During the offseason months of a calendar school year, organized team activities for prep sports teams in West Virginia are limited.
Coaches get a three-week-long period, known as a “live” period, during which they can organize players as a team during the summer. Along with the live period, coaches get 12 flex days — days outside of the live period that school teams can organize during the offseason.
The West Virginia Secondary Sports Activities Commission opened its period on June 6 and each county’s school board sets its own dates for the three-week period.
In Kanawha County, the three-week live period has traditionally been in June. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the 2021 sports season back a couple months, so last year’s live period was in July.
In 2022, some area coaches thought the live period would once again take place in June.
That was not the case as the Kanawha County Board of Education opted to keep the live period from July 11-29. The board did so, apparently, to accommodate for its summer academy, also known as summer school.
Kanawha County was one of the few counties in the state to have its live period in July rather than June.
Some longtime high school coaches in Kanawha County were not happy with the decision to keep the live period in July. They say the later live period creates some complications.
Jamie LaMaster has been George Washington’s girls basketball coach for almost 20 years. He is not a fan of the July live period. A lot of his players participate in travel basketball and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) events in July and are not free to practice with their high school teams.
“What I ran into was, with it being in July, I have a lot of players who participate in travel ball,” LaMaster said. “The kids that I have, they don’t go down the interstate to the next local town. These kids are going out of state. They play in Indianapolis, they’re up in Pennsylvania. They go for days at a time.”
LaMaster said there is a bit of a silver lining.
“Of course, the kids that didn’t play travel ball, we had a nice turnout of kids but it was all young kids,” he said. “I think at most I had one, maybe two returners. Most of the time one. The plus side was you got to see your new kids but the other side is you miss your veteran kids.”
Over the years, high school coaches have developed a summer routine. The season ends in May, the live period takes place in June, kids take vacation in July and school is back in session in August. July is seen as a vacation month, according to LaMaster.
“For example right now I’m on vacation,” LaMaster said. “A lot of families vacation in July. It makes it difficult.”
LaMaster highlighted another complication with the July live period. Knowing the live period is usually in June, coaches schedule events like shootout tournaments and seven-on-seven football tournaments for the month of June. Those events take prior planning as schools from multiple counties are usually involved. Instead of canceling the June events, LaMaster had to use his precious flex days.
“When you talk about being one of the counties that chose July, we participate in two events in June but I had to use flex days to do it,” LaMaster said. “That’s great, I can flex, but that’s not what flex days were intended for.
“Let’s say, for example, you want to host shootouts [in July] then all these other schools have to use flex days to come and some people don’t want to do that.”
During the live period, LaMaster and his team went to Nitro High School where girls basketball coach Pat Jones hosted round-robin style tournaments for area teams to face off. Jones held the events on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jones echoed LaMaster’s gripes with the July live period.
“I’m not a big fan of the July,” Jones said. “If everyone in the state did a July three-week period I think it would be different. When you narrow it down, you have all these other counties that can work with each other and do shootouts.
“We had to do our shootout in June this year because all the teams that wanted to come, their three-week period was in June. So I had to use a flex day for that. I just find it annoying that Kanawha County chose to do theirs in July when everyone else chose theirs in June. I agree with Jamie. I think it’s a disadvantage to us. We don’t really get the opportunity to go out and play as many teams as we would like.”
George Washington football coach Steve Edwards Jr. faces a different challenge than LaMaster and Jones regarding the later live period. Football season starts on Aug. 1 for Kanawha County this year and a July live period doesn’t give his players the appropriate amount of time to rest.
“July usually is the month for travel soccer and travel basketball,” Edwards said. “Plus, you’re starting your three weeks, you’re going three weeks straight into two-a-days this time. That’s a long time. That’s going from the second week of July all the way to — if you’re lucky, December — without a break. That’s a long time and football is a rough game. It just didn’t seem to make sense to me.”
Edwards, who usually uses all three weeks of the live period when it’s in June, used just a week of his live period this year and gave his players the next two weeks off.
“We did the best we could do with it,” he said. “Then I gave the kids these last two weeks off. That’s usually when everybody takes their vacations. Especially football people in July. June for football is when we usually had the three-week period. This year we had to use our flex days.
“And I hated taking up so much of the kids’ and the families’ summers, plus the coaches. Everybody has to sacrifice for that matter. You just had to do what you had to do.”
GW boys basketball coach Rick Greene echoed Edwards.
“We’re not doing anything this week because I didn’t think it was fair to my kids that are playing fall,” Greene said. “We took some June away trying to do our shootout for two or three days, use our flex days. Then we took a week and a half in July and that was it. We just shut it down. They got less of a summer than if they had three weeks [in June].”
The coaches said they didn’t understand why summer school was given as the reason for a later live period.
“I was just told it was going to be July this year because of summer school and didn’t interfere with the summer school schedules,” Jones said. “Is summer school just three weeks, is it just a month? I don’t understand because when we were at Nitro, I didn’t see any kids for summer school.
“I don’t understand what summer school has to do with it. It’s not like we’re going into a class. We’re going into a gym or a field or a court. I don’t understand how summer school is going to interfere with anything sports related.”
Greene thinks kids in summer school should not be worrying about sports in the first place.
“I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason why,” Greene said. “One, we’ve never done it that way before. Two, let’s make it a disadvantage and be unfair to the ones who took care of their grades. I’m all for academics. You didn’t take care of school, the kids that don’t have to go to summer school, they did. That doesn’t hold any merit with me whatsoever.”
The Gazette-Mail published an article on March 3, which quotes Kanawha County school board assistant superintendent George Aulenbacher.
“I want to get kids on level to master content standards and to be able to graduate from high school,” Aulenbacher said. “Whether it’s a first grader moving to second or a middle schooler getting what they need to move on to high school or a high school student learning algebra skills. That’s my focus. I love high school athletics. I see value in it and I’m happy moving forward to work with coaches in the future.”
Greene went in front of the Kanawha Valley Board of Education during a school board meeting and presented his case with written talking points.
“The way it was, I could not comment, they could not ask me a question the way they put me on the docket,” Greene said. “They said they would get somebody to take a survey.”
Greene said they took the survey but didn’t poll the right coaches a majority of the time.
“If I showed you the results of the survey you would laugh,” Greene said. “It was set up in a way that more people wanted to have it in July than June. They had wrestling coaches from middle school. It was just bogus. I told them that. They didn’t check with the people it really affects. It affects the secondary high school guys.”
Rick Farlow covers sports. He can be reached at 304-348-5122 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @FarlowRick on Twitter.