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OCTOBER 6, 1997


WHS Football Suspension

  Now that Coach Terry Agnew and Woodinville High School have dropped plans for further appeal regarding his one game suspension for violation of early season practice rules for football, it might be a good time to review the particular rule that Coach Agnew violated, his reason for doing so, and perhaps consider a change. Obviously, since the rule exists, and while Coach Agnew is not the first, nor will he be the last, to violate it, he broke the rule and probably deserves some disciplinary action.
   I do not know Coach Agnew, although I had the pleasure of meeting him recently and talking to him for perhaps two minutes. I am no longer connected with athletics, Woodinville High School, or Northshore School District, although I live within the District and four of my grandchildren attend schools in the District.
   From 1958 through 1983, I was a member of the Snohomish County Officials Association and officiated football and basketball games for some 25 years. I seem to remember that sometime early in that time frame a youngster, while representing Oak Harbor High School, was severely injured in a wrestling match. Because that injury generated lawsuits against the Skagit-Whatcom County Officials Association, the Oak Harbor School District, Oak Harbor High School, the wrestling coach and other entities, changes were made in WIAA rules pertaining to the safety of student athletes. One of the changes was probably the forerunner of the rule that Coach Agnew violated in his first practice sessions.
   While I don't know Coach Agnew, I have spoken with parents of several of his players and also to some of his players and I know the respect and esteem they have for this man. Coach Agnew was proclaimed Coach of the Year for football for 1996 and this would indicate that WIAA also respects him. It would seem that WIAA, since mandating that all players will wear approved helmets at all times during practices for safety reasons, should have given some consideration to Coach Agnew in that he was probably trying to protect his players from early season injury by having them wear shoulder pads only. Further investigation would have revealed that several years ago, in an early season practice, one of his players suffered a broken collar bone and the parents of the youngster were upset that he allowed the kids to practice without protection. My years of officiating and following WIAA mandated safety regulations, all aimed at protecting youngsters as much as possible in what is properly defined as a collision sport, make me think that a one game suspension was too severe a punishment, especially for a coach with such an outstanding record and reputation. Officials and coaches have had disagreements in the past but one area where they have always co-operated and had a common interest is in player safety. Expecting exuberant youngsters to avoid contact within the first days of practice without the protection of pads merely because the coaches say no is not realistic, particularly when the players are returning after such a successful year.
   Perhaps in the continuing interest of student athlete safety while participating, the WIAA should take a different approach and try to insure that early pre-season injuries are kept to a minimum and not suspend a coach for attempting to further protect his players.
   Coach Agnew knew of the rule and should probably have been disciplined. My concern is that the punishment did not fit the crime, particularly in view of his previous record of success and the fact that what he did was in no way intended to gain an advantage. The WIAA should have realized what a one game suspension of their coach would do to emotionally charged youngsters and given more creative thought to disciplining the coach and not penalize the entire team because they did nothing wrong. Also, placing all the programs on a two year probation when the kids were in no way responsible is grossly unfair.
   Malcolm Joss