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High-Tech Gadgets Don't Necessarily Translate Into Wins

By Judith Evans
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2004; Page J01

Earlier this year, District high school coaches gathered to discuss the upcoming season. One of the items on the agenda was the possibility of instituting a tape-exchange policy, under which coaches would swap video on the Sunday before their teams faced each other.

A tape exchange is not a radically new idea -- schools throughout Virginia do it weekly, for instance -- and it doesn't require much technology beyond a video camera. But to some coaches it was not unlike the various high-tech gadgets that are becoming more common in high school football programs these days -- nice ideas, but just not for them.


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Many area coaches admit that they either cannot afford to or do not want to embrace the high-tech revolution seen at other local schools. The coaches fall into two categories: the traditionalists and the wanna-bes.

The traditionalists contend the chalkboard and stapled, mimeographed playbooks serve them just fine. The wanna-bes salivate at the thought of gadgets that might save time scouting and breaking down game tape, but recoil at the cost of the myriad of systems on the market.

Brentsville (Va.) Coach Dean Reedy prefers the traditional game planning methods to drawing up plays on a laptop because it suits his personality.

"I'm in the Stone Ages," Reedy, 42, said with a laugh. "I don't do e-mail, man. You want to get a hold of me, you leave a message with the secretary. I still use the telephone. . . . There's still some dinosaurs around."

Eastern Coach Burnell Irby also sticks to the basics. He uses a blackboard to diagram plays and has players watch videotape of opposing teams to learn their tendencies. He is reluctant to pay for newer digital tools when the school budget for the football program is so tight.

But don't feel sorry for Irby. He doesn't believe his team is at a disadvantage when facing more tech-savvy opponents.

"You may get things done faster" with high-tech tools, Irby said. "But I don't think it's a disadvantage if you have a staff that goes and does good scouting. If you've got a good slow-motion button on your VCR, you can get a lot done with that."

Entering his 41st season in Strasburg, Va., Glenn Proctor prefers the tried and true methods. His 281-150-7 record ranks him among the winningest coaches in Virginia state football history.

"I'm not saying that we do things like we did 40 years ago, but we've probably not taken the strides and jumped into [high-tech tools] as much as some schools, particularly schools that have several coaches on their staff," he said. "Our way is probably slower, but we think it's kind of done pretty well and has worked for us, so we're probably like the old saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' "

Besides, all the video technology in the world isn't a substitute for on-the-field teaching, said Stefan Gansert, a first-year coach at Fairmont Heights.

"For me, the only way you can teach a kid how to do it is to actually put a kid on the field and say, 'You go block this person and block this person,' " he said. "There is nothing wrong with doing chalkboard time, don't get me wrong, but the technology has taken away from the actual brunt of the work. Remember, football is about X's and O's, execution and getting off the ball and making things happen. How do things happen when you're going for the X button and O button and pressing a button and telling them which way to go?"

H.D. Woodson Coach Greg Fuller figures that a videotape exchange program probably isn't necessary for D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association teams, because only eight schools compete in football and coaches have plenty of opportunities to scout their opponents. As for other technology, he said the cost of the equipment is a barrier that has limited the Northeast school to gradually testing out new technology.

For instance, two years ago a Woodson assistant purchased "Chalktalk" software that allows coaches to create a computerized playbook, Fuller said. During some meetings, he make PowerPoint presentations to players.

"Other schools have this information in place, where we're struggling to get it," Fuller said. "It's a matter of getting the money to put in the program."

Staff writers Josh Barr and Preston Williams contributed to this report.


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