- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 05:54
- Published on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 11:54
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High schools in King George, Westmoreland and Colonial Beach are facing possible budget cuts for the fifth time in five years and athletic directors are concerned about the impact the budget reductions are having on the mentoring relationships their coaches have with student athletes.
Since 2009, area school boards have seen their share of state and federal funding decline annually as the nation’s economy has struggled. The budget reductions have forced the schools board to use more local revenue to meet necessities and to reduce spending where possible, including cuts to athletics.
These repeated cuts to athletic budgets have forced athletic directors at area schools to push for increased gate receipts, expand booster activity, use of more volunteers and increasingly the hiring of coaches who are off-campus. All of these efforts present challenges, but the growing use of coaches who are not teachers is causing increasing concern.
“In Westmoreland County, the number of coaches who do not work on campus as teachers has increased dramatically over the last six years,” said W&L Athletic Director Malcolm Lewis. “It’s becoming a major problem.”
“This year, just a few of our varsity coaches are also teachers,” Lewis said, noting that proposed budget reductions for 2013-2014 will likely make the situation worse. “When you have coaches who are teaching in the building, they can be more effective, mentoring kids and impacting their futures.”
King George High School Athletic Director Alex Fisher said nine of his varsity coaches also teach, but expressed the same concerns as Lewis. “We don’t have as many coaches teaching as we used to,” said Fisher, who was a teacher before he became the athletic director at King George three years ago.
“In the sports where the coaches are not on campus, you notice the difference,” Fisher said. “The more the coaches are on campus, the more beneficial it is to the athletes. The dynamics are different.”
“When I talk to the budget crunchers, they tell me hiring teachers comes first, regardless of whether or not they have other skills, like coaching,” said Colonial Beach Athletic Director Steve Swope. “I can see that, but in a way you are shortchanging the students who benefit from teachers who are also coaches.”
“At Colonial Beach, we are facing the same budget situation everyone else is facing, but we have been more fortunate than most because so many of our coaches live in the community. They are good people, coaching is a big part of their lives and they make a difference,” Swope said.
“Some of the most important experiences students have in helping shape them into adults will come from athletics,” said Lewis, a former W&L student who has been coaching at W&L for 18 years. “But having coaches in the building, teaching, helping with discipline makes all the difference. It’s like having lots of assistant principals on campus.”
Michael Clark, the W&L varsity baseball coach, was a teacher but now is on campus only part-time when he is coaching the Eagles. “When I was teaching, I would see my players between classes. I could ask how they were doing, provide encouragement if needed, and offer advice.”
“In my situation now, I see my players from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day. I do the best I can to be a positive role model during that time – but it is very difficult to gauge how they are doing in school while not being there,” Clark said.
“Many student athletes need those one or two mentors to provide constant guidance,” Clark said. “When coaches are in the school every day it is much easier for that coach/player relationship to develop and much easier for the coach to have an effect on the student throughout the day.”
“When you are cutting athletics, you are cutting something very important in the lives of these young men and women,” said Lewis. “I draw on my high school athletic experiences every day,” said Lewis who was a high school football star at W&L.
“I remember the lessons athletics have taught me, fortitude, coping mechanisms, determination; skills that young people don’t pick up as eagerly in the classroom,” Lewis said, noting that having coaches on campus building relationships with students and helping instill those lessons is, unfortunately, becoming a thing of the past.