By Mike Deak
WARSAW – About a month ago I received an alert on my Twitter app. Normally, that little red 1 signifies an alert I get from one of seven scholastic athletic department accounts, all of which serve as the core schools I cover with InkFreeNews. That held true, and typically it is the red bow on top of another game that has been canceled, rescheduled, or some kind of IHSAA-driven propaganda to wear a mask at their events.
As I habitually do with these alerts, I read and quickly erase, if only because I hate having alerts unattended on my phone. I’m that person. And just a week after Election Day, the Warsaw Athletics Twitter asked me and all their followers to read something that started with the word ‘bipartisan’.
Normally I will get about six words into any typed rhetoric that uses political wording. That week, I was averaging about four words about anything Biden and two words for Trump. But the eight-word headline “Bipartisan Bill Would Create Interscholastic Athletic Administrators’ Day” caught my attention, and already I was four words farther than anything I read about President-elect Biden.
The bill was put into motion to recognize the achievements of some of the least thanked people in athletics. At first, I thought, dude, there is a day for everything. Kind of surprised this doesn’t already exist. Already on the December 15 “National List” include such festive occasions as “Cupcake Day”, “National Wear Your Pearls Day”, “Bill of Rights Day” and “Cat Herder’s Day”.
It might be apropos to shed some light on a potential day of celebration for the athletic administrations around the country, joining Buddy Valastro and Crazy Cat Lady at the table.
A former work colleague asked me earlier this year as the pandemic was slicing and dicing the fall sports schedule, “So, you wanna be a high school AD?” One thing that immediately comes to mind about athletic administration is that’s a job that often puts those in charge in no win situations.
This year has been brutal for athletic directors. For every game that has been altered or canceled by contact tracing or direct COVID in a program, wheels have to go into motion. Officials have to be notified, work staff, the opposing teams, and if that team is a conference team, then you have to line up another day to play. The media is also part of the play, as we are part of the dissemination of information, and usually we ask ‘When’s the next game?’
And what do all of these elements have in common? Every one of these groups have to be notified. Every. Single. Time. And no one is happy about any of it.
We haven’t even talked about the hours they work. Most get to school at 7 a.m. or so, and lock the doors behind them after 10 p.m. or whenever the last event ends. Larger schools like Warsaw or Penn or Carmel, they have multiple layers of help, a Roman Smith to assist a Matt Binkerd and a handful of administrative staff to take some of the phone calls and get checks to officials or shepherd athletes in the right direction. Some of the smaller schools, like Triton and Lakeland Christian, it’s not uncommon to see Mason McIntyre sweeping the Trojan Trench gym floor between basketball games or Tim Yocum washing basketball uniforms long after most of the players have headed home.
What we have been blessed with in the area are some very hard working athletic directors, who don’t want to be the focus of a school’s success. They don’t want to overshadow kids doing great things. They are hard-working, service-minded people dedicated to their craft.
A couple of our area ADs were thrust into incredibly difficult situations this school year. The pandemic was and is a burden unto its own, but imagine being Aaron Butcher at Valley taking the job the third week of August and having to learn an entirely new setup just days after being a college basketball coach in Oklahoma, while Valley had already started its fall programs. Brent Doty at Wawasee became interim AD in September, having to adjust literally on the fly as he went from part-time assistant and classroom teacher to full-time decision maker.
ADs are real people, as well, as we all saw how COVID hit the West Noble community and its beloved AD, Tom Schermerhorn, as he battled and overcame the virus in April, then eventually got back to work running the Charger brand. Fairfield’s Mark Hofer also was hospitalized with COVID, but since has come back to work. Norm Sellers was quarantined in November, right as basketball was to have started, trying to keep the NorthWood ship afloat remotely. Dave Preheim at Concord, Larry Kissinger at Goshen and Dave Harms at Northridge have been under massive pressure this fall trying to maintain their departments while the struggles of life around their communities continue to pound their programs.
It’s a wonder how guys like Chad Briscoe and Josh Neuhart at Grace College have maintained their uber-friendly dispositions with all of the struggles the Crossroads League has had this fall in keeping its programs active. And how Kelly Sharp hasn’t run out of mini Snickers yet.
So while Tuesday’s Cat Herders will be busy chasing Morris and Fluffy around, and grandma’s pearls will adorn someone’s attire. Maybe We The People, if you have a minute, take a cupcake to an AD and say, ‘thanks’. It might be the first time they’ve heard that in a long, long time.