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Teaching The Teachers

Mentoring Program Starts by Motivating Coaches to Think Long-Term in Helping the Next Generation


As football coach at Palm Springs High in 1963, Jim Brownfield invited a college basketball coach from Los Angeles to speak at his team's postseason awards banquet.

UCLA's John Wooden, who had yet to win any of his record 10 NCAA titles, drove to the desert, delivered an eloquent speech and visited with players and coaches.

"Coach Wooden talked with me about teaching life skills in addition to coaching," Brownfield said. "If you do that, he said, everything else falls into place. He was right."

Brownfield stayed in occasional contact with Wooden throughout the years and regarded him as a mentor in much the same way he viewed the coaches he played for at Hollywood High. The relationships with those coaches, both during and after his high school years, inspired Brownfield and helped him forge a 45-year teaching and coaching career, the final 20 at Pasadena Muir.

Brownfield, 71, retired in 1996. But as president of the California Coaches Assn. and the National Federation Coaches Assn., his goal is to make current coaches mentors for the next generation.

To that end, a free seminar for high school and college students who aspire to become coaches, and receive professional guidance along the way, is tentatively scheduled for July 26 at the Amateur Athletic Foundation headquarters in Los Angeles.

"There is a major crisis in our profession," Brownfield said. "We need our current coaches to mentor the people coming up, to help show them the way. Inspire them to become teachers. Some coaches are doing it already on their own, but we need a concentrated effort to get everyone involved."

Of the estimated 75,000 high school coaches in California, 25,000 leave their positions each year, according to Jack Hayes, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation.

Brownfield said most of the turnover involves walk-on coaches, men and women who are not credentialed teachers.

"We've lost continuity--it's a swinging door," Brownfield said. "The average [coaching] life span of a walk-on coach is a year and a half. The average for a coach who is also a teacher is 15 years. It just makes sense. If you're a teacher, you stay in it longer."

Among those working with Brownfield are Paul Knox, the football and girls' track coach at Dorsey; Ralph Tilley, the boys' track coach at Dorsey, and Armando Gonzalez, Franklin football coach.

Others have expressed interest in the concept, especially with regard to developing more full-time teachers.

"When you are a teacher, I think you are definitely more committed to the school," Manual Arts basketball Coach Randolph Simpson said. "You're a father figure and role model for the kids, and a colleague of other people that work at the school. I think you have a greater commitment to the program. It's not just a job. It's a profession."

That's the message Robert Garrett has tried to deliver since he became football coach at Crenshaw in 1987.

Seven of nine assistants on Garrett's staff last season were former Crenshaw players. Two are working in the education field.

"I charge my kids with a commission that they have a duty to give back to the community in some shape or fashion," Garrett said. "Becoming an educator is the ultimate way to do that."

The teacher-coach talent pool has dwindled over the years for several reasons, Brownfield said.

Many colleges and universities have eliminated physical education as a major or minor. And many school districts throughout the nation have de-emphasized physical education in terms of core curriculum.

At the same time, the number of coaching positions has increased to coincide with participation in girls' sports. The need to fill boys' and girls' coaching positions at the varsity and lower levels has led many administrators to hire personnel regardless of educational background.

Without a teaching credential, or even classes in teaching and coaching philosophy and theory, many walk-on coaches are overwhelmed and walk away after a few years.

Financial compensation also plays a role.

The average annual teacher salary in California for 1997-98 was $44,585, according to an American Federation of Teachers survey released last year.

"Unfortunately, as educators, there is no money when you compare it to other professions," said Lisa Baker, who has coached softball at Irvine High for 13 years. "Kids are not going in that direction."

Bruce Rollinson, football coach at Santa Ana Mater Dei, said he encourages students to become teachers and coaches. But he does not sugarcoat his advice.

"I have boys that say, 'I want to be a football coach,' and I say, 'That's great,' " Rollinson said. "This is something you have done all your life and you enjoy. Why not make it your profession? But understand, you're not going to be living in Beverly Hills."

Rollinson, Baker and other longtime coaches say the payoff from being a teacher and coach cannot be measured in dollars. Or wins and losses. Or in the number of former players that become professional athletes.

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