Yesterday we recommended that the Warren County School Board take some additional steps to improve its concussion policy for athletes.
During the board's discussion on the matter the week before, a board member who is a former school athletic director, posed an interesting and pertinent question. Does the policy also cover "open gyms," since the term for those unofficial and voluntary practices is not included in the policy?
The district's solicitor answered just the way a solicitor would: The wording of the policy is "verbatim from the statutory definition." Translation: We are on solid ground based on the law.
Unfortunately, the can that Board Member Jack Werner opened is the not-so-secret flaw in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's rule book. The PIAA stipulates that practices for its sanctioned sports can only begin after a certain date before the first game of the season and must end when the season ends.
Alas, the pressure to win is much greater than the rule, so coaches offer their athletes "open gyms" and camps, which in some cases make their particular sport nearly a year-round activity. That extra training, they believe, will give their athletes an advantage against opposing teams when the "official" time comes.
Former UCLA coach 'Red' Sanders summed up the obsession with competitive success: "Winning isn't everything...it's the only thing." It may not be "everything" or the "only thing" in this county, but it is certainly a really big thing, big enough to fudge the rules.
Warren County School District schools aren't the only schools who skirt the PIAA rule with open gyms. As one athletic director admitted, "They all do it." And, the PIAA knows it.
Here's what students and their parents know: Skipping open gyms and off-season camps organized by the coach could show a lack of dedication, increasing their chances of spending more time watching from the bench.
So, why the rule? It must have been written for some reason; perhaps to level the playing field among teams.
Instead, it teaches an unfortunate lesson about rules and how to circumvent them.