Coaches sound off on school board ruling

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Coaches sound off on school board ruling
By Ryan Pritt, The Charleston Gazette

The West Virginia Board of Education may have passed on a vote regarding year-round coaching in high school athletics on Thursday, but several coaches in the area didn't pass on sounding off on the decision.

Had the rule passed, coaching would've been permitted for athletes all year long with the exception of weekends, July 4th and the week before each sport started.

As it stands, a three-week period during June remains the only permitted practice time during the summer months.

Advocates for the rule point to several ways the current rules hurt prep athletes in the state of West Virginia.

Huntington football coach Billy Seals took to Twitter almost immediately after the ruling saying, “Unbelievable! Let's just keep WV kids behind the rest of the country. No reason for not taking a vote.”

He was far from the only detractor.

Marc Wilson is entering his first season as the head football coach at Sissonville. A change in the ruling could've provided future first-year coaches more time to get to know their players and install their own schemes.

“The hardest thing for me was this year I had three weeks to install an offense and defense with the ball on the field and helmets on,” Wilson said. “That three weeks can springboard what you're doing. A big part of [when practice formally starts in] August is preparing to hit, not as much the mental side or technique. In June you can really fine-tune techniques without shoulder pads and you hit the ground running in August when you put them on.

“I had a couple of kids tell me straight up they couldn't be there in June because they were playing baseball or another sport they thought was a better avenue for a possible scholarship. What can I tell them, not to? I can't tell them to not do something they want to do. And now, I don't have an opportunity to teach them now how to correctly block and tackle and stuff like that.”

During the three-week practice period, players participating in multiple sports may have to attend multiple practices in the same day.

One of the arguments against the year-long practice period is that the summer could become overwhelming for players during months they would otherwise have off.

Wilson argues however, that the three-week period is actually worse and that year-long practices could provide more time for coaches to work with individuals in multiple sports.

“I'm telling you, I feel bad for some of those kids,” Wilson said of Sissonville's multi-sport athletes. “They're good kids and they want to do everything you're telling them to do, but some of them have basketball tournaments over the weekend, then they have to come out and play football? I have guys playing basketball games or practicing in the morning and then coming to football practice in the afternoon. They're trying to protect the kids from being overworked and by trying to accomplish that with the three-week period they're hurting more than they're helping.”

Not all coaches in the area are as convinced.

Buffalo High School is one of the smallest schools in the area, and though multi-sport athletes make up a large part of the school's rosters, coaches there aren't sure than a year-round practice rule would be a good thing.

“I think if a kid wants you to help him do something in the offseason, you should be able to do that, but a lot of coaches would try to monopolize the kids, which wouldn't be good either,” Buffalo football coach Mike Sawyer said. “The year-round thing has good and bad things, just like anything else.”

“To me, I wish we'd go back to the old days when I played,” Bison baseball coach Jimmy Tribble said. “When school was out we'd play baseball 'til August 1st when football started. Then we'd play basketball after football.

“The kids are put in the middle. They're torn when they miss baseball to go to an open gym for basketball, and those coaches complain when they miss open gym. I know football coaches don't want to hear this, but I think kids need to have the summer off to go do things with their family.”

A couple of other area coaches went along with Sawyer's sentiments, saying a middle ground must be found between the limiting three-week period and year-round commitments.

“I believe you need to give these kids outlets to do things they like to do as far as athletics go,” South Charleston boys basketball coach Vic Herbert said. “Kids need time to unwind. I used to believe it was great for a kid to go in and play everything in high school, but anymore I'm not sure I've kind of switched from that. If a kid plays two sports in high school, that's plenty, a kid needs time to be a kid and a student.

“If I had a vote, it wouldn't be for year-round, but it would definitely be for something more than three weeks.”

Poca boys basketball coach Allen Osborne won a Class AA state championship last season with a team that consisted of players that also played baseball and golf and ran track. He feels schools have taken advantage of the current rule and agrees a middle ground must be reached.

