A recent policy revision by the Fairfax County School Board regarding the hiring of coaches has saved some spring sports programs from extinction this year. Area athletic directors continue to worry, however, about the future of springtime and minor sports programs.
A long-standing county policy, which said coaches must come from within the school system, was revised because many schools were having difficulty finding coaches for minor sports. The new policy allows individuals to coach as long as they are enrolled as part-time or full-time students in college, whether or not they are not teachers.
"That has always been a Virginia High School League policy," said Roger Cole, McLean athletic director, "but the county didn't allow us to use it. The county had the stipulation that if a person was drawing a coaching supplement they had to be a full-time employe.
"The county eased off on that because of the difficulties schools faced getting coaches. They had to help us."
Athletic directors prefer to draw their coaches from their schools' immediate faculties for several reasons. "There's better communication," Cole said.
"A coach often has to be a father and a brother to his players," Marshall Athletic Director Herb Yost says of the preference for in-school coaches. "They add to the school's spirit.
"Over 50 percent of our coaches are not on our (teaching) staff. That has a debilitating effect."
Athletic directors feel the new county policy is a last resort.
"It's not the greatest thing to do but sometimes it's either that or give up the program," Cole said.
McLean, which was forced to drop both girls' and boys' gymnastics because of a lack of coaches, saved its girls' track program from a similar fate by hiring a part-time college student as coach.
The School Board's January decision to begin junior varsity soccer teams for boys and girls in high school sent athletic directors searching for coaches.
"Soccer is a new sport and you don't find many teachers who have played it," Robinson Athletic Director Harry Smith said. "We were lucky enough to find a faculty member who was willing to help out. He hasn't coached soccer before, but he was anxious to try."
Marshall and Lee hired individuals enrolled in college courses to coach their junior varsity teams.
But many athletic directors are concerned that even the revised county policy will not be enough to offset increasing demands on their programs in the future.
"We're at the saturation point, maybe beyond it," Smith said of the expanding athletic program, which now includes 13 spring sports.
Limited playing facilities often make scheduling games and practices difficult. Soccer teams either practice on fields not located on school grounds, which poses transportation problems, or on the school's football field, which poses maintenance problems.
Athletic directors also are concerned about where funds for existing as well as new sports will come from as the cost of equipment continues to rise. Many athletic departments already operate at a deficit.
The county provided start-up money for boys and girls junior varsity soccer teams this year, but next year athletic departments will have to fund the programs on their own.
"If we had to do without that money (this year), we would have added to our deficit," said Lee's Jim England. "That money was a godsend."
Even winning is no assurance of financial success. Robinson, which has won regional titles in football and basketball this season, experienced "a slight increase over last year in football receipts" and money from basketball was "down from last year," according to Smith.
Before expanding athletic programs further, Smith urges caution to avoid future problems in attracting coaches, finding facilities and financially supporting athletics.
"We shouldn't be in a position of supporting a varsity sport we have no facilities for, like we do now for swimming," Smith said.
No Fairfax County public high school has its indoor swimming facilities, so swim teams must pool space for practices and meets.