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State administrators debate summer practice rule change

CHARLES TOWN – High school administrators have expressed mixed feelings about a proposed athletics rule that would expand voluntary summer practices in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission’s Board of Control approved a change last week to include the entire summer, except for the week that includes the July 4 holiday. Previously, the practice period was limited to three weeks during the month of June.

A separate proposal to allow year-round practices without any downtime was soundly defeated.

The rule expanding voluntary summer practices will go before the state board of education next month, and must include a 30-day public comment period. The state board of education will likely vote this summer on whether to approve the changes. The earliest the change could be adopted would be for the 2015-2016 academic year.

SSAC executive director Gary Ray said many sports such as football already have year-round conditioning and weightlifting.

“If this passes, they’ll just have the opportunity to work with their kids in the summertime,” Ray said. “I don’t think coaches will want kids all summer long. That’s just my opinion – they’re going to want some time to themselves.”

“I think it will be well received by most of our coaches,” Ray told West Virginia Metro News. “I don’t think coaches are going to take all summer for just football or just basketball – I think they will work with their schools and pick a few weeks that work individually for their sports.”

“It opens up the window more than if it’s restricted to just three weeks,” Ray added. “For example, a baseball coach could take them in the middle of the summer and then the track coach could take them early. They can start sharing kids more and I think that is part of the reason to it.”

Jay Kirby, athletic director at Jefferson High School, said he can see both positive and negatives in the proposal.

Kirby said that as an administrator for a scholastic sports program that plays teams from bordering states, schools in West Virginia are at a disadvantage because of the greater amount of practices their opponents are allowed to have. He also said additional practice time would be good in the sense that it helps students stay involved in sports.

On the other hand, however, Kirby said the proposal would require more supervision from principals and athletic directors to ensure the changes are employed as intended. He also said coaches could be putting in more hours without additional compensation.

“There’s a lot of things that need to be looked at,” Kirby said.

Ray told West Virginia Metro News that school administrators overwhelmingly chose not to open up practices for year-round scheduling. He said the compromise vote essentially became increasing the summer practice session.

“The problem we have right now is (athletes’) time is monopolized by travel teams and so forth,” Ray said. “Our philosophy by our member-school principals now is that if their time is going to be monopolized anyway, let’s let our coaches do it – the ones who work with them in an education-based athletics. From that perspective, I think it’s a positive move.”

Randall Roy, Buckhannon-Upshur High’s athletic director, called the proposed rule “a step in the right direction.”

But former Harrison County board of education president Mike Queen said the rule will harm multiple-sport athletes “and will discourage student athletes from participating in academic and leadership activities normally held during the summer.”

Grafton High athletic director Rich Bord agreed.

“My first reaction was when are kids going to get to be kids?” Bord said. “I’m afraid that we’re moving more and more away from in high school athletics just the fun and the love of playing the game and it’s become more of trying to gear kids to get better and potentially be college athletes.

Robert C. Byrd High athletic director Steve Gibson said that while the rule allows for flexibility, “I’m just afraid that it might cause some of the students to become burned out.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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