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Debate about coaching selection lights up school board meeting

Is an unfair advantage being given to some parents when it comes to coaching in the Nevada School District?

At Monday’s regular school board meeting, a question from one of the board members sparked a bit of debate about how coaches are chosen, what qualifications are needed and what type of system is being used to evaluate those who do coach, whether paid or volunteer, for the district.

It started when Board Vice President Laura West asked, “What is our process for hiring volunteer coaches?”

West said she wanted to state upfront that she thinks highly of Joel Fey, who was the head boys’ basketball coach for Nevada up until this year and is also the district’s assistant elementary principal. But, as an example, with Fey’s name on a list of volunteer coaches being approved Monday, West said she had questions and has heard concerns in the community, especially since Fey would be joining the coaching staff and one of his children would be on that team.

“How does someone determine if they need a volunteer coach?” West asked. “Who was it for the girls’ basketball (team) last year? Why do we need one now?”

Superintendent Steve Gray and High School Principal Justin Gross, who were handling activities director duties while waiting for Kyle Hutchinson to come on board this year, quickly defended the decision.

Gray said Fey offered his services because he was available, and Gross said last year there were three paid coaches on the high school girls’ staff, and this year there are only two at this time, head coach Kristin Meyer, and assistant coach Kim Crawford.

“I have personal experience with Joel Fey as a coach, and he’s a wonderful coach,” West said. “But I know that there have been parents that have communicated to the school district that it appears as though there is favortism that takes place with coaches and coaches’ kids. I’m not saying it would be that way with Joel … but I think that it’s another example of how he coached boys (when his son was playing) and now coaches girls … and I think parents might be wondering. It just doesn’t look good to them.”

West also said she feels that parents are expecting to see all these coaching positions posted to give everyone the opportunity. “I wonder if there are other people out there who would like the opportunity, but don’t know (about the volunteer position). I would be surprised if you didn’t have at least a couple different parents in each sport say they would like to volunteer coach, but they didn’t know they could.” West went on to say that with coaching in general, she’s heard a lot of talk about parents coaching in the softball world, a little in football, and she thinks a good process, of how coaching decisions are made, is needed.

Gross said he has a completely different view of the coaching selection for middle and high school sports. And he defended Fey. “He (Fey) approached this as any parent would, ‘I did this for my son,’ and ‘I’d like to be there for my daughter.’ If another parent wanted to volunteer, they’d need to go to the coach and the coach would have to decide,” Gross said.

Gray agreed that the first step for anyone who wants to hold a volunteer coaching position would be to talk with the coach, but he emphasized that coaches have to be licensed. And Gray explained to the board that finding coaches today is difficult. “A lot of schools are having trouble just finding paid coaches,” he said.

West persisted, however, with the idea of perception and how the community feels about it. “I hear people talk about this (parents being given coaching jobs),” she said.

Board President Marty Chitty said as a community member, he believes that the analysis of what’s needed for coaching should come from within the district.

But West said she believes people within the district are perceived to have a greater chance of getting to coach, as they know who to talk to, they know where to look for the job postings. “They know who to go ask.”

Gross said a head coach should have knowledge of whether or not they need a volunteer coach, and in Fey’s case, he said, it’s a lot different to take on a volunteer who’s been a head coach for 15 years - “that’s different from a parent who’s never coached in a school situation.”

“But there are also several parents out there that have coached for many years,” West said.

Gross said, however, that there’s a flip side to allowing just anyone to become a volunteer coach. He’s experienced having a volunteer coach in another district come in, only to undercut the head coach the whole time. “That was a problem.”

Chitty said he hears many more comments and opinions in the community about athletic programs than he does about academics. And he agreed it would be helpful to him as a school board member to know what the school’s process is when selecting or approving volunteer coaches.

Gross said generally the head coach comes to the activities director and says, “I want someone to be a volunteer coach.”

Gray took the discussion in a little different direction, asking how anyone knows how to volunteer for anything? “I’ve had people approach me and say, do you ever have people come and read” to students? And he said the school doesn’t advertise for that.

“But are those (reading volunteers) going in and working with those kids every day and having an impact on how that affects their performance?” West asked. “I think part of the issue (with people in the community) is that I have a sense that even our process of our paid coaches hasn’t been as robust as it should be, and that some of those (positions) don’t get posted.”

Gross was adament that all paid coaching positions are posted, with one of the posting locations being the school’s website. But he also made another point. “The idea that people are beating down the doors to be a paid coach is a misnomer.”

Gross also wanted to make it clear that volunteer coaches aren’t dictating to the head coaches. “They’re being given direction from our head coaches,” he said.

Furthermore, Gross said the new activities directors — Kyle Hutchinson at the high school and Kody Asmus at the middle school — have met with the district’s coaches and are in the process of adapting a more robust evaluation tool.

Gross said there needs to be a trust in the fact that “we’ve hired quality people to carry our programs forward.” The two new activities directors, he said, have made it clear to the coaches “that they’re going to hold people to those evaluations.” Gross said also that the new ADs have each attended a practice for each of the fall teams.

West concluded her comments by saying that she thinks parents’ concerns that she has heard go beyond the complaint of questioning playing time for their own kids. She said parents are concerned about leadership qualities, ethics and integrity from the school’s coaches. “They’re concerned about leadership and that their kids aren’t getting what they need in those areas, and they’re not going out because they have issues with different coaches.” Parents are seeing the leadership qualities in club team coaches, she said, and “they want those leadership qualities from the school as well.”

“I think that you’ve hired some people in the last few years that are trying to raise some expectations,” Gray responded.

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