Dennis Van Milligen
Dennis Van Milligen has worked in business media for 15 years, the majority of that time spent as the editor in chief of a chemical engineering magazine. Prior to joining Athletic Business in July 2013, Dennis worked as a content marketing specialist for leading b2b companies in the industrial space. A native of Wheaton, Ill., Dennis is a former All-State long distance runner who presently uses whatever speed he has left to leg out doubles in recreational softball leagues. Dennis is a graduate of Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., and resides in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and two young daughters who are repeatedly told how much Dennis is going to hate every one of their boyfriends.
  • Wednesday, January, 22, 2014
    Club Sports Pushing Athletes Away From High School

    Club sports were once revered nationwide by high schools for helping enhance the young athlete and preparing him or her for the more competitive high school environment. But various factors have played a role in transforming club sports from high school athletics supporter to slayer, forcing one high school athletic director to admit, "I think we might see a time when high school sports don't exist and club sports completely replace it."

  • Wednesday, January, 22, 2014
    Blog: Prioritizing The Student-Athlete a Must for ADs

    Since I have been a member of the AB team, I have had the fortunate opportunity to chronicle the challenges high school athletic administrators are facing in today's high-pressure, win-at-all-costs environment. We hear about all the steps that are being taken to protect the student-athlete from a physical standpoint, but what about from an emotional and psychological standpoint?

  • Tuesday, January, 14, 2014
    Tips for Maintaining and Replacing Weight Room Flooring

    When the University of Oregon formally unveiled its new $68 million football performance center, the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, last summer, it redefined athletic luxury on the collegiate level. Designed by Portland-based ZGF Architects LLP, amenities include a players lounge with Italian leather furniture, rugs hand-woven in Nepal and customized gaming systems; a space-age locker room that requires a biometric thumbprint to enter; and a 25,000-square-foot weight room fortified with Brazilian Ipe wood floors. Environmentally friendly, this type of flooring is mold-, fire-, weather- and pest-resistant, and its strength is comparable to that of steel.

  • Thursday, January, 02, 2014
    Unforgettable Experiences at Athletic Business Conference & Expo

    Circle of trust time AB readers: Between us, I really had no idea what to expect at the 2013 Athletic Business Conference & Expo, held last November in San Diego. Which is odd for me to admit, as I consider myself somewhat of a trade show warrior.

  • Friday, December, 20, 2013
    Fundraising Ideas for High School Athletic Directors

    The pressure to generate more revenue on the high school level has continued to increase, forcing many athletic directors to roll up their sleeves and get more involved in the fundraising process. "Everything you do, you're asking, 'How can I save money?' or 'How can I increase revenue?' " says Karl Heimbach, athletic director at Magruder High School in Rockville, Md., for the past 14 years. "Expenses are continuing to rise and the level of income you bring in is either going down or staying constant. Fundraising has become one of my top priorities."

  • Tuesday, December, 17, 2013
    No Pain, No Gain... And Other Life Lessons Learned in the Gym

    The success of a trade show is typically measured by the amount of traffic in the aisles during exhibit hours. But in the world of fitness, those rules don't apply. In fact, the ideal fitness exhibition hall has very little aisle traffic, as fitness equipment manufacturers want attendees on their machines rather than simply observing them. My formal introduction to this culture occurred recently when I attended my first fitness industry trade show. I was greeted by a wave of fitness equipment, nutritional supplements and Zumba.

  • Monday, October, 21, 2013
    Diving Into the World Aquatics Health Conference

    Debbie couldn't believe she was in the same position again. Four years ago, her daughter missed making the U.S. Olympic swim team. It had been agonizing then as her daughter, who was favored to make the team, struggled through her swim. Even her children, including her 11-year-old son, were in shock. After the race, it was discovered Debbie's daughter had swam through herniated discs and stress fractures in her back.

  • Sunday, October, 20, 2013
    High School Athletic Directors Hiring More Off-Campus Coaches

    The financial restraints placed on high schools in the U.S. have created a challenging environment for athletic directors in terms of hiring the right coaches. In Florida, budget cuts have reduced coaching stipends to the point that some of the state's top football coaches have fled north to the financially greener pastures of Georgia.

