HASD board weighing restrictions for coaches

HOLLIDAYSBURG – An offseason coaching trend that school board members say is detrimental to regular season sports team unity

could end with a vote on Wednesday.

The board’s athletic committee members are not aware of any other districts with a policy like the one they are proposing.

If it passes, then Hollidaysburg Area School District coaches would be prohibited from building offseason club teams that include only their best regular season players joined by players from competing districts.

Two board members, Stephanie Wertz and Peter Hart, said it is unfair to dictate coaches’ volunteerism in club leagues not affiliated with the district.

“If it’s not a school team, then why are we involved in what they do on their own time?” Wertz said.

More to her point, she said businesses sponsor club teams.

“Sponsors would want the coaches to build the best team to represent them,” Wertz said. “I would want my team to win, and I would want the coach to build the best team – not a clique [of students from one district].”

Hart agreed.

“Seems like a terribly biased plan,” he said.

“I can’t do that. If you are going to throw away kids from Bishop Guilfoyle or some other place and say, ‘No you can’t get on the team,’ because even though it’s not supposed to be a team for the school, the coach has to take all his students first before all the others.”

Retired Hollidaysburg Area softball coach Dennis Carter offered the Mirror a coach’s perspective on the issue. He expressed disdain for the practice of developing individual players instead of teams.

“If you are a school ball coach, your intention is to develop the talent that is going to benefit you down the road in the regular season,” he said.

In addition to coaching club teams since the ’80s, he spent one season last year as Hollidaysburg Area High School softball coach. He helped lead the team to a District 6 championship.

While Hart and Wertz may have concerns about treatment of the coaches and club team sponsors, the athletic committee members say they are focused on the students.

“A school board member has only one job – to represent the students,” Aaron Ritchey said.

“We are thinking about this in terms of the team,” said Rob Vonada, who supports the athletic committee’s policy. “In a successful team, the more successful players lift the less successful players up. They mentor them. If you have a club team where a Hollidaysburg coach is willing to put the good players on, leave the others behind and get good players from other schools, then that is the situation that is not good for the Hollidaysburg team.”

Troy Keefer said coaching candidates are asked during job interviews, “What do you do to develop the team above and beyond the regular season?”

“We want a coach dedicated to the program,” he added. “It’s in the offseason when you improve.”

The policy is also meant to head off an epidemic of athlete recruiting by school districts, he said. While using club teams for recruiting regular season players is not as frequent in central Pennsylvania as it is in areas like Pittsburgh, the temptation for coaches exists, he said. It’s against PIAA rules for students to transfer to a public school district solely based on athletics. But cases are often unchallenged or thrown out in court.

Hollidaysburg Athletic Director Homer DeLattre said at the district where he previously worked (Corry, near Erie), a club team benefited from school district facilities. The possibility for students of families who don’t pay taxes to the school district using Hollidaysburg Area facilities may cause Hart to reconsider the policy.

The policy wouldn’t prohibit district coaches from putting players from other districts on a club team, but it requires coaches to seek Hollidaysburg Area players first. The athletic committee members said the policy was not proposed to target any specific coach or sport.