CHAMBERSBURG >> New language incorporated into a handbook for coaches in the Chambersburg Area School District could influence how they communicate with student athletes.
Code of ethics (appendix F) provisions, among other things, prohibit the use of "inappropriate" language or gestures, demand respect for game and league officials and prohibit public criticism of players.
A modest addition requires "positive language to motivate student-athletes."
CASD athletic director Jeremy Flores, who authored the handbook contents, said the new additions to the code — which is not new to district policy — does not undermine coaches' authority.
"The intent is not to prevent a coach from critiquing a player and saying where improvement is needed. It does not handicap a coach. Athletes need to know when they've made a mistake. The intent is to use positive, not negative, reinforcement to get improvement," he said.
In response to a specific question, Flores made it clear that the code also does not prohibit a coach from raising his or her voice in correcting players. Further, he said, the code is subject to interpretation.
"It's not just black and white," he said.
Flores said there have, at times, been issues in previous years with communication between coaches and students.
While South Western High School doesn't have a handbook that specifies its code of conduct, school athletic director and former football coach Don Seidenstricker said the district tries to be proactive regarding potential coaching issues.
South Western holds a series of meetings with head coaches from the high school through the junior high ranks five times per year. Each coach is handed an individual checklist that states what is expected from them in terms of PIAA, District 3, YAIAA and school rules and changes.
"Also at those meeting we are going to talk about things philosophically that we believe in, and we buy into," Seidenstricker said. "Talking about coaches behavior, here is a point where we are going to address it collectively."
Each coach is evaluated at the end of the season, and the head coaches evaluate their respective staffs accordingly. This is when any potential problems get addressed.
Seidenstricker does not condone outrageous behavior from any Mustangs coach, at any level. However, he is quick to point out that coaches should be allowed to show their personalities, within reason.
"Individual coaches are just that. If we try to make cookie cutters out of our coaches I think we are doing our athletes a great disservice," he said. "Part of being a student-athlete and growing up is dealing with different personalities.
"We want to keep the educational component in scholastic sports, which is vitally important. Don't get me wrong I don't want a coach jumping up and down and throwing an (expletive) at a kid. That is not what we are about."
YAIAA Executive Director and Susquehannock High School athletic director Chuck Abbott said it's up to each school district to implement things such as handbooks and guidelines for coaches and student athletes to follow.
He added Susquehannock does have a handbook which touches on coaches job descriptions and expectations — behavior, student-athlete conduct, demeanor, attitude and how to control oneself on the court, off the court and in the community.
Ditto for players, who are expected to display good sportsmanship and walk a straight line away from the playing field.
"I guess the word we're looking for is character," Abbott said as it pertains to both coaches and athletes. "Our philosophy is it's more than just wins and losses. It's how you carry yourself. Life lessons."
When asked if coaches have more to consider in the current world of high school athletics, Abbott said, "There's a lot more to consider. We all know times have changed. Coaches have to be cognizant of their environment. They're under a microscope."
In recent years, Chambersburg football coach Mark Saunders and Trojan boys basketball coach Shawn Shreffler were both targets of criticism from parents for alleged behavior covered in the code of ethics. Before the 2014 season, Saunders was accused of being abusive both physically and mentally on and off the football field. He was later suspended for one game during the season for "behavior unrepresentative of the Chambersburg Area School District's athletic department." "I think positive language can be relayed in a variety of ways, depending on who your team is," Saunders said Friday. "I got persecuted so much for using what people saw as bad language, but it wasn't (bad) to us. When it comes to motivating kids, we all have different ways."
Shreffler, who couldn't be reached for comment, was fired in 2012 after parents and students claimed he degraded players in front of teammates and embarrassed them. His firing was later overturned by the courts.
West York boys' basketball coach Bill Ackerman knows Chambersburg's Shreffler. He called Shreffler "a great coach," especially with how he handles kids that have had a tough upbringing.
Ackerman, who has been widely respected during his 17 years at the Bulldogs' helm, added that an 85-page handbook seems like micromanaging, and that a lot of a coach's best work goes unseen.
"I've yelled at a kid during a game, that could be perceived as negative. But the next day in practice you talk to him, have your arm around him, maybe you cry with him. Nobody sees that," he said. "Is it appropriate to use that kind of bad language at a kid?.Absolutely not. But does it happen? Absolutely."
Flores said his foremost goals are to improve communication among all interested parties and to maintain professional standards throughout the athletic department.
"We will be professional in every respect," Flores said. "We want to be proactive and be a model. If we achieve good communication and maintain professionalism, we will see our programs be successful. At the end of the day, every decision we make must be in the interest of the student-athlete."
Flores identified four major additions to the handbook:
• Page 46 outlines disciplinary procedures for players, listing specific causes for suspensions. Flores said the specifics are much like past practices, but the guidelines are now memorialized in writing. He said the listed reasons are a "baseline" and that individual coaches can impose more stringent rules.
• Appendix G is an evaluation form for head coaches and their assistant coaches. In the past there was no evaluation form for assistant coaches.
• Appendix H is a questionnaire for athletes in grades 7-12 and their parents. Previously, the questionnaire was only for graduating seniors.
• Appendix I memorializes inclement weather guidelines, putting in writing guidelines to dictate how games and practices will be rescheduled when school is cancelled for weather-related reasons.
"Jeremy came in at a time where coaches were getting attacked from left to right, and something had to be done," Saunders said. "He came in and was very businesslike in terms of recreating the athletic handbook, so it would be really advantageous to coaches and players."
The revised and expanded athletic handbook — approved by school directors Wednesday night — is available for inspection at www.casdonline.org/athletics.
Sports Reporters Steve Navaroli and Lizi Arbogast contributed to this story.
Dale Heberlig can be reached at 717-262-4771.