A proposal to ban so-called "dad coaches" from high school sports in Berkeley County has some residents riled up, and some athletic directors and coaches concerned.
The Berkeley County school board, which meets Tuesday night in Moncks Corner, is considering a proposal that would prevent volunteer coaches from coaching their own children at the varsity and junior varsity levels. More than 350 people have signed a petition at change.org to protest the idea.
"The children of Berkeley County deserve to have as many programs available to them as possible," Moncks Corner resident Sally Wofford wrote in the petition. "Banning parent coaches will reduce the number of teams."
The proposal came about, according to Berkeley County Superintendent Rodney Thompson, because of concerns that parent-coaches are showing favoritism to their own children.
"We have heard concerns and misperceptions about parents offering preferential treatment to their respective children on athletic teams," Thompson told the school board on June 10. "We want to protect our athletes and our volunteers from such allegations, which draw attention away from the integrity of the sport."
Jeff Cruce, football coach and athletic director at Berkeley High School, said there are about 20 parents coaching their own children in the athletic program at his school. Losing those coaches, most of whom are assistant coaches, would "decimate some of our programs," he said.
"It would devastate some teams," Cruce said. "It would hurt us, and it would hurt some other schools in the district. I would hope cooler heads would prevail and that in the long run, the board will do what's in the best interest of our kids."
Berkeley softball coach Boogie Grooms is himself a volunteer coach, though he has no children in his program. Some of his varsity and junior varsity coaches do, however.
"It would kill my whole coaching staff, basically," Grooms said. "And they are real good coaches, too. At Berkeley, we have quite a few volunteer coaches and we could not go out and hire coaches who are that good. It would really hurt our program to take them away from us."
Berkeley High is not the only school where parents are volunteer coaches. Hanahan High Principal Ric Raycroft estimates he has six coaches that fall in that category. About 10 coaches at Goose Creek High and 10 more at Timberland would be affected.
Raycroft said parent volunteers are important to high schools, and not just in athletics.
"We've had a lot of parent volunteers over the years, academically and athletically, and they are very important to what we do here," said Raycroft, a former soccer and wrestling coach at the school. "As for the impact (the proposal) would have, we'll make do with what we have. We're bound by policy and I support the mission of the school district. If that's the policy in place, we'll follow it."
Cruce said the experience provided by some of the parent-coaches would be hard to replace. For example, one high school in Berkeley County has a former Division I college baseball player and a former minor league player and coach helping with the baseball team. Both have sons in the program.
"Some of these volunteers bring a lot of experience and expertise to the table," Cruce said.
As for favoritism, Cruce said it's up to the head coach and athletic director to resolve such issues.
"There is a policy in place at Berkeley," he said. "When a coach comes to me with a volunteer coach he wants to use, we bring them all in and tell them the head coach is the CEO, and the volunteer coach is there to teach the fundamentals of what the head coach wants. If that is not done, they are no longer part of the program."
The proposed ban would not prevent staff coaches from coaching their own children, which occurs often. Cruce said in his experience, coaches are often harder on their own kids.
"That's because of the potential backlash," he said. "If you get on somebody, you make sure you get on your own kid. Those kids get it a lot worse than anybody else."
School board member Phillip Obie said the policy could send the wrong message to parents interested in volunteering at school.
"Here we are begging parents to get involved with their students at school, and when they do want to get involved, then we go and run them off," he said at the June 10 school board meeting. "I don't understand why we're doing that."
Superintendent Thompson said it could take up to two years for a revised policy to be fully implemented. Any proposed changes would go before the school board's policy review committee before going to the full board.
Dorchester County District 2, which encompasses Summerville, Fort Dorchester and Ashley Ridge high schools, has no policy against parent-coaches, a spokesperson said. Charleston County requires that all coaches be full-time salaried employees of the school district, county athletic director Dave Spurlock said.