Arkansas can't pay teachers, but football coaches are kings.

Poached Coach 

Arkansas can't pay teachers, but football coaches are kings.

Greg Jones, the only head football coach Park Hill South High School has ever known, is gone. Jones quit his job at the four-year-old school halfway through the school year and headed south to Van Buren High School in western Arkansas. Jones has aspirations of becoming a college football coach someday, and he succumbed to the temptations of the Razorback state, where it is not only legal to practice high-school football 365 days a year but downright expected. Which is all the more reason to celebrate Jones' departure from one of Kansas City's brightest school districts.

Jones is everything I don't want in a high-school coach. In an interview with Metro Sports, which broke the story of his departure, Jones stressed that he would not have to teach in his new position. His only job at the Arkansas school will be to coach football.

John Sedler, Jones' former athletic director at Park Hill South, says that's no reflection on Jones' commitment to teaching. "Greg was one of our best teachers in the building," Sedler says. "Greg was a leader in our P.E. department. It's a great loss for students that he won't be teaching anymore."

Yet Jones' priorities scare the hell out me, as a parent.

"It's football mania down there," Jones told Metro Sports. "They eat, sleep and breathe it. As a football coach, you know, it's kind of what you're looking for."

Sedler says he knows of no area high schools that hire football coaches who are not also required to teach. "No, we don't have anybody sitting around here on their butt drawing up plays all day long," Sedler says, laughing.

Just how out of whack is western Arkansas about high-school football? Van Buren High, the school for which Jones is now the nonteaching head football coach, has an indoor practice facility furnished with the same kind of prescription turf that the University of Kansas recently installed at its Memorial Stadium. Van Buren's football stadium seats 7,000, and its press box is a three-story building with an elevator. "They got two suites in it that are air conditioned," Jones said.

The National Education Association ranks Arkansas' public-school teachers' salaries 41st in the United States. An Arkansas public-school teacher's salary is nearly $8,500 less than the national average, making it much harder to attract high-quality teachers to the state. But when it comes to luring football coaches, Arkansas spares little expense and will travel hundreds of miles to recruit the man they want. "Greg is probably the lowest-paid coach in his conference, and I can tell you he is making a lot of money," Sedler says.

The NEA reports that Arkansas' school buildings need major improvements.Twenty-five percent of schools in the state have a building that needs extensive repair or should be replaced. Twenty-two percent have crumbling roofs. Twenty-two percent have bad plumbing, and 62 percent have an "unsatisfactory environmental condition." Twenty percent of Arkansas' schools lack power outlets and wiring to accommodate computers and multimedia equipment in classrooms. But Jones' boys will have that fancy new green rug to roll around on this February.

Athletics can teach children so many positive things, but it is a shame when schools such as Van Buren High twist and choke the good from something as simple as high-school football.

Last Tuesday's Kansas City Star contained 23 announcements for youth baseball tryouts or camps. The phrases "competitive players," "tournament team," "must be willing to travel" and "need skilled players" appeared repeatedly. Not once was the word "fun" or any derivative of it mentioned. The ads were for kids between the ages of three and eighteen. It's January.

Maybe Arkansas isn't really all that far from Kansas City.

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