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Greater Beckley Christian's Crusaders will not be facing off against public school rivals in Raleigh County this year. Nor will the Mount Hope Christian Academy's Warriors after concern over a recent policy change with the county Board of Education.

Some parents of private school students are concerned over the recent policy change regarding elementary sports, believing it keeps their children from being able to play against the public schools as in years past.

The policy was revised by the board in July to read, "Students who transfer to another school within Raleigh County (public or private) after the first day of the school term will forfeit their eligibility to participate in athletics for the year." 

One parent, who agreed to comment under the promise of anonymity, has a child who attends a private school. She said her child, who plays sports at the elementary level, hasn't had as much opportunity to participate as in the past since the team is playing fewer games. The student's private school team has played only two other squads in volleyball this year – both of which were other private schools. 

"So our coach started approaching the public elementary schools individually to see if we could scrimmage them, in the hopes the kids could get some more play time," the parent said. She said two public elementary schools agreed, but when they went to play against them, the games had been canceled.

"We had no idea why; we were just told it was political," the parent said.

Ryan Bragg, another parent of a child who plays basketball at a private school in the county, said public and private schools have played each other in various sports since the late 1990s. He said a typical elementary basketball season is 10 games among five schools (one game at home, one away) with a couple of scrimmage games. 

Bragg said the two private schools had a 10-game schedule set for the season; however, they were deemed ineligible by the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals (WV Principals), which oversees the rules and regulations of sporting programs at the schools throughout the state. 

Raleigh County Superintendent David Price said there was no ill intent when the two private schools were deemed ineligible to play against the public schools. It was not a decision made by the Board of Education. He said WV Principals is in charge when it comes to how sporting events are handled. But the county's policy coincides with what WV Principals enforces, Price said. 

The county's policy states, "Proof of a WVSSAC (West Virginia Secondary Activities Commission) Coaching Course completion must be submitted to the Raleigh County Schools Human Resources Department prior to holding team tryouts."

Price stated the coaches at the specified private schools did not have the requirements completed, deeming them ineligible to play against the public schools. 

"Sometimes this happens," Price explained. "It's happened in our public schools before, and other teachers or coaches who have fulfilled the requirements step up and coach, so students can play. It's just the way policy is. We would never purposely keep any student from being able to play." 

However, Bragg believes otherwise and said on Sept. 4 of this year, the president of WV Principals contacted a coach at the private school his child attends, saying the head basketball coach had until the next day, Sept. 5 at 9:30 a.m., to turn in an officially sanctioned coach's card to be eligible to play.

Bragg said that under previous policy, the only requirement was completion of a sanctioned course on coaching, which Bragg said this coach had. However, the president of the principals group wouldn't accept it, according to Bragg, saying it had to be a WVSAAC Coaches card.  

"WVSSAC states that once the course is completed the coach automatically receives their Coach ID number and may coach for six months for time to study and pass the exam," Bragg said, who said the coach wasn't given the opportunity to do that. 

WV Principals' Executive Director Mickey Blackwell did not respond to multiple calls and emails by the paper for comment. 

Bragg said he feels private and Christian schools are being targeted. He claims public school officials are trying to force private school students back into public schools – if they want to play sports.

"Since West Virginia adopted to let charter schools into the state," Bragg said, "the Raleigh County Board of Education will try and coerce any private-based school out of the county." 

Bragg is referring to House Bill 206 — a bill signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this year, allowing the formation of charter schools in the state. He feels that since the law was passed, a law strongly opposed by those in public education, private schools are being retaliated against. 

Price said that's not the case. The decisions regarding coaching are not up to him but are decided by those in WV Principals and WVSSAC. 

"It's just something we have to go by; if the coaches aren't eligible, there is nothing we can do."

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

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