Coach may be a banker, too

High schools: Shortages force teams to look outside teaching ranks for its coaches, putting police, real estate agents - even a college student - in charge.

October 07, 2003|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Stymied in its search for a soccer coach this season, Annapolis High placed a want ad. A soccer pro responded and signed on to head the girls varsity - one day before tryouts.

In August, the volleyball team at Dulaney High began practice as orphans. The varsity coach resigned in the summer, and no one on staff had applied to lead the two-time state champions. Instead, the players rallied to organize practice themselves, while school officials scrambled to fill the post.

Before the first game, they managed to hire two coaches. One is a senior at the College of Notre Dame, the other a 21-year-old bank teller.

These days, high schools are as likely to hire coaches from the outside ranks as from inside the building. So-called "emergency coaches" - those with jobs in the private sector - now make up about a third of the staff in Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools and as much as half in other systems in the state, officials say.

"That [50 percent] is somewhat alarming," said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. "There is a strong need not only for people who know how to coach, but who also know how to deal with youngsters. It's not the same."

At South Carroll High, emergency coaches hold 21 of the 40 positions - a record number at the Carroll County school, athletic director Jim Horn said.

"We've got everyone from lawyers to construction workers teaching these kids," said Horn.

Mix of good and bad

There are pros and cons to this trend. Generally, emergency coaches possess a passion for sports and an expertise that may surpass that of the history teacher who runs the football team after school. Depending on the career, the outsider may have more time than a classroom teacher to devote to practices and playbooks.

The downside? Coaches who arrive at school at 3 o'clock may be clueless as to the roller-coaster lives of their players.

"So many things go on here that can affect a kid greatly, from boyfriend-girlfriend situations to fights to [the stress of] standardized tests," Horn said. "How is a coach who works outside the building to know?"

Having absentee coaches can undermine day-to-day discipline, he says: "Our football coach teaches here. If a player even breathes the wrong way, that coach knows about it, and the problem is dealt with immediately."

Sometimes, it's the stopgap coach who misbehaves.

"I've seen it happen at other schools," said Mike Lafferty, athletic director at Dulaney, in Baltimore County. "A coach may win games, but if he's kicking and swearing, then what are kids learning?

"Just because you can show someone how to swing a bat doesn't mean you can teach the values of being a student-athlete," he said.

Another pitfall is compliance with the do's and don'ts of high school athletics.

"These are well-intentioned people, but there's no way they can know all they need to about school policies and state rule violations," said Bernie Walter.

He is athletic director at Arundel High, where 30 percent of 63 coaches are emergency hires. Said Walter: "We appreciate them, and we need them, but we make every effort not to have them."

When he must go outside the building, Walter attempts to choose coaches who teach or work at other county schools.

Why has outsourcing become the norm? Because physical education instructors are no longer required to coach. For instance, of six gym teachers at Annapolis High, only one coaches there.

Another reason for the shortfall: Teachers often have little time outside the classroom, said Dulaney's Lafferty.

"Teachers are increasingly overworked, before and after school, and they know that coaching isn't just walking out and blowing a whistle," he said. "It takes an extremely dedicated person to jump into this program, and bite off more than they can chew, and then chew like hell."

No signing bonus here

Money isn't an incentive, Lafferty said, given that most coaches in Baltimore County earn about $2,000 a season. "After taxes, it's like a `thank-you' check. If you add up the hours, and do the math, it hurts."

At Dulaney, outsiders include a policeman, a day care provider, a real estate agent and an Army reservist. Until this fall, their ranks had not included a college student.

Kristina Wells, a senior at the College of Notre Dame, jumped at the chance to pilot Dulaney's volleyball team despite her hectic schedule. Wells, 22, carries a full course load while working 30 hours a week as a secretary at Bon Secours Hospital.

"I heard about the [coaching] job, weighed my options and decided I don't need sleep," said Wells, who played in college and at Seton Keough High School.

Co-coach Jennifer Wegrocki arrives at practice from her job at a Dundalk bank. She learned of the vacancy by chance, while dining out.

"I heard [a teacher] at the next table mention Dulaney, and I asked if they needed a volleyball coach," said Wegrocki. "He said, `Yes, in fact, we do.' "

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