Board Usurps Coaches' Roles

October 07, 1990|By Rick Belz

It's fourth down and long with less than a minute to play. The coaches have the football on their own 2-yard line and trail by a touchdown.

That's the desperate feeling that has invaded the coaching ranks these days.

This past summer, a school board member commented that the county's high school coaches weren't really professional coaches.

A decision handed down by Michael E. Hickey, superintendent of schools, last week reaffirmed that idea in the coaches' eyes.

This latest unwelcome decision, returning four soccer players to their teams after they had been caught with alcohol on school grounds, has incensed the coaching community. A 30-day suspension was reduced to 15 days -- the amount of time the youths already had been out.

Three of those players were part of an Oakland Mills team whose clearly known policy stated that if a student was suspended from school for any reason, then that student was off the team for the rest of the year.

The decision to return the players, with full rights and privileges, ignored Coach Don Shea's policy -- a policy he's had for the 17 years he's been coaching. It made him look like a fool in the eyes of his players by totally undermining his authority.

Not only have the players returned this season, but because of an "administrative oversight" they returned after serving only half of the 30-day penalty mandated by the school board's own policy.

And they must return as starting players because that's what they were before the incident. So what does Shea tell the three players he brought up from junior varsity to fill in for the suspended players during the three tough games the suspended players missed? Good job, guys -- have fun sitting on the bench?

In defense of the four suspended players, a screw-up apparently did occur. It seems that Oakland Mills and Centennial High School, the two schools involved, failed to give returning upper-class students the correct drug and alcohol policy forms to sign. So they did not know about a 30-day mandatory suspension.

School spokeswoman Patti Vierkant said these were the only two schools that failed to distribute the correct forms.

Had the correct forms been distributed, would the four senior students have risked a 30-day suspension over a few beers at a school dance? No one will know.

What coaches do know for certain from this incident is that they can no longer set any team rules regarding drug or alcohol use -- or anything else.

"When the school board establishes a policy, if it speaks to an issue, then no one in the organization can supersede the decision of the board," Dan Jett, director of high schools, said.

Last February, the school board instituted a new drug and alcohol policy that established the absolute rule concerning penalties for students caught with drugs or alcohol on school grounds: a five-day suspension from school and 30- day suspension from all extra-curricular activities.

There's not much Shea can do except keep his mouth shut, play the offending athletes and try to coach his team -- a team which, when the season began, was favored to win a state championship.

Oakland Mills is still top-ranked in The Sun's high school soccer poll, despite a 2-0 loss to Bowie on the first school day after the three players were caught. Oakland Mills never even had a day of practice to regroup for one of its toughest games.

Other coaches, looking at what has happened to Shea, they do not like what they see. Will it lead to more coaches/teachers leaving an already tremendously depleted coaching ranks? Time will tell.

For now, the noise from coaches is something like baying by a pack of hounds in the moonlight during a coon hunt -- easy to hear.

But everything the coaches say is off the record. The school system has muzzled them like spirited dogs whose bark officials fear.

One coach complained that all coaching authority is now completely undermined: "If a kid walks up to me now and says '(expletive) you,' then all he gets is a five-day suspension, according to the school board's rules, and after five days I have to take him back. And not only that -- if he was a starter, I have to take him back and start him."

The school board already had undermined a coach's authority in another way last year, when it ruled that no coach could employ physical drills such as running laps or doing push-ups to punish an athlete for something.

Where will it end? That's what coaches are concerned about. What methods are they supposed to use to get some sometimes unruly teen-agers to listen?

And how about those coaches who demand higher academic standards from their athletes than those now demanded by the school board? They now must abandon those higher standards or else the parent of a child who failed to meet the higher standard will be able to sue to have that child play.

That's ironic. The board's policy on academic standards lowers the academic standards formerly demanded by some coaches.

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