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Faced with a severe shortage of high-school athletic coaches, New Jersey education officials are considering a proposal to relax the state's hiring procedures.

Carl I. Johnson, the manager of the state's certification program, said officials have not ascertained the extent of the problem but they know it is a recurring concern to local administrators. One district has 44 coaching vacancies, he noted.

Last week, the state board of education considered a proposal that would allow districts to recruit coaches from throughout the state. Under current regulations, districts must recruit in their area before expanding the search.

The changes would also allow districts to hire coaches who have only substitute teaching certification if they fail to find a qualified coach with full certification.

Increases in the average age of teaching staffs and in the number of after-school activities are responsible for the shortage, said Mr. Johnson.

Officials for the National Federation of State High School Associations said they did not have any statistics to indicate whether there is a shortage nationwide.

Scholastic coaches are confident about their ability to cope with the situations that often lead to malpractice suits, but they are uneasy about their ability to deal with litigation.

That is the tentative conclusion of a survey of high-school athletic directors and coaches in Arkansas and Texas conducted by James Boyd, the chairman of the education department at Tarlton State University in Stephenville, Tex.

Mr. Boyd said the survey's results, which will be included in a book about coaches and legal issues, also indicate that schools must pay greater attention to the hiring of trainers, the licensing of coaches, and measures to prevent accidents.

The coaches' confidence in their training and coaching practices may not be well founded, Mr. Boyd said. Many football coaches were satisfied with their training even though methods of tackling were not adequately covered, he said. "[Training] has to be more than running," he said.

Some 286 athletic directors and coaches responded to the survey. Most of the respondents were athletic directors, who surveyed their coaches' procedures and sent results to Mr. Boyd.

The West Virginia Board of Education will vote this week on a proposed rule that would strictly limit the way high-school players and coaches train during the off-season.

Under the rule--which was defeated last year--coaches would not be allowed to supervise summer sports programs in which a majority of their players took part. The coaches would also be prohibited from requiring their players to take part in off-season activities.

The rule, which has been approved by the Secondary School Activities Commission, states that "student specialization is not a goal" of interscholastic sports.--ce

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