    After leading Seminole Ridge High School to two state quarterfinal appearances in the past three years, head coach Matt Dickmann left the program he had built to take over at Harrison High School in Cobb County, Ga. Dickmann's stipend is significantly higher than what he made at Seminole Ridge, and with other financial supplements, his football-related duties could net him $20,000 to $30,000 on top of his teacher's salary, according to The Palm Beach Post. "You hear of places where the booster club can supplement the income of the coaches, but we just can't do that here," says Seminole Ridge athletic director Scott Parks.

    A similar story played out at Palm Beach Gardens a few years earlier when head football coach Chris Davis took over the Cedar Shoals program in Clarke County, Ga. The reason behind the move was simple, according to Palm Beach Gardens athletic director Bill Weed. "I think money was the primary reason he left, but when you're jumping some place for the money, you better win," he says.

    Filling coaching voids on all levels has created a coaching crisis nationwide, and due to increased teaching demands and decreased compensation, many ADs are being forced to cast their nets beyond campus borders for candidates.

    Filling a vacant head coaching position internally can be a challenge, but filling an assistant coaching or lower level position, such as a freshman volleyball coach or an assistant track coach, can be close to impossible. "There's usually a pretty good selection of people that are interested in the head coaching positions. It's these other coaching positions that are the most difficult to fill," says Scott Thornton, athletic director at Kimball High School in Tracy, Calif. "There's just not that interest, so you have to rely on your head coaches to get the word out within their respective communities."

    That is, if you even have a head coach. Thornton's head varsity football coach resigned in June, forcing a frantic search for his replacement. He ultimately hired an elementary school teacher outside the district for the position. Despite proving to be a successful hire, there have been challenges - most notably, communication. "The only time I can communicate with him if something comes up is when he checks his email or texts between classes or on his lunch hour or prep period," says Thornton. A recent example of off-campus communication challenges involved a case in which the water heater broke in the school's pool and Thornton had to potentially cancel water polo matches the following day. His girls' coach was a teacher at the school, so he walked to her classroom to discuss options. But his boys' coach was off-site, which meant waiting to hear back on an email to confirm everyone was on the same page, despite the need for an urgent solution.

    Accessibility is a problem that many ADs have with off-campus coaches. "I'd much rather have an on-campus coach, because you're around the kids more, you can control the kids, and you're more familiar with school district policies and procedures," says Weed, acknowledging that he has several off-campus coaches. In fact, his two most successful coaches are not staff members.

    Whether athletic directors are hiring coaches from within or outside the school, one obstacle remains the same: compensation. Coaches make less than minimum wage when balancing the stipend versus the hours they put toward their coaching responsibilities on and off the field. As legendary coach Joe Kinnan puts it, "You can work at 7-Eleven and probably make three times as much money."

    Kinnan, the athletic director and head football coach at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., going on 30 years, has seen numerous quality coaches come and go, and like his AD peers, his preference is usually to find solutions in-house. But Kinnan has noticed a trend - fewer and fewer teachers wanting to take on coaching responsibilities.


    "What I saw early on is that we had people who would want to coach because it helped them get a teaching position, and once they would reach tenure, they would give up coaching," says Kinnan. Five years ago, the state of Florida eliminated tenure except for those grandfathered in, keeping teachers on annual contracts. But those grandfathered in would opt to stick with teaching only, forcing Kinnan and other athletic directors to pursue coaches off campus.

    Part of the problem can be attributed to the increased pressure being placed on teachers, according to Parks. "With these standardized tests and having to show how much their kids have improved, teachers are just under more pressure these days," he says. "Sometimes they just don't have the time or the energy to coach after all that."

    Thornton noticed a shift in teacher interest in California approximately seven years ago, when many school districts were required to make cutbacks, forcing teachers to do more with less in the classroom. "Teaching five classes, then having to coach for two to three hours after school, and then go home to grade papers - not to mention if you have a family - it's become too much," he says. "We still have teachers who want to coach, it's just not as many as it used to be."

