Filling up on subs

Not teachers, `emergency coaches' lead many teams

November 14, 2007|By Stefen Lovelace | Stefen Lovelace,Sun Reporter

When Ron Belinko was a physical education teacher at Overlea 30 years ago, he was a fixture on fields and in gymnasiums as a football, wrestling and lacrosse coach. At that time, faculty members coaching three sports weren't uncommon.

Over the past two decades, however, more and more coaching positions are being filled by individuals who are not certified professional educators or teachers employed by the school system. They are known as "emergency coaches," and they have become increasingly prevalent since Maryland high schools began using them in 1981.

Based on data from athletic officials in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of coaching positions are filled by emergency coaches.

"Today, you couldn't be head coach of three highly visible sports," said Belinko, the coordinator of athletics for Baltimore County. "The demand on a teacher takes its toll, and it's almost impossible to coach more than one sport and still keep up with academic demands."

Ned Sparks, Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association executive director, said the term "emergency coaches" is derived from the idea that "persons were called in to coach in an emergency, like the school didn't have a coach for the team and the team would have to be disbanded if you didn't have a coach."

Emergency coaches are popular with schools because they often bring experience and expertise from coaching in recreation and youth leagues. Detractors, however, question whether some emergency coaches emphasize winning over teaching. And though emergency coaches undergo the same background checks as teachers, the fact that they do not need to have teaching certification can be a loophole in the system.

Nick Arminio, who was the emergency football coach at Perry Hall before being fired last month, was permitted to coach even though his teaching certificate had been surrendered or revoked in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to court documents. He has never been convicted of a crime, but he was charged in 1992 with two counts of criminal sexual contact when he was a gym teacher and coach in Toms River, N.J.

Like all coaches, emergency coaches work on one-year contracts, and faculty members get first preference for the positions in accordance with MPSSAA rules. The state association's rules also state that emergency coaches must not make up more than 50 percent of sports staffs. They must be at least 21, have a high school diploma and have completed or be enrolled in a one-credit course in prevention and care of athletic injuries.

Emergency coaches get paid the same as coaches who are faculty members, and the salaries vary depending on the county. According to county officials, head football coaches normally get paid the most, bringing in close to $5,000 a season. Salaries of coaches in other sports vary from $2,500 to $4,000.

Coaches' contracts don't include benefits, and they must re-apply for the position every year.

"An emergency coach, their contract is over the last day of the season," said Greg LeGrand, Anne Arundel County coordinator of athletics. "They should not have an expectation of returning."

Texas is the only state that doesn't allow emergency coaches. A spokesman for the National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis said there has been a rise nationally in emergency coaches, although the federation doesn't have specific numbers.

"I've been here 22 years, and I can tell you that it's more prevalent now than 20 years ago," said Bruce Howard, director of publications and communications for NFHS.

Use of emergency coaches might be leveling off, however.

"I think it has hit its saturation point at this point in time," Sparks said. "The rate of expanding sports is not expanding as much as it was in the last 20 years with Title IX and the introduction of as many sports."

Some emergency coaches' knowledge in their particular sports make them valuable hires.

"A lot of emergency coaches might have been coaching recreational teams and club teams, so they have already had organized practices and know what to expect from kids," said Ken Zorbach, Harford County supervisor of athletics. "The fact that a lot of them don't have any connections to the school helps. If a coach had a kid in their class, they might treat them differently."

Whitty Bass, Wilde Lake boys cross country and track and field head coach, has been an emergency coach at the school for seven years and has 35 years of coaching experience. He was a coach for the 1972 Morocco Olympic track team and has taken the Wildecats to two straight Howard County and Class 3A state championships.

"Professionally, I'm a Presbyterian minister, and my church is right directly across from the high school. I did this as a way to give back to the community," Bass said. "I started out as an assistant, and there was a shortage of qualified people and they asked me if I'd take the head position."

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