The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 7, 2014

Raleigh coaches want rules adjusted

Is no school, no extracurricular activities rule putting area teams at a disadvantage?

By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor

— Woodrow Wilson’s wrestling team was supposed to travel to Greenbrier East today for a match against the rival Spartans. But, at coach Street Sarrett’s request, Greenbrier East coach Brian Miluk graciously agreed to postpone the event.

The reason for Sarrett’s request is his team has not been able to practice. Yes, the Eagles did wrestle in the West Virginia Duals last weekend, but they would have gone into the dual at East with no preparation for the Spartans.

That’s because in Raleigh County, the rules are simple.

No school, no extracurricular activities.

“Because of county policy,” Sarrett said, “we haven’t practiced since (last) Wednesday.”

Winter sports coaches in Raleigh County are concerned their teams are at a disadvantage because of what they feel is a lack of flexibility by the county. Other counties in West Virginia have provisions in their policies allowing schools to hold practices or even play scheduled games if conditions are improved on days school is cancelled because of weather or other issues.

Raleigh Schools Superintendent Jim Brown relented from his no school, no practice policy on Wednesday, allowing teams a window of practice time between noon and 4 p.m., even though school was cancelled.

Because of two arctic snow systems that have come through the region since last week, Raleigh County schools have been cancelled four straight days. Add in the early dismissal last Thursday because of the first approaching storm, and there had been no practices for Raleigh teams in a week before Brown’s decision to allow them today.

Coaches would like to see the policy formally addressed.

“Raleigh County winter sports are falling behind the rest of the state due to no school, no practice,” Independence wrestling coach Cliff Warden said.

Brown defended the policy, asserting that student safety is the driving force, especially since many student-athletes transport themselves to and from school and practice or games.

“When it is unsafe to have school, it would not be prudent to turn around and allow them to participate in extracurricular activities,” Brown said. “We are always supportive of the student-athletes and the coaches, but our No. 1 focus always will be the safety of the students.”

Warden and Sarrett both say while all winter sports suffer, wrestling makes for a different dynamic. Practice not only provides a chance for wrestlers to work on their skills, but also allows coaches to supervise the athletes in ensuring they are properly and safely maintaining the proper weight.

“If you miss two days of practice, that makes it hard to make weight,” Warden said.

Woodrow boys basketball coach Ron Kidd also is concerned. His team was unable to practice Thursday and Friday before its 62-49 loss at Greenbrier East on Saturday.

“It affects all winter sports,” he said.

The coaches are in agreement that a possible solution would be to revisit road conditions later in the day to see if they are improved since the early morning hours, when decisions to close school are made, and leave decisions to practice or stick to game schedules to the discretion of the individual schools.

“We’re at a disadvantage,” Sarrett said. “I understand the safety of the children when the roads are bad, but I would like to see a policy where we reevaluate it in the afternoon. I would like to sit down with every winter sport coach and every administrator and try to come up with a solution.”

“We don’t want to go over the superintendent’s head,” said Kidd, who said he used to pick up players in his 4-wheel drive vehicle before last year. “But I do think the schools and coaches should be able to make the final decision.”

Such practices would never be mandatory and would only be for players who could arrive safely.

“The key word is ‘optional,’” Warden said.

Brown, who has overseen the implementation of an automated phone system informing parents of school news — including weather-related delays and closings — and the introduction of iPads in the schools since he took over at the start of the 2012-13 school year, was a coach at various levels for 23 years before getting into administration. He said decisions are made with the input of director of secondary education Miller Hall and assistant superintendent David Price, both of whom have 30 years of athletics experience.

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