A new policy preventing El Dorado Springs students from playing two sports in the same season remains in place after a motion to return to dual sport participation resulted in a 3-3 tie vote.

Caught off guard by a change in policy regarding multiple-sport participation for the Bulldogs, parents, students and coaches confronted six members of the R-II school board and superintendent Mark Koca during an emergency meeting Thursday, Aug. 15, in the high school library.

At issue was a change in policy approved a week prior prohibiting student-athletes from participating in more than one sport during the same season. Although there are several situations where a student could play more than one sport in a season, the main focus here was on girls’ volleyball and softball, currently both fall sports at EHS.

There was no public input on the change at the Thursday, Aug. 8, meeting and the board voted 7-0 to enact the new policy, with Darrell Eason, Benny Brower, Mark Burley, Josh Floyd, Nathan Murry, Terry Shepard and Chad Whitesell all in approval.

Dual sport participation is permitted under the by-laws of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, although member schools are not obligated to offer dual sport participation. According to MSHSAA communications director Jason West, “A member school may elect to have a more restrictive policy than what the association’s by-law or board policy calls for.”

Koca opened the meeting by reading a statement of the situation from his perspective, and asked speakers to limit comments to about three minutes.

“A great deal of energy was expended in lobbying the new athletic director, building principals and board members over this issue,” Koca said. “Not a single individual bothered to pick up the phone and speak with the superintendent of schools. Not one. A single call would have clarified procedure, ensure due diligence and consideration was given to the issue, and that all sides would have been heard.

“The lack of respect for school officials and the decisions that have been made is blatantly obvious. Even after the decision was made by the board, some of the parents advised their student-athletes to go to practices in both sports, which was in blatant defiance of the board and administration. We don’t think that was a very good example to set for the students.”

Jarrod Mays, a parent and former Bulldog baseball and softball coach, spoke for the majority of attendees upset with the policy change. Among other things, he accused the board of gender discrimination.

“The real issue to me, we’ve had this [dual sport] policy in effect for I don’t know how many years, but the only people anybody can tell me has taken advantage of this policy has been a boy athlete,” Mays said. “It has benefited only boys. To this point in time, no one has come up with a name who has benefited from this on the girls’ side. So to me, this was only a problem, only an issue when three or four girls expressed their interest in playing both sports [volleyball and softball].

“I see that as a real problem. No matter how you rationalize your thought process on the matter, or the reasons you say you voted for the policy change, it has an appearance of outright discrimination against the female athlete.”

Not everyone shared Mays’s position, however.

Tonya Hooper, a math teacher and former volleyball coach, wondered how an athlete playing only one sport would be affected if a two-sport athlete took their spot in the lineup.

Other speakers raised the question of how students playing multiple sports differ from students who participate in non-athletic activities such as FFA, music and speech/debate.

Whitesell noted any change in policy brings about unintended consequences, adding, “It’s not just about girls’ sports or just about boys’ sports.”

Athletic director Jeremy Barger conceded there may have been miscommunication with parents opposed to the policy change, as it was unclear to patrons whether the board planned to discuss the issue in open or closed session of the previous meeting.

Barger also said he polled the Bulldog coaching staff on their stance on dual participation, with five coaches against, three in favor and two offering no opinion.

Board president Eason asked Barger “Can we make it work?” if El Dorado returned to dual sport participation.

“It will not be easy,” Barger replied, adding guidelines would need to be drawn and agreement from the coaches of the two sports affected would need to be reached.

After about 90 minutes of discussion and sometimes heated debate, Brower moved to reinstate the former policy allowing dual sport participation, on a one-year trial basis. Floyd seconded, but the vote was deadlocked at 3-3 with Shepard, the lone female board member, absent.

With the stalemate, the board will revisit the issue during its scheduled tax levy public forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, in the EHS library.

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