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Coaches on proposed sportsmanship policy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many of Kanawha County Schools' coaches understand the importance of sportsmanship, but some don't understand why the Board of Education wants to create a policy to mandate student conduct.

A recently proposed countywide sportsmanship policy would require principals to focus more on student conduct during athletic events, encourage athletes to shake hands with opponents following games and take disciplinary action against coaches who do not abide by the expectations themselves.

"I'm just shocked that out of all the things going on in our county school system, this is what they spend their time on. Every coach I know and every game I've ever been a part of has always shown sportsmanship. So, why bother?" said Jon Carpenter, football coach at Capital High School.

Carpenter said that while he values sportsmanship, he's irritated that the board feels the need to create a policy instead of trusting the coaches to lead their teams.

"That's what bothers me -- I'm disappointed in the battle that they're picking. Schools have real problems that are bigger than shaking hands. This isn't really going to help kids. It seems like we eat elephants and choke on gnats a lot," he said. "Of course we all want our kids to act with respect, but there are bigger problems."

The policy was first pitched after George Washington High School and Hurricane High School football players did not shake hands after a heated football game in the playoffs in November.

Board of Education member Becky Jordon, whose son is a GW football player, has since been vocal about the importance of sportsmanship, saying, "Kids shouldn't be allowed to act like jerks on the football field."

"Good sportsmanship takes you very far in life. Some don't agree with this policy at all, and I'm sorry, but nothing is wrong with raising the bar and asking children to behave," she said. "If they're not allowed to act that way in a classroom, why can they do it on the field?

"What's the difference in asking coaches to do the same as teachers?" Jordon asked. "When students are wearing our jerseys, they're representing our schools."

Board of Education President Pete Thaw does not support the proposed policy, which is up for public comment for the next 30 days, and believes it infringes on the rights of coaches.

"You say that we leave them latitude, but we really don't. When you have a policy, it's a policy," Thaw said at a board meeting last week. "Some of these coaches don't want their players mingling after the game because it's nothing but trouble, and that's the way it is."

The policy asks that a faculty member or administrator, preferably a vice principal, attend all home athletic games, and that all unsportsmanlike acts be reported to administration.

Coaches should explain what is expected of students and why they should conduct themselves in a manner "as to eliminate the possibility of any action that would unnecessarily excite athletes," according to the policy draft.

The policy also asks school coaches to collaborate with the cheerleading coach to eliminate cheers of "questionable or inflammatory natures."

Steve Freeman, newly named coach at Riverside High School, said there's nothing wrong with teaching respect to student athletes, but issuing a policy does have him concerned that coaches won't be able to make judgment calls on the field.

"Sportsmanship is the reason we play the game -- that's what it's all about, and there are a lot of life skills in sports that you can't get in the classroom. I think the problem with a policy is there are certain instances where we'll be unsure if we're going to be reprimanded when we feel like it's inappropriate to follow the procedures," he said.

While he teaches his players about self-control, he can't control the actions of the other team, Freeman said, and a policy like this one creates a gray area when it comes to safety.

"There are a lot of questions. You can't always control everyone, and sometimes when you have teenagers competing at a high physical level, tempers flare. At Riverside, a player who doesn't show good sportsmanship is going to be disciplined regardless," he said.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission outlines the standards for sportsmanship, ethics and integrity for teams.

"As long as it meets our guidelines, we think the principals and coaches should make the decisions because they are the ones who have their hands on the heartbeat of the issues," said WVSSAC Executive Director Gary Ray. "Many of our counties go above and beyond what they have to do. Some counties have even increased the GPA standards to become an athlete."

South Charleston High School football coach Donnie Mays said the motives behind the policy are simple.

"Sportsmanship is a part of the game, and putting a policy in place is just another way of saying you have to do it," he said. "When you're on the field, you never know who's watching -- a future boss or college coach. You should always treat others the way you want to be treated. It's as simple as that."

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


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