This is a second of a two-part series, focusing on the state and direction of high school athletics in Northeast Tennessee. Part II looks at social media, coaching shortages, and solutions.
There’s no need to fight it, said Daniel Boone head football and girls softball coach Jeremy Jenkins. Today’s young people are going to use social media.
“I think society is going that way,” said Jenkins. “Social media is going to be there, so you’ve got to use it as one of your weapons. Instead of going away from stuff, you’ve got to try to use it.”
But it can still be a distraction, said Dobyns-Bennett head baseball coach Ryan Wagner. He said the Internet-savvy world can limit high school performances.
“Obviously with technology, video games, and access to that stuff on phones, it is hard for the kids sometimes to have a desire to work at the skills they need,” said Wagner.
Still having fun
Preparation may be different for today’s kids, but Jenkins said they still enjoy the time between the lines.
“Today’s athlete, they like competition,” he said. “They play to play. When I played, two-a-days were not like they are today. As coaches, we’ve had to go with the times.”
And, as Jenkins pointed out, success is still within reach.
“Greeneville has won three state football titles in the last seven years,” said Jenkins. “They’ve been very successful.”
School systems used to be overflowing with coaches, but that’s not the case anymore.
“I think high school sports are really taking a hit as far as coaches,” said Jenkins. “We can’t find high school coaches, especially assistant coaches. Right now we’re short two or three in football, and we’re trying to get that taken care of.”
The best-case scenario, Jenkins said, is for the school system to house the entire staff in any given sport.
“In high school you would like for all of your staff members to be in the school around the kids,” said Jenkins. “Does that happen? No. We have to use volunteer coaches because people don’t want to coach anymore.
“I think it has to do with time. Today’s sports are pretty much year round for anything you do. And younger coaches want to specialize. You used to have an assistant football coach who coached other sports. You don’t see that much anymore.”
Jenkins said the athletic directors at the schools need to be a force in driving kids toward playing as much as they can.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the athletic director,” said Jenkins. “They have to push things, like our AD (Danny Good) does.”
Elizabethton softball coach Ken Hardin said he believes the coaches have to step back and find ways to make it work in today’s world.
“I think we just have to adjust and do the best we can,” said Hardin. “These are tough questions. But I don’t think year-round participation in one sport is the answer.”
Wagner said the school systems need to brainstorm and come up with new ideas.
“We’ve got to find a way to keep the kids motivated for high school,” said Wagner. “We’re lucky at D-B with the tradition we have. The kids want to play and be a part of that tradition. But we’ve got to keep that sense of pride.”
It may be impossible to turn back the clock, but that doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t try.
“Back in the 1980s and 1990s, everybody was at the games, standing up, cheering, and excited,” said Wagner. “Everybody in town went on Fridays, or Tuesdays and Fridays. We’ve talked about that some at D-B. It’s not perfect, but I think we’re on our way back up. I think some of the new coaches in the area are trying to get that started back up.”
Meeting with parents is part of the solution, said Wagner.
“We need to make sure they understand the importance of high school sports in comparison to other things, like travel sports,” said Wagner. “I think there is a time and place for those things, but I think it’s very important for the school team to be the top priority. We have some parents who are really good, and they understand, and they help us out.”