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Supporting coaches and extracurriculars

Bob Patton-
Outlining the history of the South Central Ohio Athletic League has been an interesting project. So far, we have covered the time period from 1923-68. The plan is to continue to about 2000. This week, though, I am taking a break from researching the history of the league to take a look at the relative values of high school athletics, and the influence of coaches on the kids who participate in their programs.
    Some time ago, I mentioned F.R. Harris of Greenfield. Harris did a little coaching, but was primarily known for his leadership as high school principal and superintendent of the Greenfield schools for many years. He first became principal of the high school in 1903. It was Greenfield High School then. McClain High School didn’t come along until 11 years later.
    “There were no community ties with the school, and no extracurricular activities,” Harris said. He was instrumental in beginning the athletic program at Greenfield as well as a school newspaper, a debating team and several other such activities.
    As an example of the effect of these activities, Harris recalled that when he came to the Greenfield school in 1903, there were 42 students enrolled. By Thanksgiving, the enrollment had grown to 75. He felt that the growth was primarily due to the beginning of the athletic program, the school paper and other activities of interest to the students.          In two years, the enrollment ballooned to more than 300. Extracurricular activities make school more interesting and more challenging for young men and women. All worthwhile activities have learning outcomes. In a good athletic program, kids learn valuable lessons about sportsmanship, responsibility, leadership, character, discipline, a strong work ethic and the ability to work in team settings.  They experience improved self-esteem and feelings of competence through positive interactions with other young people and also with adults. They acquire new skills and refine skills previously learned. They improve personal health and fitness levels. And, hopefully, they have fun and enjoy competition and physical activity.
    When I attended a rural high school many years ago, there were a few boys who would not have been in school at all had it not been for athletic programs. Back then, only about 70 percent of boys stayed around to graduate from high school. Maybe athletics is not the best reason to remain in school. But at least they did stay in school, and I know of a couple who eventually graduated from college.
    It has been statistically proven that high school athletes make higher grades, get into less trouble, graduate at a higher rate and go on to college at a higher rate than do non-athletes. Now, a couple of words about coaches. I have a tremendous amount of respect for coaches. Coaching is very hard work all year long, but especially during the season. Coaches put in 10 to 12 hours a day, or more. A coach must have a great understanding of the game. You can’t teach what you don’t know. But he also must have a great understanding of kids. He must be a great teacher – that’s what coaching is: teaching. He must be a psychologist, a strategist, an organizer, a communicator and a motivator.
    It helps if he is a little hard of hearing, since there are 2,000 coaches in the stands every game and every one of them is more than willing to share his enormous expertise with the head coach (or, with anyone else who is willing to listen).
    Don’t ever actually listen to any of these self-styled coaches, because most of them know very little about either the game or the art of working with teenage kids. And, always remember, kids don’t need a 44-year-old buddy. Rather, they need a mature, adult role figure.
    The quickest way to lose control is to try to be a “pal” to your players. They don’t want a pal, they want a coach. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why some schools are so successful in building great athletic programs, and some just never seem to get a good program going. A big part of it, if you ask me, is that some schools never keep a coach long enough. Every coach has his own plan, his own approach, his own theories about offense and defense. If you change coaches every two or three years, you get a whole new philosophy with every change. That doesn’t translate to a successful program.
    From the inception of the South Central League until 1968, which is as far as I have gotten with these articles, Wilmington had won nine football championships outright and shared in three others. McClain had won seven titles and shared in four others. Washington, like McClain, had won seven and shared in four, Circleville had won seven and shared in three. But Hillsboro had won only one league championship and had not shared in any. Were the young men at Hillsboro less skilled in football than those at Wilmington, Greenfield, Washington C.H. or Circleville? I doubt it. Have Hillsboro’s coaches always been inferior to those at McClain, Wilmington, Washington and Circleville? I doubt it.
    When Bill Atsalis came to Hillsboro as head football coach in 1959, only about 19 boys came out for the sport. Atsalis and the assistant coaches had to go door-to-door to find enough kids to field a team. By the time he left Hillsboro, seven years later, the Indians were competitive in the SCOL nearly every year.
    The school system has to make a commitment to having a successful athletic program. You have to find a good coach and permit him to run the program and to make the important decisions that affect the program. He should make all decisions pertaining to the assignment of assistant coaches. He must have the authority to require that his offensive and defensive theories extend to every level from 5th and 6th grade through varsity. If you don’t want to do that, just resign yourself to having a mediocre program and live with it. If you do want to commit to a successful program, you have to get the program established and then maintain it year after year. Of course, there will be years when talented and gifted athletes are in short supply.  If you are doing a good job teaching fundamental skills and techniques, you can still be competitive to some extent, just by doing things better than the opposition does.
    Gerald “Red” Armstrong was at McClain for 13 years and developed three All-Americans. Rick Van Matre was there for 28 years. Paul Orr was McClain football coach for two separate hitches totaling 12 or 13 years. Henderson “Hecky” Thompson was basketball coach at Western High School in Pike County at least 20 years, maybe more. Arthur Myers was basketball coach at Peebles for 15 or more years. All these  were consistently competitive in their conferences nearly every year. But many promising young coaches burn out after a few years. It is just such hard work and it takes so much dedication and effort. And a coach has to put up with so much baloney, that many walk out and go into a less demanding and stressful line of work – like washing windows in 75-story buildings!
    A great coach and a highly successful program are immensely valuable to a school district and community. Young people will always remember the positive interaction they had with their coach.  The entire community soon gets involved when the team does well.  Many of these same people can be recruited to help in other areas, like working on a tax levy. It may be that we now have good coaches who can get successful programs going.             Then, let’s do everything possible to keep them around. If you are going to have a football program, why not have a good one? The same applies to other sports, plus band, vocal music and every other program in the school. Girls’ programs as well as boys’ programs.
    We do not give the girls’ programs the support that we should give them. If a program is worth having at all, it’s worth having a good one. The kids here are not second class. Let’s not offer them second-class programs.
    Bob Patton is a Highland County sports historian and a contributing writer to The Highland County Press.[[In-content Ad]]

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