MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Though it didn’t pass last year, a move to allow more high school offseason practices in West Virginia is regaining some momentum.
Coaches currently have a three-week summer window in which to work with their athletes. But as AAU basketball tournaments and football 7-on-7s continue to pick up steam, many high school coaches are seeking more access, similar to what surrounding states allow.
“I just think it would give kids in the state more opportunities,” said Martinsburg football coach Dave Walker. “It would give our coaches an opportunity to work with our kids more and take it away from people who you really don’t want working with the kids.”
A proposal passed last year by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission would have expanded the practice period for the entire summer. However, the measure never made it on the state board of education’s agenda for a final approval.
Martinsburg principal Trent Sherman has been leading the way this year, presenting a similar proposal that would open up school-organized practices for the entire year, with the exception of two “dead periods” per sport (the week of July 4 and one week before the opening of each specific sports season).
Proposal 127-3-7.2 School-organized out-of-season practices or related activities shall be permitted with principal approval during the year, with the exception of 2 “Dead Periods” per sport, and Saturdays or Sundays. These periods are during week 52 (Fourth of July week) and one week before the opening of each specific sports season. During the Dead Periods, there will be no coaching, observing, practice, open facilities, leagues, or school sponsored clinics or camps. The sessions each day should not exceed two hours in length. Participation by students must be open to all students, voluntary, and not required directly or indirectly for membership on a school team. Participation of students during these practices does not meet practice rule 127-2-13.4
1) Saturday or Sunday activities that are part of a camp or league shall be permitted with principal approval.
2) The use of protective equipment, pads, shields or blocking dummies is not permitted during these workouts. Helmets can be used for safety purposes during 7-on-7 competitions or leagues.
The year-round plan, Sherman contends, would remove the necessity of coaches in various sports cramming all their offseason practices into the summer “when students take vacations and have a break.”
“With what we have now, trying to get everything into three weeks, every sport has to get into that time frame,” he said. “Now, we’re pressuring kids to go all day long. If you’re a multi-sport athlete, you would have to either chose or your coaches would have to set it up so there (are practices) all day long.”
The new proposal narrowly passed by a 54-53 vote during the Board of Control meeting this month. Sherman is hoping to pick up enough momentum to send the proposal to the state board of education’s agenda later this summer.
“I plan to go to the West Virginia Board of Education meeting in May and share some of the research that I have,” Sherman said. “With the proposal just passing by one vote, it shows that people are on both sides of the coin. But I think most of the people that voted against it would still agree that some change needs to happen, based on the fact that we are behind as it pertains to the states that are around us.
“Approaching this from an educational standpoint, every piece of research ever done shows that students who are involved in extracurricular activities have higher GPAs and better attendance,” Sherman said. “The state wants the most highly qualified teachers available to be in front of our students. So, why would we not want our highly qualified coaches that we hire to be coaching our students?”
Walker, whose teams attend several 7-on-7 tournaments during the current three-week window, pointed to other national opportunities that would be available if the proposal would be passed.
“I’ve not talked to a football coach, personally, who does not want it,” Walker said. “I know there are some coaches out there who don’t, but every coach I’ve talked to is in favor of it because they think it will help their kids. We’ve missed opportunities in the past. One year we were invited to Hoover, Ala., for a national 7-on-7 tournament in July, but we couldn’t go because it wasn’t in the current three-week period.
“Other coaches would like to be able to do those things in West Virginia. With the current system, if you have a college coach coming in who wants to look at your quarterback throw, they have to do that on their own,” he continued. “I’m not saying it becomes an everyday thing, but it would give you the opportunity to watch your kids throw for 15-20 minutes after lifting weights. With the current rule, you can’t even do that. It would only help the state and the kids who are in the state.”
While the state board of education hasn’t looked kindly to similar proposals in the recent past, Walker and Sherman claim the current three-week limit isn’t working.
“The longer we wait, the further behind we fall,” said Walker, who adds that administrators of each school can police the system to make sure coaches aren’t abusing it by wearing out kids. “If you make the change now, you can always go back and amend it in the future. If it just gets voted down, then we’re still in the same boat that we have been in and I don’t think that’s good.”
Sherman said he fears state officials tabling the issue for more consideration.
“I don’t want to be in a three- to five-year period where we say that something needs to be changed, but we don’t know what to do, so we do nothing.”
The next state board of education meeting is scheduled for May 13 from Charleston.