Green Hope coach Mike Miragliuolo's book tells 'real' story of high school coaching

tstevens@newsobserver.comApril 18, 2014 

  • Want a copy?

    The “Real Story of a High School coach,” published by Outskirts press, can be purchased at Amazon.com or at Barnes and Noble.com.

Mike Miragliuolo, the Green Hope High baseball and cross country coach, has written a book about high school coaching in North Carolina because he doesn’t think people know what high school coaches do and what they try to achieve.

“The Real Story of a High School Coach” isn’t intended to be a whining diatribe, Miragliuolo says, although he airs his concerns about the future of high school athletics.

“I think people believe that we work hard, but I don’t think most people have any idea how much time coaches put in or why most high school coaches coach,” he said. “Keeping good coaches needs to be a priority.”

Miragliuolo, 39, is a good coach. His girls’ cross country teams have won five N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships and his boys have won another. His Bangor (Maine) John Bapst baseball team won the Maine title in 2001 and his Green Hope baseball teams have won five conference championships in his 13 seasons.

Miragliuolo has coached for 20 years in Maine and North Carolina and has coached basketball, baseball, cross country and soccer.

Here are excerpts from his book:

Coaching is in my blood. I can’t help it. It is like a drug to which I am addicted. It is not a “normal” activity and those of us who do it year after year are different. In no way do I mean “better,” just different. In some ways we may be the dumb ones. As I said at the start of my first book, “An American Boy,” I am not a writer. I do not have a huge vocabulary, but will try to present to you the life of a high school coach and maybe a little insight into why we do this.

...Coaches say they don’t do it for the pay and how could they? If I had spent the last twenty years or so working at McDonald’s for a few hours each day when I finished teaching I would be more financially secure, have a more predictable schedule, and not have to constantly play the role of professional psychologist for my athletes.

If I had spent the last twenty years or so being a cashier at Barnes and Noble I would have had more of a social life, interacted with adults at some point each day, and, again, made far more money without the issues to “take home” each day. If I built brick walls after school or on weekends, I would be in better shape, be able to see with my own eyes the result of my work, and, again, I’d have more money in my pocket....

For years, I was convinced I was right. The only reason I did anything for anyone else was simply because it was the right thing to do and there was no selfish motivation behind the act. Since I began coaching, however, my thoughts on this subject have changed a bit...

While I so badly want to convince myself that I do this for them, in many ways I do this for the feeling they give me. That is the transition that has taken place in my thinking over the years. ...

What leads one to make the decision to become a high school coach? Why would anyone want to spend their years working long hours for low pay and little recognition? Why would anyone want to spend his evenings pulling his hair out and fretting over the decisions that 15-18-year-olds make on the field, on the court, or even outside the realm of athletics? Why would anyone want to enter a “profession” in which every parent feels his or her kid is the most-talented athlete alive and questions every move the coach makes? I wish I knew the answers, but after roughly two decades of coaching all I can do is explain how I got there and what that experience has been like. To say the least the journey has been at times educational, at times exhilarating, at times frustrating, and at times simply an emotional whirlwind.

Coaching in North Carolina

The pay in North Carolina for coaches is abysmal... In the late 90’s, for example, the coaching supplement was more than $4,000 each for the three varsity sports I coached in Maine. Furthermore, John Bapst paid less than some of the public schools in the area. As the head cross country coach for more than a dozen years and with more than 200 runners on the team, I get roughly $1,500 before taxes. Only a football coach in Wake County will ever see $4,000 for his supplement and that is only after more than twenty-five years of coaching.

The pay scale is unfair in the way it is constructed in the county as well. Baseball coaches are paid less than basketball or cheerleading coaches, even though the baseball coach is the only coach in North Carolina who is responsible for extensive field work twelve months of the year. This involves mowing, fertilizing, weed-eating, spraying for weeds, marking the field, and doing any number of other small tasks around the field.

People in North Carolina are surprised when I tell them that in most of the country the baseball coach does not have to mow the field, let alone put down chalk and paint for games. The majority of the nation’s high school coaches have other people who are responsible for field work and can simply call up bus companies to drive the team to away games. It is simply the system here in North Carolina and those who are willing to give their time to help young student-athletes are essentially taken advantage of in order to keep the tax rate low.

Now I am not trying to “whine” about low pay, as there is no question that to survive as a high school coach one cannot be in it for the money. I simply think it is important to point out the differences in the way some places treat high school coaches. ... My teaching pay is exactly the same as it was six years ago. Add in inflation and my pay has gone down each year.

While the pay is less than most places in the country and there are more responsibilities, including field work and driving the buses, the seasons are also longer than many places and coaches are expected to conduct almost year-round workouts for no extra pay. For example, baseball season in Maine begins right after the state championship basketball games and consists of 16 games. I was paid somewhere in the middle of area coaches in 2001 and earned around $4,000 for a season that started in March and ended in late May. Coaches were not allowed to work with their players at all during the school year outside of the sports season. Coaches did not have to ever drive the bus or do any field work.

