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Idaho Falls Post Register (Idaho)
August 30, 2013 Friday
A SECTION; Pg. A1
|Avoiding the parent trap;
Coaches search for solutions to parent conflicts
By MICHAEL LYCKLAMA,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final installment in a four-part series examining the changing dynamics of coaching high school sports.
Joldy Watts accepted the head coaching job for the Bonneville High School baseball team with trepidation.
He served as an assistant under Troy Clayton. That experience offered a front-row seat to how a small misunderstanding with parents led to Clayton's exit. Watts also watched parents take down Bonneville's football coach, Mitch Buck.
Watts knew taking the job meant placing both feet in the fire. So before he would accept the job, he laid down one condition: Parents weren't allowed to talk to him.
Of course, parents could address concerns about their son's safety or grades in school. Topics outside the team remained within bounds. But if parents wanted to discuss their son's playing time, another player's role or Watts' coaching decisions, Watts wouldn't hear it.
If parents really wanted to ask why their son wasn't playing, they'd have to tell their son, who'd then relay the concern to Watts.
His reasoning remains simple: Players need to learn to wage their own battles, not rely on mom and
dad to swoop in every time a problem crops up.
""That may work when they're 10, 11 years old,"" Watts said. ""But these are 16-, 17-year-olds.""
With parents and high school coaches butting heads up and down the Snake River Valley, Watts' solution represents one end of the spectrum. Most coaches in the region said they try to resolve their parent issues by bringing in parents, listening to their concerns and addressing them as much as possible.
Before the season, Bonneville football coach Fred Armstrong meets individually with every player, sophomore to senior, and their parents.
Despite five state titles and 25 years in Rexburg, even Madison boys basketball coach Bill Hawkins faces his own issues with players' parents. In an effort to head those off, he hosts a parents night before each season - complete with scrimmages between players and cookie and punch refreshments afterward.
Hawkins always asks himself a hypothetical question from a parent in his speech: ""What can I do to help Joey?""
And Hawkins' response always is the same: Feed him, love him and support the coaching staff.
""Going in, they all think their kid is the best player on the team; a starter, the whole gamut,"" Hawkins said. ""That's the way it should be. You should think that. It's your son.
""But we may see it differently. Your son may come home upset. But I hope you support us and bring us back.""
In many cases, a parent and coach see an athlete differently and neither ends up satisfied. The situation sometimes intensifies and athletic directors, principals, school board members and superintendents get dragged in.
Administrators can try to smooth things over. But the decision often comes down to supporting their coaches and risk offending a parent, or siding with the parent and cutting the legs out from under their coaches. That decision can make or break a coach's career.
Idaho Falls School District 91 had a policy in place to handle just such situations. Until the district ignored it.
Parents trying to get rid of Idaho Falls football coach Chuck Johnson went straight to District 91 school board members. Trustee Deidre Warden said she reminded parents of the district policy: Address concerns with the coach, athletic director and then the principal before coming to the school board.
The complaints still poured in.
Board members dismissed Idaho Falls Principal Randy Hurley's recommendation to rehire Johnson, instead opening the position to new applicants. And when they interviewed for the open football and boys basketball positions, Idaho Falls High School bucked its policy of administrators making the hire.
Administrators still conducted interviews and made the final decision. But candidates also underwent an interview in one room with parents and another room with players, both of whom could ask questions through a moderator.
District 91 formed a 14-person committee to rewrite its athletic handbook and job descriptions for coaches this summer, trying to reset expectations between parents and the district.
The committee put high school coaches in charge of the junior high programs in the district. District 91 athletic director Kerry Martin regained input he lost in personnel decisions when he took over the job for both Skyline and Idaho Falls. And the handbook re-emphasized the district's goals for high school sports beyond wins and losses, as well as proper behavior for parents and the chain of command a parent's complaint should follow.
Whether those new guidelines hold any weight will be seen the next time a parent-coach confrontation escalates.
""The school board people really have to step up,"" Martin said. ""They have to say we have a policy in place, there is a procedure in place and we really ask you to follow that.
""Whether that happens or not, I don't know. They are neighbors. They are friends. They go to the same church. I don't know where those conversations take place. But it's not in an office.""
District 91's efforts may fail. Hawkins admits he can't make everyone happy. And Watts knows his edict to keep parents out of his program may backfire as resentment festers out of sight.
But their efforts provide some of the best examples of coaches trying to tame the few but unruly parents in their programs.
August 30, 2013