VHSL passes measure to allow coaches to work with athletes almost year-round

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 7:26 PM

In a dramatic change that alters the ground rules for high school athletic instruction throughout the state, the Virginia High School League Executive Committee on Wednesday passed a measure that will enable coaches to work with their athletes almost year-round.

Other than 10-day "dead periods" at the start of each high school sports season and a similar week-long period in the summer, high school coaches will be authorized to work with their athletes any day except Sunday. Coaches previously could work with their athletes only during that sport's season. Individual schools, districts and regions can establish more restrictive guidelines.

Fairfax Athletic Director Tim Gordon, who chairs a Northern Region committee that has been studying the out-of-season practice rule and crafting its own version, considers the change among the most sweeping he has seen in 30 years of coaching and administrating high school sports.

"I think the bottom line is the realization that what we had was kind of broken and hard to enforce," Gordon said. "It just became antiquated with the needs of students and the desire of students and parents. Kids wanting to get extra help and individualized attention, instead of having to pay to go to a clinic or camp or outside group, they can actually get it from their own coach [now] for free."

VHSL catastrophic insurance will not apply to out-of-season activities, so jurisdictions are unlikely to hold, say, spring football practice. The new policy takes effect Aug. 1.

Gordon said that the Northern Region would like to have its out-of-season practice policy finalized by May. The broad state guidelines passed by a 20-6 vote, after years of various failed proposals.

"Kids are looking for leadership, for instruction, and curtailing the high school coach and teacher who is trained as a teacher and coach forces kids sometimes to look to people that really maybe don't have the best interest of the individual student at heart," Westfield girls' basketball Coach Pat Deegan said. "It's important that kids be given as much supervision and leadership as possible because in today's day and age, kids are interested in more than just November to March. They're looking to expand their skills."

Not every coach is in favor of the rule change. Battlefield football Coach Mark Cox, whose team won the Virginia AAA Division 6 title last season, believes it could hinder high school athletic programs as a whole.

"Most coaches would like for their kids to spend as much time as possible on their sport," Cox said. "Kids will specialize way too much. I think you'll have less cooperation among coaches within schools.

"I had good basketball players on my football team. Now they might not play football if they can do organized stuff in the fall for basketball to get ready for their season."

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