Prep sports

Coaches can't overstep boundaries with their students

2012-09-02T00:00:00Z 2012-09-07T15:23:06Z Coaches can't overstep boundaries with their studentsAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
September 02, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Give Zac Wells a letterman's jacket and a pair of worn jeans and he'd fit right in with any high school senior class.

Merrillville's veteran football coach still has those boyish good looks and boundless energy that can work for -- or against him -- in the classroom.

"When you take a job at a high school in general, it's just common sense the lines that have to be drawn between adults and students," Wells said in light of the recent news stories of alleged inappropriate behavior between female students and male coaches.

"Our athletic department has been very pro-active in meeting and discussing with coaches the type of appropriate social media and texting that we are allowed to do and not allowed to do."

Wells calls them "safeguards" that teachers, new and old within the system, are constantly updated on.

"There's just such a massive difference between adults and kids," Wells said. "You set up safeguards in your program but you also don't put yourself in situations where anything can be said or stated.

"When you meet with a student after class, you have the door open and you stand inside the door. You don't have closed door meetings with females, even with males. You have another coach in there with you to avoid a 'he said, she said' situation."

Wells said the days of Merrillville teachers or coaches driving a lone student home are long over, even if the parents are unable to pick their child up.

"Being in a group of four or five kids or two coaches and two kids is a different story," he added.

Several coaches said high school girls today are also more daring and aggressive, not thinking twice about flirting with their teachers.

"I'm a professional. I'm not somebody you flirt with," Wells said. "That needs to be understood."

Wells doesn't attend graduation parties at students' homes but occasionally will if held at an American Legion hall or church hall where there are large crowds.

Area coaches polled by The Times shared Wells' feelings on professional conduct in and out of the classroom, not overstepping the student-coach boundaries, and the rules which their schools enforce.

Being friendly but not their friend

Scott Bodnar is the girls varsity tennis coach at Marian Catholic and knows what pitfalls to avoid.

"I would call it common sense," he said. "We do have a meeting with the parents at Marian before every season about our expectations. We do talk about modesty and dress for the girls.

"I'm friendly with the kids, but I'm not their friend."

Bodnar and his coaches never leave the girls alone after practice or a match. They wait for the parents to arrive. And parents can't take another player home unless that athlete's family gives permission.

To maintain a professional relationship, Bodnar never discusses his personal life with the athletes. That way, no "connection" is made and no gossip being spread.

Rules aren't made to be broken

Valparaiso girls golf coach Bill Miller avoids having a Facebook account and when he needs to text or email one team member, he does so via a group message.

"I played high school sports and my coach took us home all the time. But that was in the '90s," Miller said. "I don't ever give players rides. It's also for liability reasons. In today's age, you've got to limit yourself from any of those situations.

"What would happen if there was an accident? (People might wonder) what was he doing with that girl?"

Watch what you say, young man

Shannon Scheidel, a 2003 Griffith grad, coaches boys cross country at her alma mater and said she doesn't tolerate their pickup lines.

"Sometimes they joke around, particularly the track boys, and when they do that I tell them it's inappropriate," Scheidel said. "If you're gonna keep talking like that, you're done and there will be consequences."

Athletic director Bill Crowley has told his coaches that if they text an athlete, make sure it's something that would be OK for the morning announcements at school.

When athletes don't have a ride home after games or meets, coaches wait 20 minutes and then have a resource officer take the individual to the Griffith Police Station, where the parent can pick them up.

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