    In today's environment, athletic directors are struggling more than ever to fill coaching positions with the same quality candidates found 10 or 20 years ago. Compensation and interest have dwindled, forcing ADs to look outside their respective schools for the right person who will help that sports program achieve sustainable success, be strong mentors for their athletes, communicate effectively with parents, be a positive role model in the community - all while earning maximum scrutiny and minimum financial reward. Says Parks, "Ultimately, they have to love it."


    Hiring an off-campus coach can be a tricky proposition. There are candidates that look great on paper but fall flat in the interview process, while candidates that may not appear strong on paper turn out to be shining stars. This is what Kimball High School athletic director Scott Thornton encountered over the summer when he conducted an emergency search for a head varsity football coach. After a two-week internal search that yielded few results, Thornton looked outside his Tracy, Calif.-based school for help. Out of 30 applicants, Thornton brought in seven possible coaches, including one veteran coach with an impressive resume, and one younger coach with limited experience.

    If Thornton was basing his decision solely off resumes, the veteran coach would've been an easy selection. "On paper, this guy looked like the second coming of Vince Lombardi," Thornton recalls. The younger coach, by comparison, didn't have the same strong resume but impressed Thornton enough during the screening process that he chose to bring him in for an interview.

    "This kid came in and blew us away," Thornton says. "He came in with practice schedules. The entire panel was extremely impressed with him." Weighing the merits of both candidates, Thornton ultimately chose to go a different direction, hiring a coach with more experience despite debating for several hours whether or not to offer the position to the young coach.

    The veteran with the strong resume was never considered due to a poor interview. Based on his experience, he was offered an assistant position but two weeks into the job he resigned - something Thornton admits he should've seen coming. "He had bounced around quite a bit. That should've been a red flag for us." Meanwhile, the younger coach was offered a position on a lower level and has been flourishing in the role. Thornton believes a head coaching role is in his future and, as he put it, "We're hoping we'll be able to keep him here." - D.V.M.

  • Friday, October, 11, 2013
    Blog: A Budding Star Resurfaces

    Villains in the world of track and field are rare. Turning fans and/or competitors against you typically requires doing one thing: cheating. But for young Zola Budd at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, there was no cheating. There was no boisterous verbal sparring with her media-created rival, American Mary Decker. All it took was a racing error on Decker's part to turn Budd into one of the most despised athletes in America - at the ripe old age of 18.

  • Sunday, September, 22, 2013
    Increasing Pool Revenue Through New Programming
    Over the summer, most municipal recreation facility operators allocate the majority of their pool space to two activities: swim lessons and open swim. Mickey Boyle, aquatics supervisor with the Geneva (Ill.) Park District, is no different. In 2013, he had to accommodate 770 families that participated in Geneva's swim lessons program. His flexibility to implement new programs is hindered, as virtually all of the 18,000 square feet of water surface is occupied for swim lessons and open swim starting at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
  • Tuesday, September, 16, 2014
    The Death of the Multisport Athlete

    Friday night lights are back for high schools across the country, and as you read this, many of the nation's top athletes are hard at work on the gridiron preparing for this week's upcoming game. I remember my first experience around a star athlete. I was 11 years old and my oldest brother was attending Wheaton North High School, which at that time was home to Kent Graham, the best high school athlete in the state of Illinois. Kent was a 6-foot-5-inch physical freak and the number-one-ranked quarterback in the nation. He also played safety. He earned three all-conference distinctions in basketball and regularly hit .400 for the baseball team. My dad fondly recalls Kent hitting a home run off my brother in Little League that cleared the lights and still hasn't landed.

  • Friday, August, 22, 2014
    Should Athletes Lose Scholarships Over Social Media Miscues?

    One of the debates that has intrigued me recently involves the increasing amount of coaches that are withdrawing scholarship offers due to a high school recruit exhibiting unacceptable or inappropriate behavior on social media. According to this story we published last week, high school coaches in Georgia are applauding University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt for dropping a recruit that misbehaved on Twitter.

