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High School Sports

WPIAL coaches will have more room to roam next season

| Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Basketball coaches in the WPIAL could gain a little more freedom next season.

The PIAA Board of Control will meet Thursday in Chambersburg to vote to eliminate the "seat-belt rule," which prohibits high school basketball coaches from standing up during action.

The PIAA basketball steering committee has recommended a provision for a "coaching box," an area in front of the bench in which a coach can stand and move during a game.

Pennsylvania coaches are not allowed to stand except to signal for a time-out or tend to an injured player. If they stand during play for any other reason, they are subject to a technical foul.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the PIAA Board of Control will be voting on the new state playoff brackets for football and basketball. The WPIAL has dropped from 10 to six state playoff teams in Class AAAA boys and girls basketball.

The National Federation of State High School Associations allows a coaching box. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that doesn't allow them.

"It's been very frustrating for me to have to adhere to it," said New Castle's John Sarandrea, who has coached in New York and at the University of Pittsburgh. "We play in front of 2,000-plus every night. It's loud. It's very, very difficult to coach your team.

"We like to believe that athletics is an extension of the classroom and a great opportunity to learn," he added. "What if a teacher never left his chair and sat there and didn't interact• We do our student athletes and basketball players in particular a disservice when the person who is coaching them -- teaching them -- has limited communication with them."

Despite virtually unanimous support from statewide basketball coaches in favor of a coaching box, the PIAA Board of Control is reluctant to provide for one. Two years ago, it voted down the steering committee's recommendation for a coaching box. The reasoning is to protect officials from overly animated or vocal coaches.

"I've always said I can yell just as loud as from my seat as I can from a coaching box," Sarandrea said

In most states that have a coaching box, the coach is banished to his seat if he receives a technical foul in the game.

Oakland Catholic coach Rich Irr also wants a coaching box. He was given a technical foul in the fourth quarter of an eventual state playoff loss to Mercyhurst Prep last year. He was trying to get the official's attention to call a timeout.

"I have more of a personal interest in it, because of the technical, but I would definitely be in favor of it," Irr said. "At the high school level, especially, it gives you the ability to be closer to the action. It helps you communicate easier with the players."

The rule is keeping away some out-of-state teams. Irr said a Pennsylvania official told him Regina, a Cleveland-area girls basketball power, has pulled out of a tournament for next season.

"They said they won't come back until Pennsylvania lifts the seat-beat rule," Irr said.

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