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Predation

by Dave
Thursday, October 19, 2006

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by big cats.   I often have odd dreams of large Tigers stalking me and my family right in my own back yard.   I am drawn to television shows about lions, tigers, leopards, etc.   I am completely enthralled as the narrator discusses the manner in which large cats instinctively locate the weakest among the herds they stalk.   One such show demonstrated how a pride of lions was able to identify one apparently healthy yet slightly physically deformed adult prey animal.   Upon close inspection of the tape, it became apparent that the animal had a deformed leg and wasn't able to run properly.   The lions saw this immediately.   They are skilled in the practice.

I recall, growing up on the east coast, thinking how lucky my friends and I were to live free of the threat of big cats prowling our neighborhood.   As an adult I was shocked when my brother told me how he couldn't allow his kids to play in the local southern California park because it was part of the territory of a roaming mountain lion.   The lion would think nothing of stalking a child and inviting him for dinner.   Such is the way for big cats.   Such is the way with other predators as well.

A recent e-mail message, the authenticity of which I cannot judge, came my way regarding a very large soccer tournament.   This tournament was held in one of the best facilities in the area.   It has large parking lots, a huge number of fields, and several other amenities necessary for a successful youth sporting event.   The thing involved numerous teams constantly coming and going, players taking breaks at local eateries, parents dropping off and picking up.   Many families at these sorts of tournaments camp out with the entire family in attendance just the way we do at softball tournaments.   There were porta-potties, snack bars, pop-up tents and all the usual scenes.   Players' siblings busied themselves with junk food, games, climbing over playground equipment, and generally having a good time.   It was a very happy, healthy, family-oriented scene in what appeared to be a safe, quiet park location out in the burbs.

Lurking among these happy families was a predator.   At some point during the day, someone lured two siblings of players to his car.   An alert parent saw this happening, put a stop to it and the police were called.   Guess what?   This "person" did not have a child at the tournament.   He had no particular reason to be there.   He claimed he came to watch soccer but when he was stopped, he wasn't even close to any of the many ongoing games.   And there were some questions regarding his prior arrests in similar circumstances!

Recently I was at a Sunday doubleheader in which one of my kids' teams was playing.   The only people at this field were the 22 or so players of the two teams, the coaches, one umpire, and the players' families.   My younger daughter was very well behaved, sitting quietly without complaint, allowing us to enjoy the games.   At some point near the end of the first game, she asked if she could go to the swing set not 25 feet in back of us.   I consented and off she went.   Following a particularly bad error in the field, I stood up, cursed under my breath, and walked away from the field in the general direction of the swingset.   As I lifted my bottle of water to take a drink, I looked up and noticed that perched next to my daughter on the swings was a woman I had never seen before.   She was completely engaged in conversation with my daughter.   She barely noticed as I approached.   Then she looked up, saw me coming and seemed slightly embarassed.   Perhaps this woman was harmless, maybe even a parent with a kid on the other team.   But I honestly have no idea.   And I don't know how long she was there before I noticed her.

According to my daughter this stranger asked some questions which I would deem borderline inappropriate.   She asked her a number of things including what her first and last name were.   My daughter told her her parents don't allow her to answer questions like this.   So, later, she wondered which of the players was her sister - our kids have their last names on the back of their jerseys.   She asked where do you live, go to school, etc.   My daughter dutifully told her "my parents don't allow me to answer these kinds of questions to strangers and I don't know you."   I was proud of that but I have to admit that I was disappointed she didn't immediately get up and let me know this person was asking inappropriate questions.

I don't like to think about the kinds of predators which stalk our children in these United States.   But they are undeniably out there.   We need to be reminded of this fact.   We also need to be reminded that they are extremely skilled at approaching our children.   They instinctively know how to interrogate children with seemingly innocuous questions to gain the knowledge they seek.   No matter how much training we give our kids, they will not always take the steps we try to program into their heads because they are up against a skilled and practiced predator.

I don't know about you but in our softball travels we often find ourselves at the same places over and over again.   We find some comfort in this since knowing where the local bathrooms, food and coffee shops, etc. are located makes the tournament experience a lot more pleasant.   But at the same time, these places can easily become known to predators as well.   There is nothing to stop some person having no other connection to the games from attending entire days of youth sports.   And probably there shouldn't be since lots of people love a good ball game.   But the possibility of an "undesirable person" becoming merely a part of the background is something we should at least be aware of.   The more comfortable one becomes with a particular location, the more dangerous it becomes.   Most automobile accidents occur close to home.   Most bad accidents occur on one's own property.   Lions stalk for the kill at water holes.

Child predators should not hinder our enjoyment of youth sports.   We are perfectly capable of protecting our own kids and those of our friends by keeping them within our line of sight.   We can police our own.   But we must constantly remind ourselves that this planet is full of skilled, practiced, dangerous predators.   Our becoming complacent or too comfortable in a given setting can be a dangerous thing.


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