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Mixed reaction from coaches over expanding summer practice sessions

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By Garrett Cullen
WV MetroNews

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Many coaches are in favor, others not so much – that’s been the initial response to this week’s vote by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to expand the summer practice session to all but one week on the summer months.

The rule, which still has to be approved by the state board of education, would go into effect for the 2015-2016 school year. Part of the intent of the change would give coaches at each school more flexibility to get practices in, as opposed to the current three-week window.

Watch: WVSSAC’s Gary Ray discusses summer practice rule

“I hope the state board will pass this,” said Martinsburg boys basketball coach Dave Rogers. “I just hope they look at it in a positive light. You have coaches out there that have to do it the right way and not demand that those players be there all summer – I don’t think that was the intent of the rule.”

University football coach John Kelley, however, is one of those against the potential change.

“I’m opposed to it – I don’t think it’s the best thing for the kids,” Kelley said. “I don’t think it’s an educationally sound decision and I think they’ll see the ramifications of it down the road. They’ll argue that it will produce more scholarship athletes from the state, which I think is a ridiculous argument.”

With AAU basketball continuing to become more prevalent, many athletes are already consumed with practices and games during the summer months.

“They’re going to argue that it’s better the (high school coaches) coach them rather than AAU coaches,” Kelley said. “It’s a basketball driven proposal and a basketball driven situation. The kids need some time away from school. They need some time away from sports. They need to be kids and grow and develop in some things other than sports and I hope this thing is shot down by the state board of education.”

Morgantown football coach John Bowers doesn’t anticipate making any drastic changes to how his summer practices would go (from the current three-week window).

“The potential for abuse is there and the potential of making kids hate football is there,” Bowers said. “What they’re trying to do is combat the AAU faction of coaches, particularly in basketball – that’s my assumption. Maybe once a week in July we’ll throw it around a little bit, but the rest of the time just work in the weight room and on conditioning. But you have to take the football away a little bit, so that when practice starts, they’re actually ready to play the game.”

At Wheeling Central, boys basketball coach Mel Stephens doesn’t expect to add that many practices with the change, but sees the move as a positive, simply for scheduling purposes with other sports in the summer.

“For small schools, I think it would help,” Stephens said. “With the three-week period, if you have kids who are doing multiple sports, they have to make a choice of what one they want to do during that period. How much we would use it? I don’t really know. But I think it would be a good thing to eliminate packing everything into those three weeks.”

It’s that scheduling flexibility that continues to come up as a positive – something Rogers said could be utilized, if done the right way.

“I do not want to coach my kids all summer – I don’t want that,” Rogers said. “But I would like the opportunity to coach them in the summer league or take them to summer camps. If some of the players would want to come in to an open gym to shoot or have some personal coaching, it would give us the opportunity to do that.”

Morgantown girls basketball coach Jason White agrees and is another one of those coaches for the rule change.

“I just don’t think that coaches are going to bring kids in every single day and not ask for some type of compensation for it by coaching three months in the summer,” said Morgantown girls basketball coach Jason White. “I do see coaches maybe using a few more days here and there – but I see it as more of a training tool and an opportunity to go compete against other schools in shootouts or tournaments rather than coming in and drilling the kids over and over.

“Another factor that a lot of people don’t think about is that some of these kids are paying big time money to go be a part of an AAU team or a travel team – you’re talking about parents paying in upwards of $1,000 for that to happen,” White continued. “Not everyone can afford that – so to open that open and know that they have a coach that’s qualified to instruct their children, maybe that will save some parents money and travel.”

The state board of education will put all of the SSAC rules changes on its agenda for May. After a 30-day public comment period, the board will likely vote in July whether to approve the changes.