LAND O'LAKES — Casey Jones couldn't have been more proud that his 13-year-old granddaughter made the volleyball team at Centennial Middle School.
His support turned to dismay, though, when he learned that the school barred family members from watching team practices.
"I never heard of that before," Jones said. "That's something we always stood behind, parents being involved with their kids. They're trying to stop that."
The closed gym door policy irked him so much that he called the Pasco County School District to complain, and he found a receptive audience in assistant superintendent Ray Gadd.
"When the call came in, it struck me as unusual," Gadd said, noting the subject was intriguing but not often raised. "As an organization, we want to be parent-friendly and family-friendly."
At the same time, Gadd said, schools might have solid reasons for keeping parents out. So he brought the issue to the superintendent's staff meeting, where the group decided to take a closer look before issuing new rules.
They quickly found that the district had no common practice, procedure or rule for dealing with parents at sports practices — sometimes at the same school.
Centennial Middle, for instance, allowed an audience for soccer and football, but not volleyball or basketball. Mitchell High and neighboring Seven Springs Middle left the call up to each individual coach.
"Coaches have different feelings in regard to the way athletes react when their parents are there," Seven Springs principal Chris Dunning said.
Among the detriments, some parents attempt to coach from the sidelines, causing grief for the squads. On the positive side, parents sometimes help coaches when asked.
Space also matters, Dunning added, noting it's easier to create distance between onlookers and players outdoors than in a gymnasium.
Other schools have different views.
Both Weightman Middle School and Wesley Chapel High reported that they always let parents in. Most do not attend practices, Wesley Chapel High principal Carin Nettles wrote in an email to Gadd, "and we handle issues with parents possibly interfering on a case by case situation."
"We have only had that issue once and that was four years ago with football," she added.
Wesley Chapel football coach Tico Hernandez previously served as athletic director at John Long Middle School. He suggested that if coaches draw appropriate lines early, there shouldn't be many problems..
But by having parents present, the positives are clear, he said.
"Obviously, trying to build any program, you need all the stakeholders involved and happy," Hernandez said. "The connections between the team and the parents and teachers and community are key."
At the other end of the spectrum, Pasco Middle School and Crews Lake K-8 don't allow parents into practices (although they don't send off anyone who sits behind the fence to watch football workouts). They're too distracting, Crews Lake principal Tom Barker explained.
Two School Board members called for standard rules.
"They all ought to be doing the same thing," board member Joanne Hurley said. "As to what that is, I don't know."
Coaches already have regular preseason meetings to review rules with parents, vice chair Alison Crumbley said. They can detail at that time what will get you kicked out.
"I am okay with the idea of parents coming to practice as long as the expectations are made clear to them not to interfere … and as long as they abide by that," she said.
But board member Steve Luikart didn't like the one-size-fits-all approach.
Some coaches don't like to have outsiders see their strategies, he said. Some don't want to have their players performing for their parents. Others have no concerns with an audience.
"Each individual coach has to do what they think is best for their students," Luikart said. "I don't think the district needs to come out with some district-wide policy."
Gadd said the administration will consider all the disparate information and determine whether to recommend changes.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]