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Social media, coaching shortages part of new high school athletics reality

Douglas Fritz • Jun 16, 2018 at 3:30 PM

This is the 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 Jeremy Jenkins, Daniel Boone’s football and softball coach. Today’s young people are going to use social media.

“I think society is going that way. 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 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,” Wagner said.

Still having fun

Preparation may be different for today’s high school athletes, but Jenkins said the kids 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,” he said. “They’ve been very successful.”

Finding coaches

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,” Jenkins said. “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,” Jenkins said. “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,” he added. “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.”

The answers?

Jenkins said school athletic directors 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,” he said. “They have to push things, like our AD (Danny Good) does.”

Elizabethton softball coach Ken Hardin said he believes coaches have to step back, re-evaluate and find ways to make it work in today’s world.

“I think we just have to adjust and do the best we can,” Hardin said. “These are tough questions. But I don’t think year-round participation in one sport is the answer.”

Wagner said school systems need to brainstorm to find new ideas.

“We’ve got to find a way to keep the kids motivated for high school,” Wagner said. “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,” Wagner said. “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, Wagner said.

“We need to make sure they understand the importance of high school sports in comparison to other things, like travel sports,” he said. “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.”

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