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Short-changing students to benefit teachers

School districts don't tolerate a first grade teacher instructing high school biology.

But if that same first grade teacher wanted to coach, say, the volleyball or track team, it would be no problem in many districts, provided they had their paper credentials in order.

I was reminded of that sad reality by a story about the Depew School Board refusing to act on the recommended appointment of a -- gasp! -- non-teacher as assistant cross country coach. No one on the board would make a motion, much less a second, on the proposed appointment.

Board Member Diana Benczkowski told reporters that students want their coaches to be teachers.

Ah, actually, no.

You see, Diana, what students want is for their coaches to be good coaches. And a teaching certificate and a few courses on CPR, sports pysch and the like does not equate to coaching competency.

The problem is that too many school boards treat coaching as a jobs programs for teachers, and many districts have codified it in their labor contracts.

I've seen it with my own eyes. My three children have played high school sports while attending Buffalo public schools and while their school generally has had good luck attracting quality coaches who are teachers, too often they have played against teams where it was obvious the opposing coach (1) had never played the sport and (2) had not held many practices to improve the skills of their players.

In other words, those who can't, coach.

For the coaches, it's a way to pick up anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 a season. Yeah, many work hard and are good at what they do. But then there's the coach I watched last season who spent a good part of the game sitting on the sidelines talking on her cell phone.

City schools, to their credit, are starting to introduce modified sports, giving 7th and 8th graders a chance to play. You'd think it would be especially important to get kids off on the right foot with good coaching, but under contract, coaching jobs have to go to teachers.

This is not to pick on Buffalo schools, as many a suburban district pulls the same stunt, giving teachers a stranglehold on coaching jobs.

It's a bit more troubling in the city, however, given that sports can serve as a lifeline for kids who sometimes have few other constructive outlets. What sort of incentive is there for a kid to play on a team when the coach doesn't know what  he/she is doing and sometimes is simply going through the motions to collect a paycheck?

This doesn't just represent a lost opportunity to play and learn the life lessons that come with play, but closes the door of opportunity for kids to parlay their sporting skills into a college education.

I'm not saying would-be Division I stars are losing out. But being an accomplished high school athlete can open doors, and sometimes free up scholarship money at Division III schools. Yeah, I know, officially, sports doesn't open doors and result in scholarship money at the D-III level. But the reality is otherwise.

The trouble is, at some schools, in some sports -- and I suspect women's sports get shortchanged more than men's -- students don't get a chance to fully develop as athletes and lose out on the potential benefits. That's what happens when school districts, rather than looking out for the best interest of kids, instead make employing adults their priority.

 And in the case of coaches, in too many places, outsiders need not apply.

You could be Marv Levy, but if the gym teacher wants to coach the football team, well, the kids are out of luck.

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