“The three-week rule has been abused,” Osborne said. “The concept behind it was to be able to work with kids individually, and now you've got teams practicing twice a day. There are some coaches trying to manipulate their kids and it has become a problem.

“Everyone is really concerned, and rightfully so, of kids becoming specialized and not participating and not becoming multi-sport athletes. Everybody can say what they want to say, if you're holding workouts, a kid feels like he's got to be there. You can say 'voluntary' or whatever you want, kids feel obligated. So we've got to find some way for coaches to be able to work with kids, but they can also participate in other sports.”

Another major argument of those in favor of the rule points to recruitment and opportunities at the next level.

A lack of practice time in the summer limits the amount of time in which college coaches can watch high school players playing an individual sport and, theoretically, it also puts West Virginia prep athletes behind those in other states who have access to coaches all summer long in terms of development and skill refinement.

University of Charleston football coach Pat Kirkland has a roster consisting of players from 17 states and three different countries. He has recruited his fair share of in-state players and has also reached well beyond West Virginia's borders for talent.

“From a recruitment standpoint, I don't know if that's a big deal, but when those coaches have an opportunity to work with those kids more throughout the summer, I think it puts the kids in a better position to be more successful at the college level,” Kirkland said. “It's in the manner of how they practice and the techniques they learn — those are the big avenues that make a big difference. You get guys from other states that are getting coached a lot more time-wise, and in a lot of situations those players have head starts.

“We're about as diverse geographically as any team in the country. We were fortunate enough to have five kids play in the North-South [all-star] game this year, so [the state of West Virginia] has been good to us. But at the same time, any advantage these kids can get is good. Obviously, players are playing four years these days and redshirting isn't a huge priority, and if they can come in and play as true freshman and get this experience, it's only beneficial.”

An argument also exists that the current rule restricting players from access to coaches especially hurts student-athletes in limited financial situations.

Many players choose to spend summer on travel or AAU teams, thereby at least getting coaching of some sort during the offseason.

But many athletes can't afford such things, and the argument exists that access to school coaches would help level the playing field.

Herbert, who has several kids playing AAU basketball this summer, said such a situation rarely, if ever, arises.

“I don't know this to be true or anything like that, but if you had a kid that has a lot of potential and wants to be a part of an AAU program, who says you couldn't beat the bushes and maybe even find a sponsor for that kid?” Herbert said.

“All my kids that are going to play next year are involved of some kind of AAU, and I think it's a good thing. At least they're getting out there and playing. AAU is good in terms of being able to get involved in games and play great competition around the country and seeing other skilled players they'll never see during the high school season. But I know situations where because the availability of gyms where an AAU coach is limited on how much they can work with the kids then they go play four or five games that weekend in Cincinnati or Charlotte. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Around here, high school ball is such a prevalent thing compared to AAU because four months, you're practicing every day and you have three games a week scheduled, sometimes two, but you have time to prepare because of the availability of gymnasiums.”

Osborne said that AAU and travel teams actually give kids much more exposure, and even if a year-round rule did pass, AAU and travel-team sports aren't going anywhere.

“Everybody thinks this year-round practice is going to eliminate AAU or travel sports and it's not going to happen,” Osborne said. “[Poca players] Luke [Frampton] and Elijah [Cuffee] are playing with an AAU team in Myrtle Beach and there's 600 kids playing basketball. A college coach can go down there and see 600 kids this weekend. As long as college coaches go to AAU events, it's going to flourish. That's a myth out there.”

Future discussion could likely render all the debate moot as momentum behind at least some kind of change in the rule seems only to be growing.

And no matter what side of the fence coaches are falling, almost all agree that change is coming, and soon.

“I think it's just a matter of time,” Wilson said. “The upsetting thing to me is the lack of communication. Rather than them saying, 'Coaches and teachers, why don't you come in and explain it to us?' they were like, 'Hey, we're doing it this way.'"