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Clayton County athletic programs are scrambling to replace community coaches

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro defensive coordinator and assistant track and field coach Cap Burnett will be out of a coaching job June 1 as Clayton County has decided not to retain any of its community coaches.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Jonesboro defensive coordinator and assistant track and field coach Cap Burnett will be out of a coaching job June 1 as Clayton County has decided not to retain any of its community coaches.

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

Cap Burnett never thought the day would come, but the reality has started to sink in.

Under a new policy by the Clayton County School System, Burnett and the rest of the county's community coaches will be out of coaching jobs on June 1.

Burnett was told that the county has recommended that head coaches and athletic directors first hire certified employees before hiring community coaches to fill out coaching staffs.

"It was a hard blow," said Burnett, Jonesboro's defensive coordinator and assistant track coach. "I've been coaching so long, I never thought this day would come. I can be mad, or I can do something about it."

Unlike some of the other community coaches who work regular jobs, Burnett has an early childhood education degree from Georgia. He said he needs to take the test and do some paperwork to become a certified teacher, which would make him eligible to coach.

Some are not as lucky, and that concerns the majority of the coaches in the county, who rely on the community coaches.

"We don't function effectively without community coaches," Drew football coach and athletics director Jarrett Laws. "The contributions they make are immeasurable to your school."

As spring football is approaching, Mundy's Mill coach Peniel Dany is having to replace his entire staff. In addition to losing the community coaches, he had a couple certified teachers leave for other jobs.

"It will hurt us big time," Deny said. "You get guys that you can trust and are loyal. We are not going to cry about it. We are going to pull up our sleeves and go to work."

Coaches say they understand the system's intent in this process because of certified school personnel invested interest in the system, but it leaves them with limited options.

Para-professionals and In-School Suspension personnel are also ineligible for coaching positions.

"The selection pool is shrinking," Forest Park athletics director John Patterson said. "The school system is making sure we don't make a quick decision on a coach, but the right decision."

GHSA assistant Executive Director Gary Phillips, who oversees the organization's community coach program, said their first recommendation for schools is to find certified employees in local school systems, but they understand the dilemma school systems face in finding personnel willing to take on the extra chore.

"Over the last couple years, the demand has gone up for using community coaches," said Phillips, who was a longtime high school coach and administrator before joining the GHSA staff. "Because of teaching shortages and budget cuts, there is a great demand."

He said community coaches make up a large part of the staff in emerging sports like lacrosse, swimming and softball.

"It is highly unlikely that you are going to find someone on your staff that will coach those sports," Phillips said.

Community coaches are paid a small supplement once they are hired and must pass two tests to become certified. Most schools pay the $325 fee for coaches to go through the certification process.

Phillips said about 1,300 individuals go through the process a year, but only 65 percent actually will coach.

"Some get in and find out the demands are more than they are willing to put in," he said. "There is a very high turnover."

But this hasn't been the case with several schools in Clayton County, according to football coaches. Jonesboro football coach Tim Floyd's staff has basically stayed intact the last four years, while North Clayton coach Rodney Hackney has kept the majority of his staff since 2001.

"These guys put in so many extra hours," Floyd said. "It is basically a labor of love for them. They enjoy coaching and working with kids."

Jasper Jewell, assistant athletics director for the Atlanta Public School System, says about 27 percent of their coaches are community coaches.

"We still use and support them," said Jewell, a former head coach at Miller Grove High in DeKalb County. "In this day and time, it is hard to put together a staff without community coaches. You can't find certified teachers that are willing to put in those type of hours in addition to teaching all day."

Forest Park is currently the only school in the county without a head football coach. The school is waiting until after teaching contracts are signed before naming a coach. Steven Cole is serving as interim coach until a new one is named.