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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We recently attended our niece's sixth-grade basketball game at the YMCA. The game was supposed to be noncompetitive and fun -- however, it was anything but that. The parents of the opposing team were yelling at our niece, screaming and cheering every time she missed a basket. At least three children broke down in tears during the game.

To counter a written complaint the coach made, the wives of the other team's coaches made up lies and reported them to the director. (All the lies were subsequently refuted by the referees, kids on both teams and some parents.)

Abby, I can't believe that so much pressure could be put on young people. Girls are especially vulnerable at 11 or 12. While it's part of the game to get excited about winning, I wish more parents would consider the kids' emotions. What do you think? -- CONCERNED MOM IN INDIANA

DEAR CONCERNED MOM: For parents to humiliate children on the opposing team in an attempt to give their own children a psychological advantage is shameful. The parents should consider what they are teaching their children by their example.

Aside from the obvious health benefits that sports offer children of both sexes, the children are supposed to be learning teamwork and good sportsmanship.

DEAR ABBY: Recently a reader wrote telling you that she sees nothing wrong with listing toy preferences and clothing sizes on birthday party invitations. After all, she said, birthday gifts are expected. I am certain that she wrote this based upon her frame of reference, but I would like to respond from mine.

Last year, my son had a party to celebrate his 11th birthday. Written invitations -- no mention of gifts -- were distributed. The day of the party, one invited boy phoned to say he probably would not show up. Knowing a little about the boy and his family, I suspected the problem was that he could not afford a gift -- so I whispered a suggestion to my son while he was still on the phone. Then, continuing his conversation with the boy, my son said, "Come to the party. And don't worry about a present. I have plenty of toys. I just want YOU." The boy came to the party, with no present. No one cared.

Another boy showed up and presented my son with an obviously used toy, which was the cause of tears that night in bed. My son was upset and trying to figure out if he should keep the present or return it to his friend, a classmate. A few days before the party, my son had found out the boy was living in a dilapidated shack with his family -- a discovery that was anything but easy for my son to deal with.

Imagine if we had listed appropriate gifts on a party invitation! How unkind that would have been. None of us ever really knows what the circumstances are for others, and because we never know, perhaps it's best not to make assumptions. -- CAROLINE IN ASTORIA, ORE.

DEAR CAROLINE: How true. Your letter illustrates that point very well.

DEAR ABBY: I thought you might enjoy this story. My grandson and granddaughter were invited to their grandmother's house for Christmas dinner.

Noting all the candles on the table, my grandson said there were enough for a menorah. His grandmother replied that she didn't really know what a menorah is used for, whereupon my 10-year-old granddaughter said, "Grandma, that's what you spread on the garden." -- BUD IN ST. PETE

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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