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Virginia to Allow Almost Year-Round Coaching for H.S. Student-Athletes

If you're a high school athlete in Virginia, here's hoping you really love the sport you play. And if you're a multi-sport athlete, a new state rule may seriously cramp your lifestyle.

The Virginia High School League Executive Committee voted 20-6 late last month in favor of a new practice rule that would allow student-athletes to receive almost year-round coaching, effective Aug. 1, according to InsideNOVA.com.

Before this new rule was passed, Virginia coaches could only work with their athletes while their respective sports were in season. Now, beyond a 10-day "dead period" at the beginning of the fall, winter, and spring preseason practice periods (according to the VHSL calendar) and a dead-period during the first week of July (week one of the National Federation of State High School Associations' calendar), coaches will be allowed to instruct, observe, or contact their athletes at any time during the calendar year except Sundays. The seasonal dead periods were designed to coincide with tryouts for sports in other seasons, Manassas Park activities director Mike Peters told InsideNOVA.com.

"It's one of the biggest changes that I have seen in the 33 years I have been involved in high school athletics," E.C. Glass Athletic Director Chip Berry said to The Lynchburg News & Advance. "When it came out and [the VHSL] sent [an e-mail] out to all of the athletic directors, I [forwarded] it to our coaches with a huge 'WOW,' with about 75 Os and 10 exclamation points, to say 'Take a look at this,' to make them aware of the rule change. Within an hour, I had 10 coaches come by the office."

Principals from the state could have overturned the executive committee vote at the VHSL's two-day group board meetings in Richmond with a majority vote from the full membership committee; however, none of the principals brought the vote before the committee. Thus, the rule goes into effect on Aug. 1.

Each school, district, and region is allowed to further restrict their coaches' access to student-athletes. The new rule also limits VHSL catastrophic insurance to only in-season activities, which may dissuade coaches from running full-contact out-of-season practices in sports such as football.

The reaction to this new rule from coaches is understandably varied. Some value the extra time they'll now have with their athletes; others worry that the days of multi-sport student-athletes will become a thing of the past.

"I think it's great for our kids as far as getting prepared for the next season," Heritage football coach Doug Smith said to the News & Advance. "It tries to level the playing field a little bit between our schools and the schools in other states that have spring practice, such as in North Carolina, where they're allowed to play in pads in the spring. We've been holding our kids back."

"The good thing is it allows coaches to actually be active with their athletes ... to improve their skills," Brookville Athletic Director Larry Kidd also told the paper. "It allows you to develop your own kids and you're not relying on AAU or USA volleyball coaches." (As someone who just finished reading George Dohrmann's Play Their Hearts Out, a book about the corruption in the AAU youth-basketball circuit, Kidd's comments about wanting to shield student-athletes from AAU coaches hit home for this particular writer.)

That said, Kidd also recognized the potential pitfalls of this rule, especially in terms of his school.

"We don't have the student body that the [Group] AAA school has," Kidd said to the paper. "We don't fight amongst ourselves for athletes, [but] we have to share athletes. Whether this causes more athletes to specialize in sports remains to be seen."

"As far as how are (coaches) going to be compensated, who knows?" Kidd also said. "The way money is now, I don't see any more compensation."

Potomac boys' basketball coach Keith Honore was another coach in favor of the rule for instructional purposes.

"Right now as it stands, we get two weeks to prepare for our first game," Honore said to InsideNOVA.com. "That's not a lot of fundamentals you're going to learn in two weeks. If I have an entire summer, I can work on the little things like jump-stopping, ball-handling, ball-handling without the carries, proper shooting."

But Battlefield football coach Mark Cox told the Washington Post that he officially falls into the "worried about this rule" camp.

"Most coaches would like for their kids to spend as much time as possible on their sport," Cox said. "Kids will specialize way too much. I think you'll have less cooperation among coaches within schools.

"I had good basketball players on my football team. Now they might not play football if they can do organized stuff in the fall for basketball to get ready for their season."

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