Varsity coaches shouldn’t be fired for trying to win
August 4, 2005
Isn’t the point of competitive sports to win? And isn’t one of the great rewards of being a member of a varsity-level team learning about teamwork and sacrifice, whether you’re an all-star or a bench warmer?Last month’s dismissal of longtime Aspen High School baseball coach Rick Ryan has sparked an outcry from some of his former players, who claim, with some corroboration from the school district, that he was fired for trying too hard to win baseball games.School district Superintendent Diane Sirko declined to give exact reasons for Ryan’s firing, citing state regulations that require confidentiality on personnel matters. But she did indicate there was no blow-up or indiscretion on Ryan’s part to bring about the decision not to renew his contract. “It was just decided he would not return next year,” Sirko said in an interview with The Aspen Times. Sirko went on to say that she and Aspen High Athletic Director Carol Sams “thought it might be time to head in a different direction with our program.”Three former AHS baseball players have publicly criticized the administration for placing more importance on winning sportsmanship awards than on winning games. They attribute Ryan’s demise as head coach to a handful of disgruntled players who didn’t think they were getting enough playing time.If in fact district officials have decided to adopt an “everybody should play every day” credo for the varsity baseball program, they’ve made a mistake. If that new credo is the reason behind the decision to release Ryan, the 9-year head coach who brought respectability to the program by making it competitive on the Western Slope, then they’ve made an even bigger mistake.Physical education classes are the place where participation can and should be emphasized. They are a good way to get nonathletes to experience different sports and physical activities. But what’s good for the PE class isn’t good for the ball team. Kids who choose to participate in varsity sports have chosen to compete at a more intense level – one that rewards hard work and skill over everything else.Brock Strasbourger, one of three captains on this year’s AHS baseball team, put it best in a recent letter to the editor:”Commitment and an investment, both physically and mentally, to the Aspen High School baseball program warrants a reward in the form of a varsity uniform, a chance to display your skills for a limited number of innings and possibly even a starting job. … Coach Ryan expects players to hustle, hate losing, earn what you acquire and, most importantly, support your teammates in any and every way possible.”When it comes to competitive sports, at any level, that’s what it’s about.