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District wants pledge that 'coach is boss'

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

There was a time when a coach's word was regarded, if not as holy writ, at least akin to the order of a high-ranking general.

Those times are over.

What once was taken for granted -- a coach's right to make decisions regarding playing time, substitution and game strategy -- no longer is. And one sign of the eroding authority of coaches is the lengths to which athletic administrators have to go to remind student-athletes and parents of who's the boss.

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This year, Rochester's high schools will require for the first time that students and parents sign a registration form that seeks to give greater clarity to the role of coaches.

Gary Addington, athletic director for Rochester public schools, said the form is in response to "unrealistic expectations on the part of athletes and parents." And those changes are, to an extent, an "off-shoot" of youth programs.

"There was a time in this community where the youth programs were focused on participation," Addington said. "Now we've developed these traveling teams" that go all over the country and the world.

"They're expectations are different," he said. "We got programs that are focused on the development of a handful of young people rather than the participation of a lot of kids."

Rochester coaches generally shy away from citing specific cases to illustrate how the culture in which coaches operate has changed. But the coaches clearly face a set of challenges that their predecessors didn't. They range from anonymous notes and confrontations with angry parents to calls from irate parents for a coach's dismissal.

What's lost in this new environment, coaches say, is the idea of sports as an educational experience and as something to be enjoyed.

Being part of the team, whether you played or sat on the bench, used to confer a certain distinction on a student, but "that isn't true any more," said Jeff Wells, boys basketball coach at Century High School.

But some parents openly scoff at the idea of signing a registration form.

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"It's a bunch of poppycock," said Tom Polt, a mortgage broker in Rochester and the father of two sons who play high school basketball. "You're going to tell me what the coach's role should be. If the coach doesn't know what his role should be, why is he coaching in the first place."

Polt is unabashedly unapologetic about today's new breed of parent, a creation he says that came about when middle schools dropped youth programs and forced parents to fill the vacuum.

The idea of sports as an educational experience is "fine, but a little success wouldn't hurt either. That is a favorite theme of athletic administrators," Polt said.

"But if they play well and they lose, there can be nobody that complains. But if you're not playing with passion and intensity and if you're not playing smart, if the season goes downhill instead of uphill, I think you have a problem."

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