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Oct. 26, 2016 — Meddlesome administration, again?

Last night, Chantilly Westfield (Va.) defeated Fairfax W.T. Woodson (Va.) 3-1 in the first round of the Virginia High School League’s Class 6A North Tournament. It was a game which almost didn’t feature an important figure: Westfield head coach Starr Karl.

Over the weekend, a video of members of the school’s student body went viral on social media with a hashtag: #FreeStarrKarl. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time; I had originally thought it was part of one of those jailbreak fundraisers where people made phone calls in order to raise money for a cause.

The video had a much different backstory. Last week, Westfield played Herndon (Va.) in the Concorde Conference quarterfinals. These days, the Westfield-Herndon rivalry has become a heated one, highlighted by a thrilling regular-season game two years ago that was this site’s Game of the Year. In the most recent iteration of this intense rivalry, the Westfield bench received a green and a yellow card over the course of the match.

After the game, the Westfield administration decided, in its infinite wisdom, to suspend Karl, a VHSL championship-winner as both a player and a coach, for the rest of the 2016 season.

I’ve seen some pretty ham-fisted things done by school administrators and state governing bodies of sport, all in the name of maintaining discipline amongst players and coaches. There are states who will treat the ejection of a coach — whether it is the issuance of a red card in field hockey, lacrosse, or soccer, two technicals in basketball, or just being sent to the clubhouse in baseball — as a traffic violation, one which gets taken off your record by making the coach attend a training session of some kind.

Before we continue, let’s remind you that Karl administrative suspension was not for a red card ejection.

Now, for a bit of background. Fairfax County Public Schools (of which Westfield is a part) is one of the largest school districts in the United States by enrollment. It is also the largest district that sponsors field hockey as a varsity sport. As such, the schools are governed by some 764 regulations which are searchable on the district’s website.

I took a look at some of the regulations which apply to coaches within Fairfax County Public Schools. One sentence in Regulation No. 4111.3 is telling:

Principals, when possible, shall be directly involved in the selection of their key personnel, such as head coaches and band and choral directors.

This gives Fairfax County school principals — not the school board or individual athletic directors — unusual authority over coaches of interscholastic athletics. Indeed, the ejection form filed with the Virginia High School League says that the school principal, in conjunction with the league commissioner, is responsible for reinstatement of the person or persons ejected.

Now, we don’t know exactly how many coaches at Westfield have been sent off, tee’d up, or run to the showers over the last year in the course of play. But I guarantee you that there hasn’t been anyone handed an extrajudicial suspension for not actually being ejected from a game.

It smacks of the kind of small-minded meddling that has seen the ouster of successful field hockey coaches like Amanda Jacona at Lewes Cape Henlopen (Del.) and Mollie Reichard at Basking Ridge Ridge (N.J.).

So, with last night’s win after an administrative backtrack allowed Karl on the sideline, Westfield advances to a Friday quarterfinal. Should the Bulldogs win that match, there would be the semifinal “tipping point” match next week to qualify for the Class 6A state tournament.

The opponent for that game could very well be Herndon, who knocked off the top seed in its quarter of the bracket last night. Could make for interesting stuff.

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