They are the unsung workers behind the scenes, putting in countless hours for very little pay, or no pay at all.
They don't get quoted in game stories, a task instead left up to the head coach and a standout athlete or two from the game.
But they are there nonetheless. They are the assistant coaches. I'll admit I've rarely chatted with any in my few years thus far covering prep sports. But from what head coaches tell me, their assistants are often the backbone of the team. They're often seen as the ones off to the side at practices working with a group of athletes, or one-on-one teaching a certain technique. Or holding a clipboard on the sidelines tracking stats. And many other responsibilities.
Unfortunately for those in this group, the financial situations for many have gotten tighter in recent years because schools have made cutbacks to the budgets of athletic departments. That's part of the trickle-down effect of budget cuts to school districts. And many of the slashes have come by taking away the small stipends paid to assistant coaches each season.
West York: The latest to fit in this category is at West York High School.
The West York school board last month approved cuts in order to reduce its $1.5 million deficit for next school year. On top of the district's staff being reduced by 29, the board approved cutting five athletic teams: the ninth-grade football team, the middle-school cheerleading programs for football, basketball and wrestling and co-ed middle school cross country. In addition, the district is asking that one paid position be eliminated for athletic teams that have three or more coaches.
As a result, West York athletic director Roger Czerwinski said a total of 14 paid high school assistants will lose their stipends next year. And this is at a school district that already has one of the smallest athletic budgets in York County.
"Yes and more than likely what's gonna end up happening is we'll end up splitting stipends," said Czerwinski, who is also the head coach of the two-time state champion Bulldogs' baseball team.
The West York baseball team will go from three paid positions this year (varsity head coach, varsity assistant coach and junior varsity head coach) down to two paid positions next year (varsity head coach and junior varsity head coach), with the varsity assistant losing his stipend.
"My baseball coaching stipend I'll just split it with our assistant coach. That's what we're doing," Czerwinski said of finding a solution to the cutback.
Making up for losses: That's been one of the growing trends across York County. I found this out two years ago when I did a huge project examining how budget cuts are impacting athletic departments. Of the 14 high schools included in the study, three reported a drop-off in the number of paid assistants in the 2010-11 school year, six schools had decreases in the amount of money spent on coaching salaries and two schools put a salary freeze in place for all coaches.
Many coaches who I chatted with then said they made up for the losses by putting an added emphasis on booster clubs and fundraising. But the common solution has been relying on volunteer coaches, which is likely what will happen at West York when paid assistants this year become volunteers next year. Either that or some paid coaches will split their stipend with those coaches losing pay.
Not in it for the money: Unless you're a head football coach in the state of Texas, there likely isn't much money involved in high school coaching. There certainly isn't in York County. In the story I did a couple years back I found most coaches are paid anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, based on the importance of the position and tenure of the coach. But this is just a few thousand bucks a year for a position that can feel like a full-time job in-season and part-time job out of season.
"We truly honestly don't do it for the money because if we did we'd be idiots because you don't get paid that much," said Bill Ackerman, who just completed his 16th season as head coach of the West York boys' basketball team. "At the same time it's hard to keep someone putting in 25 hours during the season and 15 hours a week during the offseason and say 'By the way, I'm not paying you a dime and by the way your son isn't in the program.' It's tough to find anyone to do that anymore."
Like Czerwinski and many other head coaches I've chatted with in recent years, Ackerman has been fortunate to find assistants who willingly sacrifice their time for little to no monetary compensation. They don't do it for the money. Or the adulation. They do it to help student-athletes, to teach them skills that might help them on the playing field or when they face obstacles later in life.
"I'm extremely lucky to have found guys where that (money) doesn't matter to them," Ackerman said. "As long as the kids see no difference (from the budget cuts) then it's a win-win for everyone."
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.