head on a tee and bash it with the heaviest bat I can find.

In case you weren’t unfortunate enough to have to read this story, allow me to enlighten you.

Downs is a 27 year-old tee-ball coach in Pennsylvania. Read that again. He is a TEE-BALL COACH. That means he is in charge of teaching the rules and spirit of baseball and sportsmanship to very young, impressionable minds. Part of that spirit is that every child, no matter what, must be allowed to play at least three innings in every game to which he shows up. On Downs’ team is Harry Bowers, 9, who happens to be autistic and suffers mild mental retardation.

When Downs’ team, the Falcons, qualified for the league’s playoffs, he calculatingly told parents not to relay the news to Harry’s mother, Jennifer Bowers. Apparently Downs, who must have the Satanic version of the Vince Lombardi ("Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing") gene inside his bony body, reasoned that Harry’s presence would damage the Falcons’ chances of winning. Most likely he was right. But news flash, you despicable, crazed nut: WHO THE #$%!# CARES? This is freaking tee-ball, not Game 7 of the World Series.

So Harry shows up anyway (damn him, right?) to the June 27 game, but instead of it ending there, and Downs’ vile motives staining this situation any further, the coach offered Keith Reese, 8 and the hardest thrower on the Falcons, $25 if he would hit Harry in the face with the ball, presumably so the youngster wouldn’t be able to play. If you think this story is already sick enough, you ain’t read nothing yet. Keith’s first toss hit poor Harry in the groin, which sent the autistic child running to his mother, crying. But Jennifer, exhibiting a kind of attitude and instilling the type of lesson into her boy that Mark Downs couldn’t possibly even dream of, encouraged her son to continue playing, convincing him the pain would soon go away and everything would be fine. Unfortunately, Harry’s mom had no idea she was sending him back into a deranged plan to intentionally put her boy out of commission. If she had, I think we may have been reading news of Mark Downs’ funeral instead of what happened next.

Re-entering the game of catch, Harry eagerly told Keith to toss a few more. Downs told Keith to "go out there and hit him harder," according to Keith’s testimony in court at Downs’ hearing. So Keith’s next throw hit Harry in the left side of the face and ear, drawing blood. According to Jennifer Bowers’ testimony, Downs "came over and told us the balls must be after him (Harry), and he suggested Harry take the day off." Keith’s father testified that after the game, which the Falcons won (who cares?), Downs admitted to making the offer. Downs of course denies this.

Jennifer Bowers went to the state police, God bless her, and they charged Downs with criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault, corruption of minors, criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. While they’re at it, the judicial system should make a Mark Downs Clause that allows, for this case only, the sentence upon conviction be that Jennifer Bowers be allowed to throw as many baseballs at Mark Downs’ head as her arm can manage.

It turns out this is not Downs’ first brush with the law. He is now facing charges for allegedly threatening and assaulting his fiancee in May. Just the kind of dude you want coaching your 9-year-old, huh? In fairness to league president Eric Forsythe, he had never had any complaints about Mark Downs prior to this beanball incident. But if Forsythe knew about the assault charge against Downs on his fiancee -- and I’m not sure if he did -- he should have immediately suspended Downs from his coaching duties. Or, "take a few days off," to use Mark Downs-like logic.

Downs was ordered to stand trial (he didn’t testify during the hearing, which speaks volumes), and when that decision was rendered, the evil coach stormed out of the courtroom and left the parking lot with tires squealing, according to bystanders. His lawyer, Tom Shaffer, told Sports Illustrated his client is innocent and that the media are trying to make a pariah out of Downs.

Sorry, Tom -- Mark Downs did a fine enough job of that all by himself.

Yeah, yeah -- everything is "alleged" and nothing’s been "proven" and Mark Downs isn’t officially guilty of anything and all that rot. But if this incident didn’t happen the way the kids and Jennifer Bowers and Keith Reese’s dad testified it happened, then I’ll swallow a baseball glove. Downs is reprehensible and if he’s allowed within 100 miles from another tee-ball game, it’s too close. He has twin daughters, by the way (they both play for the Falcons). Please pray for them.

As for Harry Bowers and his mom Jennifer, I implore you to know that not all molders of young minds and attitudes are as contaminated with immoral stench as Mark Downs. Sometimes it may seem like the bad guys are all over the place, but jerks like Downs eventually get theirs -- here or hereafter.

And young Harry will find his reward, sooner or later.

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