WARSAW – When opening the doors to Warsaw Community High School, a new athletic director might as well walk into the Tiger Den.
The famous gymnasium was home to a meet and greet Monday night for Matt Binkerd, who will become Warsaw’s new athletic director. Coaches and their families were invited to the event where Dr. David Hoffert, Superintendent for Warsaw Community Schools, informally introduced Binkerd to the group.
“Matt was not a traditional candidate,” stated Hoffert as the dinner crowd was settling in. “Usually when we look at candidates, we look at them regionally. It’s interesting how some of these doors open up. Matt has a lot of connections in Warsaw, his daughter goes to Grace College, his oldest son will go to Indiana Wesleyan. And as we talked to him more, we saw that fit and how that molds right into what we are looking for as athletic director that’s right for our system.”
The carry-in saw most of the athletic department and a large contingent of head and assistant coaches find time to get in a couple minutes with Binkerd, who admits he’s going to need some time to get all of the names straight.
“Immediately I’ve noticed that athletics are important here, and it shows with all the pieces being set up to succeed,” Binkerd said Monday evening. “The small-town community that Warsaw has, the people here seem very invested in their school and their teams.
“One thing that I plan to do, and have already, is just listen. I want to make sure that I understand and be respectful of the Warsaw community and its traditions. I met the booster club this morning, I met with Jeff Hamstra, my administrative assistant, and just listened and am building relationships and now meeting some of the coaching staffs. I want to get a feel of things first and kind of go from there and enhance what’s already a great foundation.”
Binkerd arrives in Warsaw via Eugene, Oregon. Matt and his wife, Nicole, have three children – Taylor, a junior soccer player at Grace College; Cade, an incoming freshman soccer player at Indiana Wesleyan University; and Aiden, who will be a sophomore at Warsaw.
Matt himself has a long and successful athletic background. A former football and track athlete at the University of Oregon, Binkerd continued on to coach in the two sports as well as work his way into athletic administration. Binkerd made a pair of stops at high schools around Eugene before landing at Sheldon High School in Eugene, just a couple miles north Autzen Stadium on Oregon’s campus. It was there that Binkerd oversaw one of the most successful athletic programs in the state.
Among some of the notables from Sheldon while Binkerd was athletic director were state championship appearances in football, track and field and softball, which the latter won the state title just a few weeks ago. The Fighting Irish had top-five volleyball and girls basketball programs, top-eight girls soccer and boys basketball were among annual state contenders. Justin Herbert, who is the starting quarterback at Oregon and a likely high first-round NFL draft pick, is a Sheldon High School graduate.
Binkerd added roles at Northwest Christian College as a track coach and also athletic director at New Hope Christian College before making the jump to the midwest. It was his stints in the college circuit where he made a connection with Grace College athletic director Chad Briscoe among others that led the Binkerds east.
“One of my goals coming in is how can we turn games into events,” offered Binkerd. “When I come to watch a football game, I want the halftime show to be just as entertaining. The cheerleaders and our student section interacting, how do we get our fans to come out and feel like they are a part of it. And it’s not just football, I want all of our programs to have that support and feel.”
Heading back to Oregon to shore up some final details this week, the Binkerds will officially pack the U-Hauls and plant in Warsaw full time in a couple weeks. But his impressions in the short amount of time in the Hoosier State were notable, particularly the facilities at Warsaw, including the Tiger Den and the adjoining Student Activities Center on top of the outdoor compliments.
“What I’m used to in Oregon, nothing matches what we have here,” Binkerd said. “The facilities are unparalleled to what we had at Sheldon and elsewhere. Again, it shows the value that athletics has here and the support the community puts into its athletes.”