November 22, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 31

A sounding board for helping the student-athlete

Cheney Coaches Association hopes to serve as both collective bargaining unit and a tool to improve the academic-athletic experience

Coaches in the Cheney School District now have a well-defined source to go to when they need information, guidance and support in what used to be a seasonal occupation but in modern times has become a year-round undertaking.

Last April the Cheney School Board officially recognized the newly founded Cheney Coaches Association “as the employee organization and exclusive bargaining representative for all employees who conduct extracurricular activities” in the district that require no certification. For those involved in the association’s formation however, its purpose goes beyond employee relation issues.

“It is our purpose to encourage high and professional standards of ethics and conduct by our members by developing and promoting a code of professional standards and membership in the Washington State Coaches Association,” former Blackhawks’ boys soccer head coach Steve Davis wrote in a letter to the board. “It is also our purpose to broaden public understanding of the proper function of coaches and their contributions to Cheney schools by developing programs that emphasize citizenship, sportsmanship and academic excellence.”

Association president and CHS baseball head coach Randy Elam said coaching has become virtually a “year round endeavor” that not only includes practices and season competition but offseason work such as camps and clinics. Creating the association was more about setting up a consistent framework for coaches to operate as individuals and as a group.

“I just think it’s very powerful,” Elam said.

It’s been something decades in the making, going back to the 1990s, and has involved a number of past and present school district coaches. Much of it was informal early on, Elam said, with coaches getting together now and then to discuss issues surrounding sports and student-athletes.

In the 2000s, Davis began to spearhead a more concerted effort at formal organization, supported by other coaches such as Tom Stralser, Chuck Cone, April Arland and Jason Williams. There were a number of steps involved like creation of bylaws, incorporation of district and state employee policies and ideas for best practices taken from other coaches associations’ collective bargaining agreements.

The association crossed an important threshold when it received certification as a bargaining unit from the Public Employment Relations Commission in June 2008. After that it was working with district personnel led by former Superintendent Larry Keller, current Superintendent Deb Clemens and CHS athletics director Jim Missel, all of whom were very supportive Elam said in hammering out a final agreement.

Besides establishing a collective bargaining process for salaries and working conditions, the association also establishes a grievance procedure that allows association representation to be present, defined areas of rights and authorities and guidelines for dealing with concerns and issues. It also establishes communication through regular meetings and district channels as well as encouraging professional development.

“There’s language in there, there’s protocol in place and it’s binding and that helps everyone,” Elam said.

Missel agreed, noting the defining of lines of communication will lead to greater accountability not only from coaches but also from administrators while creating better assessment tools.

“You know where you stand. There are certain things you can do and can’t do,” Missel said, adding the assessment component is key in that it’s not an evaluation and works both ways between coaches and administration.

“I also ask them, ‘what can I do?’ What can I do to make your seasons better?” he said. “What can I do to help you for next year.”

Elam said those lines of communication are key when viewed in coaches’ ultimate responsibilities of not only creating winning teams, but winning situations on and off the field for developing better athletes and most importantly, better students. Coaching can be an “emotional” enterprise for everyone involved he said, including parents and their kids. Hopefully the association will be sounding board as much as a bargaining unit that works to promote best practices as well as solve conflicts in a constructive manner benefiting everyone, Elam said, always maintaining a focus on what’s best for the student-athletes.

“I think if approached in the right way there’s a lot of ability to grow in those situations,” Elam said. “I think if we do that, we’ll do some good things. We’re coaches.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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