‘Club’ sports still OK, unified district says

A policy that affects middle school sports in some schools has had coaches worried, but the Shelby County School district said it believes all current “club” sports will be able to use the district’s facilities. BE logo square

“While the specific circumstances may vary from school to school and program to program across the district, in no case do we expect any existing ‘club’ sport to be denied access to an SCS facility this year,” said Shawn Pachucki, the internal communications manager for the newly merged district.

The issue came to light a couple of weeks ago on a Facebook page that primarily gives information to parents and teachers and allows them a place to voice concerns. The concern began with Collierville Middle School where new principal Chip Blanchard allegedly informed the middle school’s volleyball team that it would have to comply with a district policy that had not rigidly been enforced before.

That policy, according to Pachucki, requires all nonprofit groups to have proof of insurance and provide a waiver of liability in order to use a district facility. Also, the club sports must comply with the district’s policy for facility use.

“Fees may apply whenever staff is required to be present beyond the normal contracted work day, such as weekends, or there is use of district utilities (lights/electric),” said Pachucki in an email. “Fees are not based on the sport; they are based on staff and/or utilities needed to conduct an activity on site.”

The policy is not new for Shelby County schools. Pachucki said it is unchanged for all schools in both the former Shelby County and Memphis City schools.

However, according to school board member David Reaves, that policy was not always strictly enforced.

“It was the principal’s job to enforce the policy,” said Reaves. “There were lots of workarounds for that.”

Reaves said that the policy became an issue in some schools when principals were moved to different appointments as a result of the merger between the two districts. In those cases -- such as with Blanchard, who was an assistant principal at Bartlett High School last year -- the principals followed the policy “to the letter” rather than using a previous agreement with a workaround.

Blanchard declined comment, referring all questions to Pachucki and the district’s communications office. Herchel Burton, the district’s director of student services, also referred in an email all questions to Pachucki.

In an email sent Aug. 3, Collierville Middle School volleyball coach Eric Bouchoc said his group was able to acquire the insurance policy at $74 per season. However, the facility rental was the biggest remaining obstacle.

“The insurance and an application form for liability issues are required to be sent into the new unified school district for approval before we can even step onto the floor,” said Bouchoc. “The reason that this has become a problem is due to the fact that this process, as we are being told, takes 30 days ... 30 days kills our season.

“As a result, we are being forced to look for an alternative location until we are officially approved,” said Bouchoc. “The trouble is that we have exhausted all possibilities and are dead in the water right now.”

Bouchoc did not return a call seeking further comment. Both Reaves and Pachucki said they were not aware of any ongoing issues with club sports. Reaves said that if there were ongoing issues, he would have made sure the district would have done what is necessary to prevent a delay in the schedule.

The problem is not universal. The issue primarily exists in former Shelby County schools, where middles school sports are not sanctioned by the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association, and therefore are not affiliated with the district itself. Organizations that provide athletics for middle school students in those schools must prove they are nonprofits in order to get permission from the district to hold their activities on district property.

Unfortunately, according to several coaches and parents who did not want to have their names used in print, the bigger issue is that most of them were not aware of the problem until schedules were made and school was about to begin. Most had been unaware that they were under one of the “workarounds” that a previous principal had established.

And Reaves also said he believes the policy is flawed.

“I didn’t like the way this was set up,” said Reaves, who said it was too rigid for the athletic organizations under the policy that addresses all nonprofit groups, not just sports. “I fully expect this will come up (before the school board).”

 Graham Sweeney and Elizabeth Luster contributed to this story.