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NAPLES, Italy — Calling all coaches — or just about anyone else with free time and a willingness to work with kids.

Some U.S. bases in Europe have the kids, the equipment and the fields to run a successful sports program. What they need, some more desperately than others, are volunteer coaches.

When Jerry Troiano, youth sports coordinator for Morale, Welfare and Recreation in Naples, was asked if there was a youth league coaching shortage, all he could do was laugh. For all the sports offered and all the young people who’ve signed up, Troiano said he would need 60 to 80 adults “in order to run a quality program.”

He has nine.

Spare time is a hot commodity, he said, especially when coaching means donating time at least twice during the work week from 3:30 to 5 p.m. when the Naples-based kids have their practice time but many adults are at work.

“For the active-duty people, it’s tougher for them to get off work,” Troiano said, comparing their work schedules now to a time before the nation was at war. Another reason is the high turnover of families moving in and out of the area. Summer is the busiest transfer time in the Navy.

American Forces Network ran a spot recently in Darmstadt, Germany, calling for coaches.

But the dire straits aren’t systemic in Europe.

Aviano Air Base in northern Italy is faring well in its collection of volunteer coaches, as is RAF Lakenheath, England.

Matt Driver, in charge of all youth programs at Lakenheath, said he has enough volunteers to fill every coaching slot. “I’ve yet to have a team or season negatively impacted by lack of a coach.”

He has 45 coaches now in the flag football league and had at least two coaches for each of the 35 teams in the baseball league. Overall, he needs 300 coaches annually to support the various leagues.

There are times, he admitted, when last-minute messages are sent out, but the call always has been answered.

“We do create incentives for coaches,” he said. For example, 90 percent of the coaches are parents of someone on the team they coach, and so the fee to play is waived.

Ramstein Air Base and Sembach Annex in Germany aren’t facing shortages either.

Dorothy Choate, the youth community manager for the 435th Air Base Wing at Ramstein, said one of the reasons they haven’t had any problems filling the 110 coaching positions for flag football and soccer this fall is because personnel aren’t sent on as many deployments or temporary duty assignments as Army members.

The shortage is not a new problem at Naval Support Activity Naples, but is getting worse, said Troiano, the youth sports coordinator since 1987. Thus far, no team has ever been placed on “standby,” or not allowed to practice or play, for lack of a coach.

Sometimes the players’ moms leave the minivans in the parking lots and start answering to “hey, coach.” Sometimes, volunteers coach more than one team, he said.

“Somehow, we always work something out. Sometimes, we’re forced to start calling parents … and always end up getting coaches, even those who might not know anything about the sport.”

Staff writers Ron Jensen, Kent Harris and Scott Schonauer contributed to this report.


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