Parents, coaches debate sports policies

Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Some parents say high school sports are too concerned with winning, but coaches and other parents say competition is good for kids and there are noncompetitive avenues available.

The Juneau School Board, at a Tuesday work session, heard the gamut of community opinion on after-school activities -- especially sports -- as the board continued its review of the school district's policies and regulations.

Parent Elsa Demeksa said there's too much emphasis on winning, to the detriment of students, who fear losing or making a mistake and being belittled in public.

``In choosing coaches, the community needs to decide if it wants a game coach or a life coach,'' Demeksa said.

Other parents said coaches provide students with the education to face life's challenges, which are more demanding than sports.

Board President Stan Ridgeway said most of the calls he gets from parents involve concerns or displeasure with how students are treated, selected, cut or not allowed to participate in activities.

Some coaches have their own rules, which exceed or don't meet the board's policies, he said. Board members said some coaches punish alcohol use more harshly than called for in district regulations.

Ridgeway also said some students think they must attend open gyms or summer camps to make a team. Students who don't participate in sports tell him it's because there are too many requirements, too many unwritten rules.

Coaches felt tarred by a broad brush by the board's concerns and said members should have come to them first. They said the city puts on an extensive intramural sports program, and the schools' open gyms are a type of intramurals. Some sports also have their own intramurals.

But interscholastic sports can't be run as intramurals, said Juneau-Douglas High School girls' basketball coach Jim Hamey said.

``You can't ask interscholastic coaches to try to keep everyone and be successful,'' he said. ``You can't ask them not to have open gym and summer camps and be competitive.''

Head football coach Reilly Richey said competitive sports help keep students in school, and he feared the dropout rate would skyrocket under a less competitive model.

Some parents didn't feel their grievances are addressed by the current system.

Parent Stephanie Crossley said policies should be more clearly defined, and all coaches should be required to adhere to them. Coaches should give students warnings before removing them from the team, she said.

The recently formed Parents for Involvement, Balance and Accountability in Student Activities wants an Activities Review Board to ensure policies are upheld, oversee activities funding, hear parental concerns and evaluate coaches.

The school board also heard complaints about coaches' behavior. Board member Alan Schorr said he's seen numerous occasions of coaches yelling and abusing students in public.

Elaine Schroeder, a parent and a psychotherapist in Juneau for 20 years, said she talks to hundreds of students and parents a year. ``I have been the repository of sad stories, and I need to share it with you.''

Schroeder stressed the importance of banning verbal abuse and the use of degrading and sexist language by coaches, saying ``it hurts kids terribly.''

Mike Hutcherson, a football coach, said coaches have different ways of getting things done, but none are mean-spirited.

``We do good with the kids,'' he said. ``We push not only athletic excellence but academic excellence and how to behave like a civil citizen.''

The board will continue to review the issues, including equity in funding programs and opportunities for fund raising. Ridgeway said the goal is to tackle most of a new policy before next school year.

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