Volunteer Coaches On Horizon

SIDELINES

Strict Guidelines Are

Necessary Some Fear Paid Staff Could Be Replaced In Budget Crunch

September 23, 1990|By Pat O'Malley

Let's say Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas move into Anne Arundel County and offer their services to one of the local high schools to coach baseball and football free of charge.

Are such volunteer coaches allowed by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association?

No, they are not!

A proposal to allow unpaid coaches is expected to be approved on Oct. 31 by the MPSSAA State Board of Controls. The question is whether or not approval is the way to go. Should volunteer coaches be allowed, and will they be good for the overall athletic program down the road?

There are pros and cons on volunteer coaches, and Anne Arundel County administrators are on record as having opposed its implementation. But they are expected to accept it under their own conditions soon after the Oct. 31 meeting.

This whole idea of volunteer coaches has come about because some MPSSAA schools illegally have been using volunteer coaches for quite some time. In certain small counties in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, volunteer coaches have been allowed despite MPSSAA rules to the contrary.

"It hasn't happened in Anne Arundel County because we follow the rules," said one county high school athletic director.

That has not been the case elsewhere, but recently someone awakened the state to the way legal problems could result with an illegal volunteer. Really, that's why this thing is going to be officially approved.

Simply put, the state and those schools who have been using volunteers are going to "cover their buns."

With that aside and realizing it will come to pass, let's discuss who will qualify as a volunteer coach and whether or not they will be good for the program.

Volunteer coaches will, of course, be unpaid. They cannot be head coaches at any level, must be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma, have some experience in the sport they will coach, and be enrolled in or have completed a 15-hour course in prevention of sports injuries.

Basically the specifications of the volunteer coach are the same as the so-called emergency coach, whose use has increased dramatically in county schools. Like emergency coaches, volunteer coaches would not be faculty members but rather outsiders.

There is one major difference in the two, and the language involving the proposed volunteer coach bothers Paul Rusko, the county coordinator of physical education.

"It's different than the way an emergency coach functions," said Rusko. "We have some trouble with the language in that we cannot use volunteer coaches unless they coach directly under the head coach. That would be difficult to monitor."

Emergency coaches are paid and can act without the direction of the head coach.

Some other concerns include that the implementation of volunteer coaches ultimately would lead to a cost-saving measure, like replacing paid coaches. It might take away some of the control high school principals have over their athletic programs and might indicate the MPSSAA is sending out a message that winning is the most important thing to be accomplished in an athletic program.

On the first point, there is no doubt that there are a lot of very good people out there whose hiring could lead to fewer paid coaches. Let's face it, when money gets tight and budget cuts are required, it seems to be frightenly fashionable to make the cuts in athletics.

Unfortunately, there are too many people out there, many in high places, who don't appreciate the educational value of a strong athletic program. They don't realize that kids can learn more about life while playing on a team than they can in any classroom.

"Some people out there are just anti-athletics and think coaches should not be paid," said Arundel High athletic director Bernie Walter, a veteran of the education system for nearly 30 years.

"They don't realize that athletics more than any other part of the educational system give parents and kids the most for the least amount of money."

Walter's remarks are well taken. I agree with that and have made it known right here a million times before.

Any proposals to cut athletics because of the lame excuses that there is no money to pay for coaches and equipment for the kids are not the ideas of rational people. Such people don't really understand the education system and the values of athletics.

Ultimately cutting the money for paid coaches would be a calamity and probably turn the likes of the great Steve Carroll and Jerry Mears over in their graves. Those two guys, Carroll as athletic director at Arundel back in the '60s and Mears as Meade athletic director during the '70s, led unified and just movements that resulted in coaches' pay.

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