Guest Columnist

Prep coach shares passion

CorrespondentMarch 1, 2014 

Harry Jones, Broughton baseball coach

Coaching is a calling.

It became clear to me as a college student that I was called to share my passion for baseball – and the lessons it can teach – with young men of like mind.

I experienced quality leadership and solid direction from the coaches for whom I played and wanted to share those lessons and experience.

The game, of course, is fun. Affecting the growth of young people is unspeakably rewarding. But recreation and development occur on thousands of ball fields at all levels. The real question is why coach, and continue to coach, as a professional at the high school level when the demands are so high and the pay is so low?

The answer? High school athletics are the only remaining venue with the primary purpose of teaching the virtues of athletic competition, and those virtues are more important now than ever before.

There is a great deal of press and hand-wringing about the shortcomings of collegiate and professional athletes. Many of those youngsters are recruited out of settings designed to showcase their skills rather than build their academics or their character.

In North Carolina and Wake County, however, we have both academic and community standards that preclude participation if the student-athletes fall short of those values. Many high school coaches, including me, have expectations that go beyond those required by the state and county.

The school motto at Broughton is “Approve Ye that which is excellent.” That is what we ask of our players, whether it’s learning to throw strikes, complete classroom assignments, or sweep the dugout after practice. We rely on each other to uphold the standard such that the players become accountable to each other.

At Broughton, we want to mold intense competitors and good teammates. The first requires teaching physical effort, fundamental skill development and execution, with a healthy dose of learning how to win and lose with grace. The second requires deferment of gratification and ego, communication and personal responsibility.

All of these qualities make better students, quality employees, good citizens and community leaders. These qualities cannot be measured by standardized tests and are difficult to spotlight in an academic setting. At a time when we tend to associate adolescents with obesity and technological infatuation, teaching these basic traits for success is essential.

Coaches ‘wear many hats’

Make no mistake, coaching is a second full-time, year-round job. Coaches in public schools wear many hats.

As a baseball coach in Wake County for nearly three decades, I am a carpenter, plumber, painter, accountant, mechanic, farmer and chauffeur, all before the first practice is planned or ball is thrown. We maintain our own turf. We provide the labor for capital improvement. We supply and fix many of the tools to do so. Most of us drive our own bus.

My standard question in interviewing assistants is: “How are you with a shovel?”

So why do this? It is not part of the “job description.” But if I require exertion, investment, and adjustment from my players, I need to model those qualities as well. Your children deserve an environment that inspires them to expand their limits.

That part of the job starts with me. It’s a crucial part of seeing that a job is well done. That is the most valuable lesson.

I worry about the future of high school athletics. Students in many sports are siphoned from interscholastic competition by clubs that promise them exposure and, ultimately, scholarships.

The best way to insure that proper perspective in interscholastic athletics is to have a staff member, accountable to the school and the district, as coach. Those individuals, however, are increasingly hard to find.

They begin on a pay scale behind the teachers of forty-five other states. The supervisors of extracurricular activities in Wake County have had only one pay adjustment in over 30 years. Coaches are also paid on different scales; these scales are based more on the amount of money sports make rather than the coaches’ investments of time and heart.

At Broughton, we have coaches who end up earning as little as $1 an hour for their service to our students and school community, and whatever scheme policy makers construct for rewarding the top twenty-five percent of teachers in North Carolina. Driving a team bus or fixing the mower will not qualify.

Can talented and energetic young men and women entering the profession and starting families afford to invest their time and vigor in endeavors that cannot be quantified in an evaluation and will not show up in a pay stub? What will that mean for the education of the child or the development of the school community? I believe we all get cheated.

Athletes fare better

According to research compiled by the National Federation of High School Athletics, students who participate in athletics have better grades and attendance, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline referrals than the general student body. They are less likely to use drugs or become parents.

Athletic programs benefit at-risk students at similar or greater rates than more conventional educational programs. And they are cost-effective, tallying between 1 to 3 percent of a typical high-school budget; athletic teams and booster clubs raise the vast majority of the funds required for our 900 athletic participants. The district allotment for each high school is just shy of $900. That is not sufficient to outfit my team, much less the other 32 varsity or JV squads on Broughton’s fields.

I am proud to have coached 30 teams of fine young men, many of whom have enlisted with the armed forces or gone on to college. Those in the military consistently report that it is the lessons they learned on the playing field that help them succeed in the service.

They tell me it is evident who has and has not had athletic experience by how they function as part of a team and perform under pressures both great and mundane.

Those who go on to college also share the influence athletics had on them. Just before Christmas, a former player, then preparing for his first round of exams, communicated a message straight from our player handbook: “Effort is the bedrock of excellence; I just spent four hours in the library.”

These young men got the message.

That’s why we do it.

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