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Proposed sports policy would mandate playing time

Chris Dorst
South Charleston Middle School's girls basketball team practices Wednesday evening at the Oakes Field gym. The Kanawha County school board is eyeing a policy that would force middle school coaches to distribute playing time more equally among student athletes.
Chris Dorst SCM girls basketball coach Courtney Cole wraps tape around player Anna Falbo's wrists before Wednesday's practice.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Board of Education might consider a new sports policy for middle schools that would make coaches even out playing time across all students in uniform, regardless of athletic performance.

School board member Becky Jordon said she's heard pushback since she proposed the policy at a board meeting earlier this week, which, if passed, would prevent middle school student-athletes from spending too much time on the bench.

However, Jordon says the sixth- through eighth-grade is a fragile time for students, and some coaches are too hard on young athletes. That can be detrimental to their future success, she said.

"I think this has been misunderstood. Yes, there are a lot of young athletes that work really hard, and they deserve the right to play more. I just feel like it needs to be fair. I'm not saying take the superstars out of the game, but you know what? Give everyone a chance," she said. "We have some coaches that don't always treat everyone fair, . . . and often times there are hurt feelings."

Jordon, who's had four children participate in Kanawha County school sports, said she has heard concerns from parents who fear that an "everyone gets a trophy" type of policy would lead to repercussions in the real world, but she says there are also real-world implications for benching young athletes.

"I can promise that, if a kid sits on that bench all through middle school, they will not attempt to be engaged in high school. We know the kids that are most involved are the most successful," she said. "It's not just about bullying. It's an awkward age. There isn't a person that can say middle school was a great time. If we can make a minimal step to make kids feel better about themselves, we should."

But Scott Canada, football coach at South Charleston Middle School, said it's not only ability and work ethic that goes into deciding who should play the game. It's also a safety issue.

"I can't jeopardize the safety of one student for another. I'm not going to compromise a 70-pound sixth-grader's welfare just to get them on the field if they're not prepared or ready to play," Canada said. "I try to play as many of my student athletes as possible, but there are times people don't get to play. Whether or not that's fair, I have to give an opportunity to those students who are at practice every day, who work the hardest and who are dedicated."

Canada said that, for the most part, more upperclassmen play middle school sports because sixth-graders often are still eligible for youth leagues, where the games are less competitive.

"Those leagues are developmental. Those students are typically given an opportunity to play, no matter what. Middle school is not a place for that," he said. "I'm not going to do that. I just refuse to do it."

Kelly Geddis, assistant executive director of the state Secondary School Activities Commission, said no other school districts in West Virginia have a policy concerning playing time.

That's because only coaches have the authority to decide which students play and when they play, and it should stay that way, Geddis said.

"Certainly, playing time has always been an issue, but that's always been an area left up to individual coaches, based on a number of things. They're with [students] every day at practice and can best determine their skill level, work ethic and the time they spend at practice," she said. "Outside influences, such as parents or administration, should not interfere with determining the amount of playing time a student gets. That decision must always stay with the coach. That is what they are hired to do."

Geddis said athletic issues can get complicated when dealing with adolescents, but as a former coach and teacher, she said she believes adhering to the rules of the game can only benefit a child.

"If they don't put forth the effort, I think it does a disservice. At a certain age, you learn that, if you don't have a high enough skill level, then you don't get as much playing time, so you have to work harder," she said. "It can sound pretty callous, . . . but that's the same for the real world in the job market. People forget that there is more value to athletics than just during the games."

Alice Starr, assistant basketball and volleyball coach at Elkview Middle School, said a policy like the one proposed by Jordon could take too much power from the coaches, which could harm students.

"If you know how that athlete acts in certain situations, you've got to be the one to make the call," she said. "Even though it's often a hard call, you still have to make it."

Josh Perkey, a basketball coach at Vinson Middle School in Wayne County, took to social media Wednesday to voice his displeasure with Kanawha County's proposal, calling it "a travesty."

"The message the [school board] is sending is one kid can stay home, play video games & eat Cheetos all summer and another kid that has worked his/her butt off preparing for the season are provided with the same opportunity to play," Perkey posted to Facebook. "If I have kids with similar skill levels, one is a hard worker and the other isn't, you don't have to guess who gets the minutes . . .  . You will never in your life see a bigger smile or a more infectious laugh than the instant all that work pays off. There is no better feeling as a coach. None. When they succeed it is their success from their hard work. That is the type of reward that lasts a lifetime."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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