The Berkeley County School Board might want to invest in some new athletic equipment this year - you know, helmets, shoulder pads, ball bats.

Not for the kids, mind you, but for themselves.

Because if you think school politics are vicious, just try wading into the partisan world of high school sports.

Board members have not only done both, they've mixed them. In chemistry class, they call this a volatility problem.

See, the board has proposed a new policy that would ban volunteer parent coaches at the varsity and junior varsity levels. Hanahan High School has about a half-dozen parents who volunteer as coaches. Berkeley High has 13.

You see where this is headed.

Hundreds of folks have signed a petition against the ban, and a couple of dozen showed up to scream at the board last week. They say this will decimate sports programs, that the district doesn't have the money to hire coaches.

A few claim the whole thing is just retribution aimed at a couple of Hanahan city officials who refused to play ball and rezone some land the district wanted for a new elementary school.

Even though Berkeley County politics can be, well, emotional, the school board gave this proposal its initial approval last week.

School board members say they aren't backing down because they are right.

And they don't care about the politics.

It takes an on-campus village

School board Chairman Kent Murray likes things the way they used to be, back when all coaches also taught in the school.

They were an integral part of the culture, Murray says. These coaches got to know the students, mentor them, keep them in line.

After all, no one messes with the football coach.

Murray and Superintendent Rodney Thompson say this is a long time coming, that they've gotten complaints from some parents about volunteer coaches favoring their own kids.

What is this, Little League? In some cases, yes.

Thompson and Murray also say this has nothing to do with Hanahan. In fact, listen to school officials for a while, and it seems like they are more worried about Berkeley High. And they want to remove any appearance of favoritism.

Good luck selling that to some of these folks.

Frankly, though, a lot of people have questions about this. Some parents think the schools don't have enough staff to turn away willing volunteers. Even the principals are a little wary of this. It's hard enough to find a science teacher, now they are going to have to find one who can coach baseball too?

Maybe Ms. McGillicuddy has no interest in spending more time at school to coach the JV linemen.

Murray says the principals have a valid concern, and one that the superintendent and the board need to address. They should allow principals to fill more open slots, and hopefully pick up a few coaches in the process. This should not cost the district any money.

They say this is not the end of the world. It may take a year or two to implement and no sports program will be cut - even if it means allowing some parent volunteer coaches to keep their gig.

That point has been lost in the debate.

Board member Kathy Schwalbe says she most often hears "thank you" and "what took you so long?" when she talks to folks about this change. She has heard very little from opponents.

Yeah, well, it's only halftime. Give it a minute.

Game on?

There is nothing overly radical about this plan - Charleston County School District has had the same policy for some time. A lot of places do.

Reasonable people can disagree on how big a deal it is.

But that doesn't mean anything in Berkeley County. The board is messing with sports, and them's fighting words to an undetermined number of people.

Former board member and GOP activist Terry Hardesty says the board is showing its we-know-best attitude, its arrogance, and he's embarrassed to be associated with them.

Hardesty recently won a lawsuit against the board after he was not allowed to speak at a public meeting, and he's giving part of the settlement to the county Republican Party for the express purpose of electing more conservative school board members.

Murray says he's not worried, that this plan is "absolutely not unpopular."

The board may tweak the proposal between now and its final approval, and members say they are interested in community input. But they won't back down.

The second half is going to be good. The board is going to pass the ban on volunteer parent coaches - you can bet on it.

Then the ball will be in the opponents' court. And we'll see what kind of team they can field.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com