August 3, 2011 9:52:00 AM
The best advice my parents gave me was to find a profession that suited my personality and passion.
It was easy for me to see that''s what they did. My mother worked for years as a registered nurse, while my father was employed as a chef at country clubs, restaurants, and health care facilities.
My parents loved what they did, but the nature and limitations of their jobs ultimately created situations that made even "work" they initially loved difficult and forced them to step away when they had more years to contribute.
The same trend played out in the offseason locally, and its affects are beginning to be felt now that another high school sports season is upon us.
From Hamilton to Columbus and from West Point to Immanuel Christian, coaches and teachers who worked in the area during the 2010-11 school year have moved on. Some have remained in education as administrators, while others took jobs in other school districts with different course loads and new responsibilities.
A few of those coaches/teachers left the profession to take opportunities they felt were better for their family. In tough economic times, you can''t begrudge anyone for taking another job if it helps them provide more for their family and it gives them additional time to spend at home.
But this situation has played out far too often in the past three years. It''s staggering to count the coaches/teachers in Lowndes County and in the Columbus Municipal School District who have left their positions in that time. None of the schools has been spared, and all of the student-athletes have felt the ripple effects.
Consider the example of former Columbus High School assistant baseball coach Tony Montgomery, who left his job at CHS last month to take a position in administration at East Mississippi Community College.
Montgomery, a former standout at New Hope High, loves baseball. He didn''t want to leave EMCC, but when he wasn''t retained as head baseball coach he was fortunate to get a chance to return home to do something he loved.
Montgomery quickly discovered the challenges high school coaches face.
"We''re not able to do as much with them," Montgomery said last month. "I didn''t know how hard high school coaches had it."
Columbus High''s schedule gives teachers and coaches a little more than 50 minutes a period to work with students. Since the baseball field is in the athletic complex across the street from the school, students have to leave campus, get on a bus, go to the field house, get changed, and walk to the field. By the time the players get there, Montgomery said the coaches had 22-28 minutes a day with them until baseball season started, when that time expanded.
Columbus High''s lack of a field house and indoor workout facility for its baseball and softball programs is an issue that has been discussed but, for some reason, hasn''t moved much past the dream phase in the past three years.
For Montgomery, the limitations created a reality that made it difficult to do what he was hired to do: Teach.
"At Scooba, we were hands on for nine months and for four or five months before the first game," Montgomery said. "I feel like we could teach them and do a lot for them before they left. In high school, we have a fraction of the time and I feel like we''re missing out on what we want to teach kids. It is a completely different aspect in terms of coaching."
Coaches not having enough time to work with their players is just one issue. With the economy struggling at the state and national levels, the Columbus Municipal School District is examining ways to cut money from its budget. Unfortunately, some of the costs are going to be found in not filling open positions. It is a very real possibility Columbus High baseball coach Jeffrey Cook may not have a full-time assistant, albeit one who was paid a $1,700-1,800 stipend, according to Montgomery.
Montgomery earned a full-time salary to be a teacher, which should be his primary responsibility if we continue in this teacher/coach arrangement. But it isn''t fair for Montgomery -- or any coach -- to be paid such a paltry sum when he is asked to work countless extra hours tending the field, traveling to and from games and practices, and doing all of the behind-the-scenes work many people take for granted will get done.
Montgomery was in a unique situation. With a master''s degree and 13 years in as a teacher, he said his salary was enough and that he didn''t leave Columbus High because his combined teaching/coaching salary was too low. But he also said he realized he only could go so high and make so much money as a teacher/coach, which is a troubling thought when you have to plan for your retirement.
A lot of teachers aren''t in Montgomery''s situation and don''t have an advanced degree, so even a few thousand dollars goes a long way toward help paying bills, or at least maintenance on a vehicle.
Something has got to give. If children are our future and our goal should be to think of them first, which are lines often spouted by politicians and administrators at all levels of government, then we need to address how we pay our teachers and coaches.
Why are they so grossly underpaid? Why do we take for granted teachers and coaches are going to want to give back? Why do we assume there always are going to be qualified coaches who can serve as role models for our children and teach them something about the sports they play?
Those things are worth more.
Maybe we have to draw a line. Maybe we have to create a system for recreation and competitive sports in high schools. Those students who aren''t committed to playing a sport would participate at a recreation, or intramural level. The others, ideally ones who hope to play the sport in college, can work in a different curriculum that gives them the flexibility to manage academics and athletics. The families of those athletes could invest in the future of their children through a pay-for-play program. That money would be used to attract qualified coaches who have experience in the sport. They then would be given more time to work directly with the student-athletes. In the offseason, those coaches could work at the school in a host of other jobs -- substitute teachers, bus drivers, security officer -- if needed.
It''s not fair for a coach to worry about job security when they don''t have ample time to prepare their players and then are asked why they didn''t win more games. It''s not fair for individuals who aren''t qualified to coach a sport to serve as baby-sitters solely because a more qualified person couldn''t be found.
A change is needed. The state of the economy likely would make it difficult to alter the landscape for the 2011-12 school year, but there''s no reason we can''t talk more about paying teachers/coaches better, finding coaches who are more qualified, and creating a dynamic that gives them adequate time and resources and rewards them for success and holds them accountable if levels aren''t reached.
It likely will be too late for changes like that to be implemented so Montgomery or any of the other coaches who left the profession in the offseason could be lured back. But if anyone deserves the best, it''s our kids.
Having the time to work and to learn from the best is an ideal way for our children to discover their passions and to succeed at something they love.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.