Touchy subjects all around

Over the last couple of weeks, the newsroom has been buzzing with stories involving two of my favorite things, group fitness and football.

Unfortunately, they are mostly controversial. But, reporting on such issues comes with the territory of being a good journalist.

Yes, I am talking about the case of the prostitution ring involving a Zumba instructor in Kennebunk, and the practice incident involving Messalonskee High School football coach Wes Littlefield.

One of my fellow bloggers and former group fitness director, Wendy Watkins, is a fine Zumba instructor at Bangor Brewer Athletic Club, where I taught BodyPump before moving to my current home at Union Street Athletics in September 2011. She touched on some fine points regarding Zumba fitness in her recent entries.

In the wake of these unfortunate happenings in southern Maine – my former colleague earned her Zumba certification via training at the Kennebunk studio – I’ve heard a good amount of people say some not-so-good things about Zumba fitness.

I’ve only done Zumba once – we had a Christmas fundraiser at BBAC for a local animal shelter in December 2010 and I gladly participated, and looked really bad – but as a BodyPump instructor who teaches two to three classes a week and trains every other day, I can tell you that Zumba is a workout.

Folks may think it is not, and that it involves nothing but dancing and it is too cheeky. Dancing does burn calories. You will sweat if you do a Zumba class, just like you would with any Les Mills program. It can be a blast, and in some cases, the music provides such a club-like atmosphere you don’t even realize you’re sweating and burning calories.

The Kennebunk proceedings are still in their early stages, so its hard to tell where this case will wind up. But being a fitness freak as well as a journalist, it certainly sparked my interest when it came out, and it has become a major topic of discussion around the gym and around our newsroom.

The case of the Messalonskee football coach is different than the one involving the Zumba instructor, but after spending half my day on a story pertaining to this topic this week and speaking with lawyers for Littlefield and the player he allegedly struck with an open palm at a September practice, I started asking myself numerous questions.

The big one, of course was, are we seeing different coaching styles than we did, say, 20 to 30 years ago?

I was born in 1985, so I grew up in the so-called “old school” era, and my father and uncles played in the same era as fine athletes at Stearns High School. However, when I started covering sports for this newspaper in 2008, and even as a four-year varsity athlete at Brewer High School (1999-2003), coaching was a whole new ballgame.

Football coaches are passionate, tough and always looking to instill discipline in their players. I played the game growing up, and have covered my fair share of high school and college games over the years. I’ve only spoken with Littlefield a handful of times – mainly for preview stories – but he sounded like a man who is passionate about the game.

In the case of the Littlefield, a lot of commentors on the BDN website were on both sides of the fence. The player’s lawyer claims that the coach’s actions were too aggressive, while the coach’s lawyer – himself a former player – testifies that the coach was doing his job.

There’s no way of telling who was right in this situation. The coach was upset that the player didn’t run a drill correctly in practice and claimed he overreacted, but in my humble opinion, striking a player went too far. While it’s unlikely he will receive the maximum punishment in this case, I just hope that all parties involved learned something from this, because I feel, as someone who once coached youth sports and enjoyed it, you should never put your hands on a player in a forceful manner.

Gone are the days where coaches would force their players to run suicides after a hockey game for looking at girls in the stands. The days where you’d see a coach scream at high school or even college kids have passed us by. This era of coaching is a lot more laid back, and getting points across in a stern yet calm demeanor. Guys like Herb Brooks, Shawn Walsh, Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight – yes, their accomplishments speak for themselves – would not last long in today’s coaching era, unless they produced results, which all these men did.

The fact of the matter is, only two people know what happened on that September day in Oakland – Littlefield and the student-athlete. Again, who knows where this case is going to go. Littlefield admitted what he did was wrong. I just hope one day the old-school and new-school eras can blend together at some point, and we can find a happy medium.

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.