Scarborough’s school superintendent has ordered an investigation into a possible conflict of interest involving the high school’s varsity baseball coach, who also teaches at a private sports facility that his players are being urged to attend.
Superintendent George Entwistle III said Thursday that he asked the school’s principal and athletic director to look into an email that was sent to returning and prospective players, urging them to train this winter at the Edge Academy in Portland at a cost of $275 per player. Scarborough baseball coach Ryan Jones works there as a private coach, and the former Scarborough baseball coach is a part-owner.
School officials received an anonymous letter this week complaining about the arrangement. “Many parents in Scarborough are very concerned about the apparent conflict of interest that is blatantly being displayed between the Edge Academy in Portland and the Scarborough High School baseball program,” reads the letter, which was mailed to Entwistle, several school board members, the school principal, the state Department of Education and several journalists. The two-page letter is signed “Concerned Parents.”
The email sent to players and signed by Todd Welsh Sr., vice president of the team’s booster club, begins, “We are ready to take names for this winters (sic) Baseball Training program.” It says: “I have been working with varsity baseball coach Ryan Jones to layout (sic) a solid winter training program.” The email goes on to say, in red type, that “we hope that we can get a solid turnout from all eligible Scarborough High School baseball players for the 2014 season.”
The email does not say that the winter training is required for a player to be considered for the team, but indicates that it is a new program for the team.
“This year we will have a new small Indoor Dome at Jokers (recreation center) for one hour and then in the cages hitting for one half-hour at the Edge Academy,” the email reads. “After I have the list of players, I will work with the Edge Academy to accommodate as many as we can.”
No other winter training locations or options are mentioned in Welsh’s email. Welsh notes that “Ryan wants the Scarborough player to come out of the box in the spring conditioned, giving Scarborough a physical and mental edge.”
POLICY ON WHO INSTRUCTS PLAYERS
Training at centers like the Edge Academy has become a popular way for serious high school athletes to hone their skills year-round. The centers typically offer individual instruction and serve entire teams. For example, the Edge Academy expects to have eight high school baseball and softball teams working out there this winter.
Critics say that such centers could eliminate athletes whose families can’t afford to pay for the training, and that some coaches may base roster spots and playing time on who attends the offseason workouts.
Coach Jones did not return a call for comment Thursday. But Nick Caiazzo, who directs baseball operations at the Edge Academy, said Jones has no involvement in the instruction of Scarborough players. He said the school has been sending 15 to 18 players to his facility each winter for the past eight or nine years, and he is working directly with Welsh to develop the training regimen.
Jones has been head baseball coach at Scarborough for two years and has worked at the Edge Academy for four.
“Ryan Jones has absolutely nothing, from my standpoint, to do with this program,” said Caiazzo, one of seven co-owners of the Edge Academy. “We have lots of coaches working here. It’s something that we have to be very, very cognitive of, that they can’t be involved in the instruction of their own players.”
Two Scarborough parents who signed up their son for the training at the Edge Academy admitted to having mixed feelings. They asked that their names not be used, for fear of a backlash against them or their son.
“We’re thinking at least (Jones) will see him, so maybe that will give him some advantage,” the father said. “We’ve seen that in the past, where the coach sees somebody, and then he’s more likely to pick him for his team.”
The player’s mother said she wishes that Jones could work with her son directly at the academy, but is sensitive to the concerns raised in the letter from parents.
“If you didn’t have a lot of money in this town and your kid wants to be on the team? Good luck,” she said. “I just want my kid to be on the team, and I want him to start.”
RESTRICTIONS IN OTHER STATES
There are no conflict-of-interest rules at the state level for such a situation, said Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association. He said the association has been contacted by school officials in Scarborough and is “aware of the concern.”
“They are presently conducting an investigation regarding the concern. Accordingly, we will not comment at this time and will give the school the opportunity to address the concern,” Durost wrote in an email.
Welsh, the booster club official, did not return email and phone messages, nor did Mike Coutts, an owner of the Edge Academy and the previous baseball coach at Scarborough High.
Rules for coaches who work in private centers where students train vary from state to state.
In Kansas, for instance, public school coaches are not allowed to attend camps or clinics with their own athletes. In Massachusetts, coaches who offer out-of-season instruction cannot have more than 50 percent of the players come from their in-school teams.
Minnesota’s rules say that a coach may not influence or direct a student who plays on his or her high school team to participate in off-season camps, clinics or leagues as a condition for team membership.
In New Hampshire, coaches in baseball, football, soccer, softball and volleyball cannot instruct students in grades 7-12 in their school attendance zones outside of school.
Entwistle, Scarborough’s superintendent, said he did not know there was a potential issue regarding student participation in private clinics until he received the letter. He said many student-athletes use indoor facilities, particularly in the off-season.
“There are those private ventures out there and they do charge money and market their services. We’re not telling kids to do that,” Entwistle said. “But there are many parents and many athletes that stay conditioned all through the year for (a) sport.”
Entwistle said he passed the letter along to the school’s athletic director, who had not received it, and the principal. “They will take any appropriate action if any is warranted,” Entwistle said.
Principal David Creech was out of town and not available on Thursday, and Athletic Director Mike LeGage did not return calls for comment.
OFFSEASON WORKOUTS ENCOURAGED
Off-season workouts are a tricky area for coaches, especially those who also work part time as instructors in their sports. Several coaches at other high schools in Greater Portland are listed on the Edge Academy’s website as staff members.
Mike Owens, baseball coach at South Portland High School, offers lessons at the Maine Hits facility in Scarborough and must avoid contact with any of his players who come in for training in the winter.
He said Maine’s rules about off-season coaching are more stringent than those in Colorado, where he worked previously.
“You encourage the kids to just make sure they stay active, take that chance to get stronger. If I could set up a program, I would,” Owens said. “You want your kids to do their best and get in there and work out. … Knowing Ryan, I know there was no malicious intent. He just wants his kids to get better.”
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: