No Time-Outs for Coaches

Rockwood’s substitute policy creates challenges for coaches


Cara Brotherton

Photo and illustrations by Cara Brotherton

The start of the new school year brings with it opportunities for friendship, memories, and competition. From spirit week, to homecoming, to Halloween the fall season is one of the most coveted times of the year for students. 

Sports are also back in full swing, and many students are excited to get the opportunity to represent their school and make lasting memories on out-of-town trips. Except, with recent issues with sub coverage in the district, athletes may have to kiss those highly anticipated tournaments goodbye. 

The new change in sub policy prevents coaches from applying to get subs when they are out for tournaments and competitions. The only exception to this policy being golf, as the courses the matches or tournaments are held on are only available during the day, and during the postseason. 

Essentially, the district has allowed for coaches to be absent from school for two full days during the entirety of the regular season. However, the coaches will not be given access to subs and must find someone within their department or another staff member to cover their classes. Staff members who cover those classes will be paid 25 dollars an hour. 

“[The district’s athletic directors] explained how important it is for these students to play games outside of the St.Louis area and we decided on two dates per season was reasonable. That’s two days that the district agrees that if you wanna do an out-of-town trip that they understand and support but they do not have sub codes available for competitions until we get to the playoffs.” Gregg Cleveland, athletic director, said.  

Administrators claim there is already some backlash amongst the coaches for the district’s new change in policy. 

“Just frustration because on top of having to get ready for a tournament that’s out of town you’re also having to get subs and people think that it’s very unfair. So to send a message…some are not super willing to cover for the people in their department but others are and so it’s just created some hard feelings,” Jennifer Strauser, Associate Principal, said. 

Many of the coaches state that the process used in the past was much less complicated and was much less difficult on the coaches’ end. 

“For as long as I’ve been a coach in Rockwood, whenever we had a sporting event, the process was pretty simple,” Paul Arway, assistant softball coach, said. “Now, the process is much more labor intensive from a standpoint of If I know I’m going to be out I still have to go in and fill out the sub stuff online but now it’s been put on the coaches to try and find coverage.” 

Coaches also claim that the district’s new policy is making the already difficult process of leaving the classroom even more complicated and stressful. 

“It’s an added layer of stress. When you are leaving your classroom, it’s always easier to be here than to do all of the sub planning and lesson planning for the days that you’re not here,” Arway said.

Additionally, most staff members are unavailable to cover every single class for a coach even for a day. This has made some coaches apprehensive because they don’t know if their classes will get covered and who is covering them. 

“I know last Friday, [September 9],  I was very nervous about whether or not I was actually getting coverage and whether or not they were gonna be able to follow things. I mean at one point there was talk about my class having to be combined with my assistant coaches’ class because they didn’t know if they would have the sub,” Mark Mosley, head softball coach, said

Coaches have also pointed out that it puts added pressure on the school’s administration, who have numerous other responsibilities that outway covering a classroom. 

“It puts our administrators in a tough spot too because I know that Strauser had to cover one of my classes. It shouldn’t be their job to step into a classroom and take over because they have a ton of things on their plates too,” Mosley said. 

There are various views as to why the district has made changes that seem to be causing frustration for both coaches and administrators. The most common opinion being that the district is currently experiencing a ‘sub shortage’. However, according to RSD’s human resources department, the district still has the same sub-pool, about 400 substitutes. 

Human resources claims that following the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased demand for coverage within the district but only the same supply of available subs, which is the result of an increased number of staff being out of the classroom for reasons such as sick or personal days. The district made the decision to ensure that staff that had unexpected events prevent them from teaching, such as illness, would always have access to a sub.

“The philosophy behind it is that coaches know they are going to be gone on certain days and have plenty of time to try and find someone to try and cover their class…Ever since COVID hit, it’s kind of changed the way people use sick days,” Cleveland said. 

However, human resources assures that the policy has a method that makes sure coaches will always be covered. Plan A requires coaches to attempt to find coverage from within their department. If Plan A doesn’t secure a sub, Plan B would be to contact administrators in order to try to get other staff members within the school to cover. Plan C is only to be used as a last resort. If no one from the school is available to cover for the teacher, then, with the approval of the athletic director, a coach may be given a sub code. 

This puts the athletic director in the position of distinguishing which sporting events require a sub, because for every sub that is used for an athletic event, that’s a sub that’s not available for a teacher who had an unanticipated reason to leave the classroom. 

“That makes it very difficult on me because coaches can just say I need a sub and then it falls on me to say give them a sub which I want to do,” Cleveland said. 

On top of conflicts with coverage, there is also confusion around when the change in policy occurred. Human resources are confused why coaches are now speaking up when the current process for coaches getting a sub is similar to last year. Coaches say that last year was the same as any other year and they did not have to go through the current process to find coverage. 

“All coaches last year had to leave early to take kids to a competition and it was the exact same thing they are being asked to do this year. One hundred percent identical expectations, steps, process, practices, whatever you wanna call it. This year is identical to 2022,” Tracy Edwards, Director of Human Resources, said. 

The district is working on hiring substitute teachers to fill holes to meet the increased demand, and hopefully turn things around so eventually, the policy will no longer be necessary. 

However, the situation continues to be an issue for coaches who are struggling to adjust their schedules to fit the new policy without being able to express any of their concerns or comments.

“There was no coaches’ input on this whatsoever. I don’t recall ever getting an email from the district saying ‘hey you know we are considering this…it was just ‘this is what we are doing’ and the ramifications of that have been pretty stressful for the coaches,” Mosley said.  

Coaches are especially upset because they feel that the policy is negatively affecting some of the people who put the most effort into trying to make high school a memorable experience for students. 

“Typically whenever you have a teacher who’s also a coach, we’re incredibly dedicated and we love our kids, we love our classes. We’re normally here except for those kinds of trips and so it almost feels like, and it’s not intended this way of course, but it feels as though we’re receiving the brunt of the sub shortage,” Mosley said. 

Many of the coaches would appreciate the opportunity to sit down, collaborate with the district, express concerns, give feedback, and attempt to find a solution that works for everyone. 

“If we can’t go back to the way it was I think it would be nice If we could have at least a little bit of a compromise. Maybe not every coach in the traveling doesn’t get a sub but maybe one or two? Or maybe just one? But I think there has to be some sort of compromise,” Gary Schneider, the head girls soccer coach, said. 

Administrators understand the coaches’ complaints, and are doing what they can to address the issues, but are also encouraging staff to work together and help each other until we can work through the issue. 

“I totally understand why coaches are frustrated because if they call in sick they get a sub or if they use a personal day they get a sub. Why can’t we get subs for athletic competitions?… I understand but somehow we’re gonna have to work together to try to get things all covered from within,” Cleveland said. 

Whether or not the district is making progress remains to be seen, however administration at the district level and Eureka level are pushing for staff to cooperate and attempt to help each other in order to avoid an even more restricted policy. 

“Competitions are something that could be controlled. I don’t want it, I hope it doesn’t turn into everybody has to stay in the St. Louis area,” Cleveland said. “But at the same time I don’t see a big group of people deciding they suddenly want to become subs that’s going to solve this problem.”