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Athletic directors face ongoing issues, challenges

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Columbus North Athletic Director Jeff Hester, accepting a first-place trophy after the Bull Dogs won a tournament in Richmond during Christmas break, said he hires the best coaches available %u2014 whether they teach or not.
Columbus North Athletic Director Jeff Hester, accepting a first-place trophy after the Bull Dogs won a tournament in Richmond during Christmas break, said he hires the best coaches available %u2014 whether they teach or not. PHOTO BY TOMMY WALKER

Money might make the high school sports world go round, but area athletic directors have other issues that, at least in some cases, are more pressing.

At Columbus North High School, Athletic Director Jeff Hester has a big headache in terms of filling the scheduling void left by the defection of Lawrence North and Pike from Conference Indiana. Those two teams are scheduled to leave after the next school year.

“We need to patch the holes,” Hester said. “Scheduling could be a concern, specifically in football. Football is a challenging sport to schedule as it is. Most schools don’t have a lot of holes to fill in their own schedules.”

It would make everything easier if Conference Indiana could find two replacements, but that hasn’t happened to this point.

Causes for concern

Top issues for area athletic directors:

North: Dealing with the stability of Conference Indiana

East: Defining the amount of time an athlete spends with a high school coach during the summer

Columbus Christian: Keeping financially healthy while adding programs

Brown County: Hiring new people who want to both teach and coach

Hauser: Renovating the tennis courts and the track

“We’ve asked around, and no one has been interested (in joining Conference Indiana),” Hester said.   

“We don’t want to be in a position where we have to schedule a team from out of state for football. That’s definitely on our front burner.”

At Columbus East, Athletic Director Bob Gaddis is concerned about Indiana High School Athletic Association rules, or lack thereof.

“In the summer, there are essentially no rules,” Gaddis said, referring to regulating the amount of time high school coaches can meet with their athletes.

“We have to keep it in perspective as coaches in terms of how much time the students spend in our programs. That’s not easy. We don’t want to be in a position where we aren’t working as hard as the teams we are trying to beat.”

Gaddis said coaches must use good judgment in allowing students to “just be kids” during the summer. Without guidelines by the IHSAA, Gaddis is concerned that student-athletes won’t get a break. He plans on sharing his concerns with coaching associations.

At Brown County, Athletic Director Brian Garman said keeping the high school stocked with quality coaches is a concern.

“There are fewer young people who have a passion for coaching,” he said. “They just don’t want to make teaching and coaching their life. You’re not going to get rich doing it.”

Garman said that since Brown County is a small school, teacher turnover is much less. Therefore, if a coach leaves the program but remains a teacher, it is hard to replace that coaching position with another staff member. He said he has had trouble keeping stability in some of his programs, such as volleyball, if he has to hire a lay coach, someone who does not work as a teacher or administrator in the school district.

That hasn’t been the case, though, for Hauser Athletic Director Dave Irvine.

“Mostly, we have good coaches and we have fewer teams, so we don’t have to hire as many coaches,” Irvine said. “All our boys coaches are lay coaches except varsity basketball (Bob Nobbe). But they are all Hauser graduates. They know the system and the expectations. It fits for us.”

Gaddis said East is fortunate to have mostly teachers as coaches.

“You want to have somebody in the building. The only connection our students might have all four years in high school might be a coach,” he said.

Hester said he hires the best coaches available whether they are teachers or not. “I owe it to the students,” he said.

He said he also owes it to the students to have nice facilities. For example, North is trying to get its new baseball complex at Southside Elementary School ready for the spring opener.

Gaddis has been watching the progress of that project. If North moves to that new complex, it frees up a baseball field behind East’s football field (currently being used by North) for the Olympians.

“We have a great facility, but we only have one field right now,” Gaddis said. “If North moves on time, we hope to get the field that is behind our football field. It’s a parks and rec field. Right now we are playing home and away (varsity and junior varsity) in baseball.”

Having more than one field would allow both the varsity and junior varsity teams to play the same schedule. That would cut each school’s transportation costs because one bus could be used for both teams.

It is not unusual that East will be playing on a Parks and Rec field. The East softball fields are owned by Parks and Rec, as is the soccer complex used by both East and North.

“They do a great job,” Gaddis said of the Parks and Rec department. “The grass and playing surfaces are incredible.”

Facilities are more of a concern for Columbus Christian Athletic Director Kevin Roth.

“One thing we are trying to get budgeted is to put a wooden floor in this facility,” he said of the school’s gym, which came with a tile floor when it was constructed in 1999. “It’s going to be a slow-go because we have to raise about $70,000. But it would just be better for the program and for the kids to play on.”

That kind of desire brings back monetary concerns. Roth admitted that was his No. 1 concern heading into this year.

“It’s the money,” he said. “We don’t have any.”

Roth said his athletic department funds are generated through admissions and concessions, plus some fundraising during the summer. The Crusaders have a small group work at Lucas Oil Stadium at a retail shop and one at (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), earning a percentage of what they sell.

“It’s been enough in years past,” Roth said. “But since the school is growing, we’ve added girls basketball; and now we’re going to have a baseball team starting at the junior varsity level this spring. That’s got me concerned. As an AD and a parent who had students here, I know our parents are paying tuition, and I don’t want to burden them with more expenses.”

Finances might not be Hester’s No. 1 concern, but sustaining economic health is a challenge. Coming from his early days as a private-school athletic department administrator, Hester never leaves his mindset of being a fundraiser first.

“At the end of the day, finances are every athletic director’s biggest concern,” he said. “We have to come up with money through our ticket sales and through our boosters to pay our bills. We always have to find creative ways to secure funds.

“At the same time, we understand that people get hit on left and right. I use the term donor fatigue.”

Gaddis continually works toward keeping his budget in the black while operating 20 sports, and he said his program is solid financially, at least in the short run.

“I think athletics are a huge part of our students’ high school experience,” he said. “We’re in pretty good shape financially. Our (school) district provides stipends for all our coaches.”

Brown County’s Garman said the financial worry is ever present.

“It seems to me, and I’ve been at this a while, that funding is on the front burner for a lot of people,” he said. “How do you maintain your programs? We’re fortunate that our community has supported some very nice facilities. Our weight room is beautiful, and our gyms are large. Our wrestling room is amazing.”

All the concerns mentioned have been confounding athletic directors for years. And now there are even some new worries.

“That social media type stuff,” Hester said. “We try to stay on top of it. We have to help the students understand there is a responsibility.

“Even five years ago, it was something you didn’t think much about. In today’s culture, you can sit behind a computer and write whatever you want about our students and coaches. We want to make people aware, but I also know that I am not the kids’ parents, either.”

Whether it is money, facilities or rules, area athletic directors are trying to find ways to construct programs that will best serve their students.

“One of my main concerns is to make programs attractive to the students,” Gaddis said. “There are so many things out there for them. We want them to see there is a value in high school athletics.

“I hope our legislators see the importance of athletics.”

Gaddis said he isn’t pushing for any new legislation, he just hopes state legislators protect the current state of high school athletics.

“We believe that the connection with athletics for high school students is huge,” Gaddis said. “I guarantee you, that for some of our students, athletics is the reason they come to school.”

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