CornerKICKS: If kids can’t play on Sundays, time to bench high school coaches from collecting club paychecks on Sundays

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Joe Trost, columnist for #PrepSportsReport

To say that Sunday’s CornerKICKS column created conversation would be accurate to say the least.

As one suburban coach said in a text today, “I’ve heard from at least five coaches this morning asking my thoughts on it. You definitely created the conversation you wanted.”

The column, which focused on an outdated-and-overreaching rule prohibiting high school boys soccer players from playing in another organized league during the high school season, was viewed by more than 6,400 people in the first 12 hours alone.

So again, I ask someone, anyone to give me a rational reason why a high school boys soccer player in Illinois shouldn’t be allowed to play in another soccer league if he and his parents approve of on a Sunday?

Schools are out of session on Sundays. Most high school teams don’t have practice or games on Sundays. Each week throughout Illinois, there are 1,000s of kids who sit the bench and never play in a game.

So the one day a week when students don’t have school, can travel if need be and there is no high school practice or games for most, educational leaders and coaches from member schools in the IHSA continue to bench kids who just want to play.

“What’s the rationale behind it,” asked Brian Papa, who is the president of the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association and has coached at Bloom, Rich Central, Sandburg, Lincoln-Way East and Downers Grove North during a legendary career that spans back to the 1970s.

Someone, anyone please tell me why?

A broad brush doesn’t work any longer with high school sports. What works for coaches and students at New Trier, Plainfield East and Peoria Notre Dame, may not work for the coaches and students at Bloom, Back of the Yards and Waukegan.

From CLASA and park district leagues to church leagues and men’s leagues, there hasn’t been a single coach – and I talked to 14 today and heard from another 43 via email or text – that admitted they had a strong reason why a student shouldn’t be allowed to play in another game or league on a Sunday without penalty.

One conversation from today, however, that does stick out was when a high school coach asked: “Are you pro high school or pro club?”

I told him, “I’m pro kid.”

On both sides of the aisle, club and high school coaches like to point at one another and say negative things. The aisles are full of adults, who act like bickering, selfish children at times.

And there in the middle of all of it – the kids.

So, let me play a little game of don’t let the truth get in the way of the facts with the five percent of high school coaches, who continue to think they’re above everyone else and play in the same entitled sandbox year after year.

I believe student athletes and families should have as many options as possible, and each family can pick what is best for them. If a student athlete wants to play soccer on a Sunday, he should be able to without penalty. A coach or school can provide guidance, but they shouldn’t be a dictator on how a student athlete spends his free day – which happens to be Sunday of most weeks.

Over the past three decades, there are less than 50 professional soccer players to come out of high school boys AND girls soccer in Illinois. The 8th Division in the middle of nowhere is not what I’m referring to. The pure top-level pros – less than 50.

For years, adults supporting the high school community have accused the club community of pressuring students and families, because “it’s all about money.” Most high school coaches aren’t happy with students who elect to play club year-round and skip the high school season. Despite being educational leaders and teachers first in most cases, I’ve heard countless stories from parents over the years about high school teachers/coaches who stop talking to students over these decisions.

Remember, high school coaches aren’t coaching for free. Many are paid between $10,000-$20,000 a year to coach and then receive camp money. If they stick around long enough, they collect a portion of that in their pension for the rest of their lives.

Last summer, I began submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to school districts to build a list of soccer coaching stipends throughout the state for an upcoming blockbuster that will show another reason why there is a big high school opportunity gap on the soccer fields in Illinois.

Most high school coaches are paid with public tax dollars, unless they coach at a private high school or they’re an extra non-funded coach, who receives a “thank-you stipend” from the school or program booster account. Schools have different financial resources, including continually tapping into the local community for athletic fundraising drives. This isn’t the era of the science teacher coaching soccer to volunteer and help out.

And please don’t get me wrong, coaches should get paid when and where possible.

But think about this for a second: If the head coach is making $10,000 a season and the assistant is making $6,000, that’s $16,000 for the varsity level alone. (This is real data from a middle of the road high school program in the Chicago suburbs from the FOIA requests).  

If there are 20 kids on a team (like this school I’m referring to), that $16,000 is essentially $800 per player in public tax dollars or state funding – however a school wants to spin the story. My point: It comes from somewhere as school officials said to me today.

At many schools, kids also have to pay an athletic fee between $75-$150 to play, which helps cover costs. Athletic events aren’t cheap to run. Again, the days of people volunteering to the run the clock or provide security for free are few and far between.

So, it costs money to play club AND high school. Club AND high school coaches get paid. Club AND high school have to cover costs. Just like in the real world, if you work one place over another, your pay may be higher or lower. That’s the same with coaching club OR high school soccer.

And here’s the kicker of it all: It’s OK for a high school boys soccer coach to go coach club on Sundays and collect that paycheck during the IHSA boys soccer season, but a student can’t go play in an organized soccer league and have fun? 

Now that I just spent 500 words calming down the high school coaches about the club pay-to-play and pressure messaging they always use, let’s get back to the point – pro kid.

Can anyone honestly sit there and tell me with a straight face that it’s OK if a boys soccer player plays a pick-up or “unstructured” game on a Sunday, but he can’t play in an organized game or league with an official on good fields?

That doesn’t mean he has to. He just deserves the option to.

A boys soccer player can only play in an organized league on a Sunday if it’s not soccer. So, if it was football, basketball, baseball, eSports, water polo, golf, volleyball, cross country, softball, cheerleading or bowling….hey no problem at all, go play all day and all night!

Just checking before I go further after writing those last three paragraphs: This is still America, right?

In a state that only has so many outdoor playing months, we’re restricting kids on Sundays for what reason?

Someone, anyone please tell me why?

Clubs have been accused of telling students they can’t play for them if they play high school. But yet high schools continue to say if you are going to play for us, you can’t play anywhere else – even on your off day, because we control you for three months.

Man, I always thought the offseason workouts were truly “voluntary,” too (wink, wink). Silly me.

And as I said yesterday – much nicer I must add – don’t start with the health and safety card. High schools play four games in five days time and time again, year after year.

Sorry mom and dad, your son who loves soccer can’t go play in the Sunday park district men’s community league with his older brothers, cousins, dad and neighbors, because your son can only represent the high school during these three months.

That same high school that your public tax dollars help fund the school, the teaching salaries, the coaching salaries, the officials, the fields and the list goes on.

Someone, anyone, please tell me why?

I’m waiting.

CornerKICKS (normally) will appear on Sundays. Contact Joe Trost at joetrost@gmail.com.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer at Star Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field.

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