Effecive July 1, the Virginia High School League is requiring that all coaches must complete an online certification course pertaining to principles of coaching and sport first aid.
VHSL Co-Director of Athletics Tom Dolan, a former high school athletic director at Jamestown, said discussions regarding a coaches certification course began in 2008 before the idea was approved by an executive committee in 2009, which then led to a three-year period to finalize the requirement.
The requirement states that all coaches, including paid or unpaid assistants, must take a state component test while any coach hired after 2009 must also complete a basic course offered by the American Sports Education Program or the National Federation of State High School Associations.
With several athletic-related incidents escalating onto the national scene in recent years – most notably the high school football player from Kentucky who died because of heat-related issues, which resulted in his coach being indicted on reckless homicide charges in 2009 – Dolan said the VHSL’s new requirement is as much about protecting its coaches as its athletes.
“Almost every time one of these incidents goes to litigation, the first question prosecutors ask is, ‘were you given any formal education?’” Dolan said. “When you have school employees such as bus drivers who have more requirements to make sure they’re doing their jobs correctly than coaches, that’s a problem because coaches spend the most time with the athletes.
“This is a way to protect coaches in case any sort of unfortunate legal situations were to arise.”
Depending on the course load, coaches will have to pay a fee anywhere from $20-$50 upon taking the exam. Dolan said the entire course takes anywhere from four to five hours and that all coaches must score an 80 percent or higher to pass. Coaches employed by the school system will receive a stipend to help pay for the cost. Volunteer assistants must pay out-of-pocket.
Reactions are varied among local coaches, both veteran and recently hired.
“I’m 50/50 on it,” said third-year Grafton baseball coach Matt Lewellen. “If I learn a lot then it’s well worth it. But I’ve heard you’re asked a lot of questions about other sports, too, and if that’s the case, I could see a lot of people considering it a waste of time and money.”
Clippers head girls basketball and assistant football coach Tommy Bayse, who has already taken both courses – the state component and basic test – despite being a nine-year employee at Grafton, says he actually enjoys learning as much as he can about high school sports in general because he watches them all.
“It does take a long time, but I thought it was pretty worthwhile myself,” Bayse said. “I can see why some coaches would be against it, but I’m a sports guy; I like to learn new stuff about all sports.
“I have girls that play soccer, softball, field hockey and volleyball, and I like going to all of the games so it doesn’t bother me.”
Longtime Lafayette High athletic director Dan Barner has his reservations, saying he would prefer a more generalized test, but says at the end of the day, anything to further educate coaches is a good thing.
“The question is, if you’re a football coach, why should you be asked questions about swimming or field hockey?” Barner said. “But at the same time, it can a while to look up all the answers, and anything to get these coaches in the VHSL handbook is a good thing.”
Dolan said that coaches’ concerns stemming from being tested on areas outside their sport expertise is an issue the VHSL is in the process of addressing.
“Even before people had those disputes, it was always an issue of concern,” Dolan said.
Dolan said the VHSL is trying to work out a way where coaches can log on and choose their course by sport and then answer questions generated for that specific sport.
“It’s something the National Federation is ready to do, it’s just a process.”
In the meantime, Lewellen offered a solution that he thinks makes better sense and could save a lot of time and hassle.
“Not everyone has four or five hours to take out of their day,” Lewellen said. “Maybe [the VHSL] could figure out a way to have someone come in and speak with Bay Rivers coaches about handling certain situations – concussions, passing out, etc. – as opposed to sitting in front of a computer screen.
“But like I said, if this system works, then I’m all for it. The VHSL is looking out for our best interest and the athletes.”