Williams asset to officiating; school coaching facing dilemma

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By Lee Kendall

It seems to me that finding coaches and officials for youth league sports is usually not a very difficult endeavor, although those league directors who are charged with that obligation may disagree.

Normally, the life-span of those coaches is about the same length of time that their child remains eligible in that particular league. When the child moves onward and, or, upward, so does the parent.

The life span of umpires and referees is a bit more static some stay longer than others. Meager pay, hostile parents and perhaps thin skin is enough to drive game arbiters away.

One umpire that has endured for 31 years is Tony Williams. Tony has been involved with the youth of Harrison County for those 31 years, and more, in one fashion or the other. He played football for the Thorobreds in the 1970s, has coached middle school football, has been a high school varsity basketball referee and has umpired youth baseball at River Road Park for decades.

Interim Recreation Department Director Rick Chasteen has nothing but praise and admiration for Tony.

Tony sets a high standard for all of our officials, says Chasteen, who also serves as the assigning secretary for the Bluegrass Basketball Association, the body that supplies basketball referees to the 10th and 11th Regions. We have instituted a dress policy for all of our umpires, but Tony has done that on his own for years. I think it is important for our game officials to be as professional as possible in their appearance and demeanor and Tony has always done that.

With a big weekend of youth baseball slated for the Fourth of July holiday, Chasteen is keenly aware that teams visiting Cynthiana from out of town will judge our city based on their experiences here.

First impressions are very important, especially with umpires, Chasteen said. If the umpires are all dressed alike in grey slacks, blue shirts and hats, the perception of being unbiased and proficient is enhanced that will diffuse a lot of the problems that umpires might get into. Tony is aware of that and is a leader among our corps of umpires.

In my opinion, many high schools, including our own, are nearing a crisis situation as it pertains to coaching. Simply stated, fewer and fewer college graduates are going into the education field with the desire to coach a sport.

Twenty six years ago, when I was first searching for a teaching job, getting a teaching job was often contingent on whether or not you were willing to also become a coach. Many of the people who are of my generation experienced that as well.

As a student who graduated from Harrison County High School in 1977, I cannot recall a single coach of any sport, head coach or assistant, who was not also a classroom teacher while I was a student. Coaches were war horses then. They coached multiple sports, as fall bled into winter and winter into spring.

Fast forward 26 years and now there are very few coaches that are also classroom teachers. We are now depending on para-professionals to fill the bill in the coaching ranks. Make no mistake, we have excellent coaches at Harrison County, para-professional or not. This is in no way an indictment of them or their abilities.

Im not sure there is an easy solution to this dilemma, if there is a solution at all. With schools having their collective feet held to the fire of academic accountability, it is imperative that outstanding classroom teachers be in place in our schools. Its just baffling to me that we cant seem to entice college kids to want to both teach and coach and do both well.

HCHS is losing two of those war-horse coaches with the recent decisions by Mac Whitaker to resign his girls basketball position, and Jerry Dawson to resign his boys golf position. Unfortunately, both worked in recent years as para-professional coaches, as both retired from the classroom.

We will be faced with filling those coaching positions without having much, if any, leeway. If there are no available teaching positions, those two positions will have to be filled either by someone in-house, or by another para-professional.

Both of those men will be virtually impossible to replace.

Coach Whitaker is regarded by his peers as one of the great tacticians on the hardwood. He led the Fillies to two state tournament appearances (the only ones in school history) and always had a knack for plugging the right players in the right spots on the floor. He was also a master at devising a game plan that gave his team the best opportunity to win.

Coach Dawson was the Harrison County golf coach for 41 years. Several of those years he doubled up as the girls golf coach as well and last year headed up a clinic with the middle school-aged kids trying to drum up interest at the lower grade levels. His teams in the mid 1990s to the early 2000s sported a whopping 79 match home winning streak.

Coach Whitaker and Coach Dawson were both life-time educators who also had the passion to coach and to coach well. Hopefully, some young whippersnapper full of vim and vinegar will emerge with that same kind of passion and stay as long as those two have.