In what high school coaches are concerned is a precedent-setting decision, a Fairfax County public school area superintendent recently ordered a high school baseball coach to give a player he had cut a second chance to make the team.
The boy, a sophomore at Oakton High School, and his father formally complained to Area 11 Superintendent Joe King that the student had not been evaluated fairly in a tyrout by junior vasity baseball coach John Scott to hold a second, private tryout for the boy.
King instructed assistant principal Norman Bradford, a former high school base ball coach and athletic director, to observe the tryout and to decide whether the boy should make the team.
Following the second tryout, Bradford told the area superintendent he supported Scott's original decision and the student did not make the team.
Coaches fear the decision undercuts their authority and, as one coach sais, "will send every kid who's running to the superindent for another tryout."
"I don't know that there has been a precedent set," King said. If other students should request new tryouts in the future, King said, he will evaluate each case on its own merits.
"In this case, I believe the sincerity of what they (the boy and his father) felt giving them the chance for a second opinion," King said. "I'm not afraid of setting precedents.
"As long as decisions are made judiciously, an area superindent shouldn't have to worry about making determinations. I have the right to say 'no' if I feel an appeal is being made capriciously."
Superindent Donald Lacey of Area 1 IV, which covers western Fairfax County, does not consider King's decision a precedent. "It's a judgment call," Lacey said. "I wouldn't want to get into the position of overruling a coach, but if I looked into a situation and found problems, i-d rule in favor of the student.
"I wouldn't feel compelled to follow suit just because Joe King made that decision. But I would give any situation like that a sharp look and judge it case by case," Lacey said.
His decision, King said, was based on Provisions in the "Students' Rights and Responsibilities" handbook. Chapter 111, Section 3 of the handbook, entitiled "Right to Complain," outlines steps which, according to King, grant students "due process".
The boy and his father followed complaint procedures after the boy was cut along with 17 other students who were among more than 50 trying out for the team. They first complained to Oakton principal T. Page Johnson, who upheld the coach's decision, according to King. The case was then appealed to King.
"If a parent is not satisfied that his complaint has been solveed by the principal, he can appeal to the area superindent," King explained.
The boy deserved a second tryout, King said, beacause "the parent sincerely felt his son's skills were not properly evaluated and felt his son was superior to kids kept on the team." The boy's father is a youth league baseball coach.
King says there was "no implication that any erroe had been made (by Coach Scott)."
Scott, who has taught physical education and coached junior varsity baseball for six years, says King never directly sought his opinion. Instead, Kinf consulted with Johnson, the principal, who presented the coach's side, according to Scott.
"It's unfortunate when a situation like this takes place and the coach isn't even consulted directly," Scott said. "A decision like this undermines the integrity of the coach involved.
"This is like saying the person who makes the decision (to grant a new tryout) knows more about the situation than the coach."
Scott says prospective players were tested in speed, throwing, dfielding, hitting and other skills during the original tryout in early March. After three days of drills, Scott says he "had 20 players I considered cutting."
Ton insure each player an equal chance on the third day, Scott says, "I did the pitching during battling practices to get the same speed for everyone."
King, a former assistant football coach, will not specify which areas of the first tryout the boy and his father objected to and Scott is unsure of the specific complaints. The original tryout was condusted on blacktop because or poor field conditions, and Scott thinks that might have been the source of the complaint.
"Everyone tried out on the blacktop, though," Scott says. "Actually, it's easier to play on blacktop because the ball takes a truer bounce."
The second tryout lasted 20 minutes and was conducted on the baseball field . Scott hit grounders and pitched to the boy while assistant principal Bradford observed. When it was over Bradford asked the boy if he felt he had received a fair tryout, and the boy said "yes" according to Scott.
"Superindent King, in my opnion, acted out of compassion for the young man, Bradford says. "He is a strong advocate and supporter to due process and as such he directed me to conduct another tryout.
"Administrators in Fairfax County are very much aware of due process, and I believe they have taken the necessary steps to insure that their coaches are well-informed.
When the second tryout was over, Scott says, "I got the impression the boy's heart wasn't in it."
"I was never really convinced that the boy wanted to go through with it," King says.
Oakton High School coaches are writing a letter to King that "deals with a coach's prerogative to select his team," Scott says. Fairfax County football coaches recently agreed, as a group, to send a letter similar to the letter sent by the Oakton coaches.
"I doubt if I'd still be coaching if someone ever came in and, in effect, said I wasn't professional enough to make decisions for my team," says Jerry Fauls, Stuart High School's head football coach. "I'm especially concerned that the coach wasn't consulted before the decision was made."