JACKSON TWP. It’s one of the biggest - and most constant - challenges any school district faces when it comes to athletics.
Regardless of the size of the district, the depth of its resources or the richness of its tradition, maintaining continuity within its programs is never easy. Because coaching at the high school level isn’t a full-time job - at least not in terms of salary - the way it is at the college and professional levels, keeping coaches in place can be tough.
Jackson Local Schools is one of the largest districts in the area in terms of enrollment numbers at the high school athletics level. The Polar Bears offer at least seven sports in each of the three seasons of the school year, meaning dozens of head and assistant coaches.
The good news for the district is that it has managed to maintain a level of continuity that surpasses most of its rivals, with seven varsity head coaches who have been in their current role 10 or more years.
According to athletic director Terry Peterson, coaches must step into the role knowing the challenge they’re taking on.
“We are fortunate and have a very high percentage of coaches who retain their positions from year to year at Jackson,” Peterson said. “Coaches get into coaching for the love of the game and the love of working with student-athletes. They are all very much aware before they receive their first coaching job that if they are trying to get rich, coaching high school athletics is not the answer.”
The district has a negotiated agreement in place that spells out pay rates for the supplemental contracts for coaches. Many coaches also work in the district in which they coach and, at Jackson, the majority of coaches are either teachers or staff members. According to information provided by the district, 24 of 38 coaches employed at the end of last school year worked in the district in some capacity. According to Peterson, any time there is an opening, district officials' first place to look is within and if there aren't any interested, qualified candidates internally, the search then moves beyond district ranks.
One of those who both coaches and teaches within the district is fifth-year varsity girls basketball coach Anthony Butch, who teaches math at the high school and knows that building a successful program is an engrossing task.
“For basketball, to run a quality program that wants to compete in the Federal League it is truly a 12-month job. It is a ton of time, but I enjoy every second of it,” Butch said. “I think longevity comes down to three main things: administrative support, player and parent support and most importantly, a very, very understanding spouse or significant other.”
Butch, who got married earlier this summer, is not alone in that assessment. Another sport that has become a year-round pursuit and then some is football, which typically generates the most revenue from attendance and the most overall fan support of any high school sport. Tim Budd is in his third year as the head coach at Jackson and his seventh as a head coach overall following 19 years as an assistant.
With a wife and children who have to share the busyness of a football life, Budd understands Butch’s point well.
“In 2010, our first daughter was born …I didn’t know what it would entail,” Budd said. “The biggest factor is your wife, because she’s basically a single mom July through November and not all wives are open to that, so it becomes a very real situation to deal with.”
Budd noted that at the age of 40, he’s the second-oldest on his staff and virtually the entire staff is in the same boat with families to lead along with their coaching duties. He admitted that members of the staff often talk about what they miss out on due to football and wonder how they can manage their time better between football and family.
“Starting in July with team camp, football is your life. The guys on my staff are all great guys who love their kids, love their families and want to be part of their lives,” Budd said. “But I’d be lying if I said all of us don’t have some times where we wonder if we shouldn’t be coaching and don’t do a great job of finding a balance.”
Budd knows coaches who have left the game because of the strain on their families. Not every sport places the same time demands on coaches as others, but football and basketball definitely do.
“Coaches who are not forced out, stop coaching for one of two things - family time and/or money,” Butch noted. “Head coaches especially, spend a lot of time away from their families to make a wage far less than minimum wage. I think basketball is one of the toughest due to the length of the season and the demand it puts on your family. The season is for months long and spans over two major holidays, it takes you away from a lot of family time.”
The question for Jackson then becomes how the district has been able to keep such a high percentage of its coaches for a prolonged period of time. Butch believes that the overall level of success within the district plays a part, as does strong support from the administration. As a Division I school with a strong tax base in the district, there are both a lot of prospective athletes from which to draw and good facilities and supplies in place.
Booster clubs add to that support and as Budd points out, there are two booster clubs that offer support to football.
“I would have to guess if a coach does have support from the boosters and community and the facilities are good, I would think this would tend to keep the coaches more so than not,” Peterson said.
One recent example of a coach bowing to the need for more family time outside of sports is Matt Ziders, who stepped down after nearly a decade at the helm of the Jackson swimming and diving programs and cited his family as the primary reason. Ziders will remain in the district as an assistant principal, but his change in career underscores that many sports are time-consuming for coaches.
Peterson said he hasn’t seen a particular sport that has more coaching turnover than others on a consistent basis, but in other area districts, sports than generate less revenue and receive less fanfare can be ones where coaches turn over more quickly. Sometimes, districts don’t have a large supply of resources from which to pull and in others, parents with athletes on a team coach while their child is playing, but move on once their child graduates.
All of these factors intermingle and influence how long coaches stay in their job, but the single largest factor may well be one that impacts not only coaches, but athletes as well and specifically, athletes’ ability to play multiple sports and enjoy the normal down time that used to once be a given for anyone not old enough to hold a high school diploma.
“With the way high school sports are going for almost every sport, it’s a 12-month-a-year process,” Budd said. “Even when I played, and I was a senior 22 years ago, it (football) wasn’t a 12-month-a-year sport, but now they all are - basketball, cross country, baseball … they’re all 12 months a year. It’s evolved in the last 20 years where, if you’re going to be competitive and be a good program and you’re not going 12 months a year, everybody you’re playing is.”
With an average of 8.3 years of tenure for its 23 varsity head coaches, Jackson’s formula for keeping continuity among its coaching ranks is yielding positive results. It’s not tough to trace that continuity to the athletic department’s sustained level of performance on the field as it blends consistency of coaching with the high talent level and effort of the athletes who continue to rise through the ranks in the district.
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