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Would the legendary Clary Anderson or his right-hand man Butch Fortunato have survived in today's world of poitically-correct and parent-influenced high school administrators and overzealous board of education members? One has to wonder as more coaches leave business. (photo courtesy of the Fortunatos)

School Administrative ‘Suits’
Make Life Difficult For Coaches

By Steve Tober

The casualties of war in the high school coaching profession are increasing in numbers while this spring’s rapid-moving season is soon to be an afterthought as folks move on to more time at the Jersey beaches, summertime barbecues and perhaps even take a moment for nostalgic thoughts about times gone by when high school sports were untouched by backroom politics that used to be reserved for other more sordid arenas in the working world.

What is clearly occurring - and is no bulletin to those of us who follow the niche that is the high school sports scene - is the fact that coaches are leaving the scholastic scene in increasing numbers and at younger ages.

It is evident that certain ‘suits’ in school administration around North Jersey have stooped to all-time lows in order to threaten the very livelihood of some talented men and women who coach kids to the best of their abilities and try to uphold a profession that has taught fundamentals and life lessons to youngsters for more than a century.

What some school superintendents, principals, assistant principals, frequently-feckless- athletic directors and board of education members wind up doing is to put a proverbial dagger in the heart and very lifeblood of scholastic sports as the more ruthless and parent-driven travel and club teams and sometimes seedy AAU programs take precedence in kids’ lives beyond school grounds as high school sports continue to be eroded at the core.

Coaches are, after all, where it call comes down to with any high school sports program because without their proper guidance, and the ability of a coach to assemble and coordinate a team’s makeup and execute a game plan, there is no organized structure left worth promoting, or following for that matter.

Certain school administrators, implored by overzealous and misguided parents, frequently stoop to low levels in order to pressure coaches into doing what they want, not what is best for a team as a whole.

And, the dagger of choice in order to get one’s misguided way accomplished includes turning to new laws that are meant for entirely different spectrums, but are instead directed at a coach for convenience and to better wield unwarranted power, and in a very ugly manner.

Bob Behre, a longtime reporter with Dorf’s Feature Service, a subsidiary of The Star-Ledger news services, has studied this issue having seen friends in coaching in North Jersey, including one particular universally well-liked Morris County baseball coach, fall victim to the latest ploy utilized by ‘suits.’

“The newest weapon of choice is the fairly recently enacted HIB laws, which, designed to protect students from other students, has become the hangman’s noose for school administrators,” said Behre. “Drawing up a HIB (Harassment Intimidating and Bullying) violation against a coach is so easy, one wonders why schools don’t simply draw up the violations on the date-of-hire and activate them the first time a parent complains about his child’s playing time.

“The ugliness of school administrators is that they know the power they hold sway over the teacher-coach and gladly exercise it. ‘If you don’t like how we treat you as a coach, try complaining and see where that leaves you professionally.’

“This is achieved daily in high schools via not-so-veiled threats by contract signers.”

One has to wonder if either a Clary Anderson or a Butch Fortunato from Montclair, a Lou Rettino of Union, or a Frank Bottone of New Providence could have survived coaching in today’s politically correct scholastic sports scene where parents and equally selfish and misguided suits in school administration sometimes rule with bad intentions.

And, those aforementioned coaching legends aren’t the only noteworthy figures in New Jersey scholastic athletic circles whose demanding yet overall fair approach in coordinating a team’s success on and off the field would most likely have faced unavoidable roadblocks in terms of surviving the gauntlet of administrative interference prevalent in many public school systems today.

We’re not saying coaches are perfect because like in any profession there are good ones and some – to borrow a line from ‘Carson’ the butler in Downton Abbey – ‘who fall below the mark,’ but they are overwhelmingly hard working and well intentioned, and their presence over the long haul - for the utter survival of high school sports – is necessary in order to preserve a worthy institution.

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Union High School legendary football coach Lou Rettino was once a young and up-and-coming coach at St. Peter's Prep. Would he have lasted as long as the world of the 1970s and '80s allowed him in today's pressure-packed realm of adminstrative 'suits' interfering with HS sports. (photo courtesy of Union HS)

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