The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Directors meeting was drawing to conclusion and it had been a long day for the members. There had been 10 hearings for various appeals and requests, budget approval and a discussion about hiring a new executive director. Not one Board member wanted to spend another minute in that window-less conference room.
Before adjournment, however, there was one more item on the agenda – public comment – and there were three of them. The first was a parental concern over the manner in which a coach unceremoniously kicked his son off the football team. The next two speakers, in turn, praised the Board’s dedication, but condemned the fact that the policy regarding coaching out of season had not been changed to allow contact during the school year.
The topic of coaching out of season consumed the DIAA Board of Directors meetings for more than a year. While the issue seems like an uncomplicated one that has already been dealt with by other state high school associations, nothing is as simple as it seems in a small state.
With student-athletes and their parents chasing the dream of a college scholarship and coaches seeking that championship season, it’s easy to understand the desire to do away with restrictions on coaching. The argument of who better to coach our children than their high school coach is a strong one and not without merit. On the other hand, the medical community warns of the potential for a greater incidence of “overuse” injuries. Other individuals worry that if the rules are changed, student-athletes will be “encouraged” at an earlier age to choose their “best” sport and will lose the opportunity to participate in multiple sports.
Regardless of one’s belief, there should be an understanding that any change may bring unintended consequences, which may result in cracking the bedrock of school-based athletics by impacting the number of multi-sport coaches. In a state in which the largest high school has 2,100 students and the smallest has fewer than 400, the need for coaches to support multiple sports is essential.
In a sampling across the spectrum of private, parochial, charter, vocational and comprehensive high schools in the state, 55 coaches from 12 high schools responded that they coached two or more sports. Whether as head coach or assistant, each one played an important role in providing student-athletes with an opportunity to participate in school-based athletics.
Even though these coaches are vital to our programs, for the most part they go unrecognized and unrewarded. Why do they coach multiple sports?
Frank is one of these coaches and he feels he was born into coaching. His father was a multi-sport coach and following in his father’s footsteps has always been his dream. Today, he coaches at both the high school and middle school levels. At an early age, Frank fell in love with both football and basketball. He had the opportunity to play both in high school and then continued on to play basketball in college at the Division 1 level. Watching his father coach and being on the sidelines with him no matter what sport he coached made him dream of being a coach.
“I was able to watch him coach track, football, baseball, wrestling and soccer. I loved going to his games and seeing him coach all different types of athletes,” Frank said. “Now as a coach myself, I love coaching the variety of athletes with all their unique personalities, and just being around and helping students achieve their goals on and off the field.”
The head coach of the softball team and assistant for two Unified sports teams, Skye is a former multi-sport athlete. She wants to be involved in many different sports and to help athletes become better overall students.
“I feel that coaching multiple sports allows athletes and coaches, like myself, the opportunity to get a mental break, a different perspective and to have fun,” Skye said.
Even though Darrell didn’t want to, he followed orders. His wife was insistent that she wanted to see him without having to go to the stadium or the gym. Reluctantly, Darrell agreed to cut back from coaching three sports to two. He is one of the most respected and winningest coaches in the state as the head boys and girls soccer coach, but he still misses being an assistant with the wrestling team.
“I coach multiple sports to be able to impact both boys and girls in a positive manner,” Darrell said. “It is a pleasure to coach both genders. It is also exciting to have something to look forward to each day after school.”
While Steve is new to teaching, he has embraced coaching. “I coach multiple sports for the simple reason that I had a passion to play sports growing up. I knew that one day the ball would stop bouncing for me competitively, but still I knew I wanted to be involved. Once the opportunities presented themselves for me to be able to coach, I jumped at them.”
“I couldn’t think of a better scenario than to coach two sports at my alma mater,” Steve said. “I even coached field hockey for one year and it was one of the most important and valuable coaching experiences of my coaching career. Coaching two sports also allows me to have a change of pace. There is a new energy that I feel when I transition from one sport to the next. With the two sports that I coach, there is not much overlap with the student-athletes, but the purpose is still the same to use athletics to teach life lessons.”
These coaches are inspirations, but they are not unique. They can be found in many schools and serve as the bedrock of schoolbased athletics. They coach to give back, to support young people and because as former multiple-sport athletes they understand the value in being given the opportunity to be a multi-sport athlete. Rule-changers must be careful not to overlook the contribution of these coaches. Their work must be valued, and legislators and administrators must be careful not to create an environment in which coaches feel obligated to coach their athletes year-round. The cost would be too high!
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald is the superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware and a former member of the NFHS Board of Directors. Fitzgerald is the 2018 NASS National Superintendent of the Year.