  • Wednesday, August, 06, 2014
    Protecting Athletes From Heat-Related Illnesses

    No one should forget that deadly week in the summer of 2011 when two high school football players and one high school football coach died from heat-related causes. That following summer, in 2012, athletic administrators were feeling a different kind of heat: parents of the two football players who died in 2011, Isaiah Laurencin in Florida and Don'terio J. Searcy in Georgia, sued their respective county boards, asserting that the coaches pushed the boys too hard. Both schools, Miramar (Fla.) High School and Fitzgerald (Ga.) High School, boast prominent football programs. And it's not just the schools and county boards drawing the legislative ire of angry parents.

  • Monday, July, 21, 2014
    Shaping the Future of Athletics Safety and Security

    Editor's note: Look for more Sports Venue Safety articles as we publish a new one online each day this week. Or, view the entire digital issue here.

    My first exposures to the issues of safety and security at a sporting event came when I was eight years old. It was at Old Comiskey, back when the Chicago White Sox were "winning ugly" in the American League West. I remember going to at least half a dozen games that year with my father as the White Sox fought for an AL West championship, but that wasn't the only fighting I witnessed. The fights in the stands became as much of a spectacle as the game itself. It got to a point that we never wondered if a fight would break it, but rather when. Though I attended games with my father, a U.S. Navy SEAL and Golden Gloves boxing champion, I never had a complete sense of safety. Still, I was undeterred. I loved going to Old Comiskey and watching the White Sox despite the extracurricular activities.

  • Tuesday, July, 15, 2014
    Tuesday Takedown: Talking Sports Safety at NCS4

    I had the pleasure to travel down beautifully boring I-65 to Indianapolis last week for the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security's annual conference, where the superheroes of the sports security world gathered to address the constantly evolving challenge of protecting its venues, athletes and spectators from new and old threats alike. Outside of the Athletic Business Conference & Expo, there is no other conference I look forward to attending more, and this year's show did not disappoint. 

  • Friday, July, 11, 2014
    Angry Minority Destroying Social Media

    Popular AB contributor Chris Yandle, assistant AD for communications at the University of Miami, wrote a great post for our website in May about our collective love/hate relationship with social media.

  • Tuesday, July, 08, 2014
    Tuesday Takedown: Collegiate Safety Best Practices

    NCS4 kicked off its annual conference and expo Monday with the formal introduction of its Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Best Practices Guide. The 100-plus page "living" document is the result of collegiate security and safety leaders brainstorming ideas at NCS4's first National Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Summit last January at the University of Southern Mississippi, according to symposium moderator Paul Denton, chief of police at Ohio State University.

  • Tuesday, June, 24, 2014
    Tuesday Takedown: Security Fails Marring Best World Cup

    Security at this year's FIFA World Cup has been intensely scrutinized, starting months in advance as host country Brazil raced to get its stadiums ready for the 32-team tournament, a topic addressed by AB's Michael Gaio last month. Next came the safety of athletes, coaches and spectators.

  • Tuesday, June, 17, 2014
    Tuesday Takedown: Little Sense in Volunteer-Coach Ban

    Being Father's Day last Sunday, I felt compelled to weigh in on a story that came across our newswire last week where a country board in South Carolina is considering banning volunteer parents from coaching to avoid the perceived "favoritism" that is apparently associated with parents coaching their children. Yes, you read correctly. At a time when we are dealing with a coaching crisis of sorts across the country and should be encouraging parents to be more involved in their child's life, there is a group out there that wants to ban those parents from not only helping their kids, but other kids on that sports team, as well.  

  • Tuesday, June, 10, 2014
    Tuesday Takedown: Witnessing a Health Club's Rebirth

    It is safe to say that necessity is the mother of reinvention these days in the health club industry. The rise of in-home fitness options and low-priced health clubs are certainly factors in fitness chains reinventing themselves and how they attract/retain members, but for the Midtown Athletic Club, neither played a role in its $1 million renovation this year. Rather, it was an industry trend driving its new approach and layout.