One of the movies in my video library is the 1993 ‘classic’ Dazed and Confused
, a film about the night that follows the last day of school at a 1976 Texas high school. During the movie the main character, Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd, played by Jason London is continually pressured by his high school football coach to show a commitment to his team throughout the summer.
Whenever I watch this movie I am reminded of the rules that many Nordic ski coaches around the country have to deal with at public high school programs. These rules were created with the intention of protecting young student/athletes against the pressure to over commit themselves. Don’t get me wrong, if a skier would rather spend the summer playing soccer or skateboarding that is great. But what about those who would like to focus on skiing?
In Massachusetts our public high school programs fall under the governing body of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA). They have tons of rules that prohibit any sort of coaching out of season. To make matters worse, the “season” runs from the first Monday after Thanksgiving until the State Championship race in the middle of February. So if a skier qualifies for the New England J2 Championship, the Eastern High School Championship or even Junior Nationals they cannot receive any help from their high school coach.
Among the many rules that the MIAA enforces are two that are the trickiest to deal with. The first, “The Bona Fide Team Player Rule,” handles the time within the season and states that a student/athlete may only miss ONE practice per season to pursue other athletic interests. This would include going to a club practice or extra race instead of a scheduled high school practice or race. This rule makes it impossible for coaches to hold centrally located practices for higher level, serious skiers to attend in place of their high school practice and also makes going to JOQs difficult if the high school league has a race scheduled.
The second, the 50/50 rule, effects time outside of the season and states that a coach may only work with a group if less then 50% of the group is on their team during the season. So technically a coach could not even go for a hike with their son or daughter if that child were on their ski team!
So why does this all matter? Some athletes can attend a private ski school if their goal is to excel at a sport. But this isn’t for everyone – both financially and developmentally. But this is often the only option for those who are focused on achieving a high level.
Another option would be to continue going to school at their local high school, train on their own without a team, but follow a program set up by their coach. Again, this has worked for some highly disciplined skiers and is a reasonable option, but is not ideal. So what can we do? After all, the goal is to give these skiers the tools they need to excel at skiing and in life in general.
There have been some successful examples of clubs and high schools coexisting. CSU in the Boston area struggles with MIAA restrictions, but still manages to train excellent skiers. But some of this success has to do with the proximity and most is because of the amazing work of a few very dedicated individuals.
In some other states, rules are more relaxed, allowing for happy coexistence. In Jackson, Wyoming, for example, the club program now works in conjunction with the high school and everyone benefits.
So what to do? Taking on state bureaucracy is usually a losing battle. These rules are not only about skiing – it is the usually blunt hammer approach – all rules apply to all sports. I would love to hear how others have dealt with this issue.
Until then the MIAA will keep me “Dazed and Confused. ”