In North Carolina, by comparison, I earn about $2,500 for coaching baseball after more than eighteen years for a season that starts the second week of February, ends in Mid-May, requires all that field work, requires driving the bus for no extra pay, and for running eight man off season workouts five days a week for nearly the whole school year outside of the spring season. Whenever I have complained about the low pay in North Carolina to anyone who has lived here for a significant amount of time, all they say is that it is so much better than it used to be and that I should essentially be happy. The logic that it used to be even worse does not make the situation now an acceptable one, however. Again, it makes one wonder why so many coaches willingly put themselves through this.

Specialization

Maine is one of the areas of the country where it is still normal for all of the best athletes in high school to play multiple sports. Most of the best baseball players play basketball and football or soccer as well so they may not pick up a baseball in the months between August and February. In comparison, in North Carolina many of the players hardly put a baseball down. This specialization by all accounts has led to far more arm injuries, though. Muscles do not get the development of being used in many different ways and then there is the obvious overuse issue.

Well-renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews has been speaking out about overuse injuries for years, as he believes the huge increase in elbow and shoulder injuries in youth baseball is partly due to specialization. I have tried to encourage my players to play other sports and get away from this specializing, but to little avail. There are far too many people in their ear telling them otherwise. ...

Without question, all players entering the program feel they will one day play baseball in college. Again, the majority will not. ... Even the best players, though, typically do not get a significant chunk of money to play in college, as there is often just not enough money to go around for recruited players. So if the statistics prove that 1 in 20 seniors will play at an NCAA school and a much smaller percentage will ever get any money at all for college, why do so many parents believe that their kid will be the one? It does defy reality, but I have no answer for this.

In this pursuit, many families will dole out $1,000’s each year paying for private instruction, baseball camps, showcase events, and recruiting services. Many families over the years continue to pay for these services a year or two after their son does not even make the high school junior varsity team. I often wonder what happened to just playing for the love of the game and enjoying the innocence of youth...

Picking the team

It often seems as though it is the parents of players who are not even close to being good enough to make the team who complain the most. In some ways it almost appears they are delusional. No coach enjoys making cuts, but it has to be done in a sport such as baseball. As a coach, I have always been bothered to cut the great kid who works his tail off trying to get better. The decision as to whom to give the last spot on the varsity and JV team is always a tough one. Sometimes I end up regretting keeping one or two extra players who I hope will be good role players, as players and parents today are seldom willing to take that role.

The one thing that it seems parents and players often do not understand is that coaches want to put the best possible team together. I have yet to meet a coach who thought it would be wise to choose the less-talented players for his team. In the twelve years I have been at Green Hope, one of the other city schools has had ten coaches, including four in one calendar year, as parents have driven out coach after coach for not winning. The coaches are in high school sports for the love of the game and to help young people, but it does have a certain business-like aspect to it. If you are not successful, you will not survive.

In the last ten years even our school, which prides itself in being one of the top public high schools in the southeast in terms of academics, has pressured three or four coaches into stepping down for not winning. So in light of this truth, why would a coach not do all he could to put together the best rosters possible to win games? Parents often seem unwilling to realize that no one wants to win games more than the coach fielding the team.

Cross country

The second major decision I made getting things started that first year (at Green Hope) was to really “play up” the social aspect of cross country. While we would work hard, I wanted this to be a fun experience for the members on the team. We instituted pasta parties at runners’ houses the night before meets, started playing a yearly game of paintball, mixed in games of ultimate Frisbee, and started doing other team-building activities. Many teams do such activities, but it always seemed to take on a special air with the Green Hope team. Every time we got together it seemed more than just another activity, practice, pasta party, or whatever. It seemed like family was getting together and almost everyone looked forward to our training sessions each day.

It is really hard to describe, but a special pride developed around those on the team. Again, I think this happens with most teams, but it seemed to be something different. It was almost as if by the end of that first year, runners on the team could not understand why everyone would not want to be on the team.

My philosophy has been simple. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to be a part of the team. We have had runners of every ability level and all shapes and sizes. We have had numerous runners with diabetes, a runner with a brain tumor who received chemotherapy on weekends during the season, a runner with cerebral palsy, and many others with their own medical issues. We have had several exchange students, devout Muslims who must wear total body covering, and runners of many nationalities. Our program reflects the diversity of America in many ways. ...

There are so many life lessons that can be learned by simply “surviving” a season on the team. Many of our athletes would not be called athletes per se by most observers, but we hope they learn lessons that they can carry with them forever, such as responsibility to others, dedication, unity of purpose, hard work, being part of a team, the ability to overcome obstacles, and testing new limits to what they thought possible previously. We also hope they will learn social skills, make new friends, become leaders, and form bonds that will last a lifetime.

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