• Common Mistakes Made by High School Athletic Directors

    by Kevin Bryant April 2014

    It would not be difficult for any honest interscholastic athletic administrator to fill up a page or two about the mistakes he or she has made and would like to avoid in the future. I've been there myself as a former athletic administrator. Reflecting on my own experiences (and mistakes), I'd like to offer a series of tips that will not only benefit novice athletic administrators, but veteran administrators, as well.

  • HS Baseball Player with Rare Disease Deemed Eligible

    by March 2014

    Competing in sports at the high school level is no easy feat, but for one Louisiana high school student becoming eligible to compete has been a challenge in itself.

    The Louisiana High School Athletic Association ruled that 18-year-old Sean Thiel was ineligible to participate in spring baseball this season after missing too many days of school. The absences were caused by a rare medical condition from which Thiel suffers known as achalasia. The disease affects the esophagus’s ability to move food to the stomach, which led to a number of absences — including a surgery at the Mayo Clinic to stabilize his condition in early March.

    According to The Advocate, after filing a federal suit against the LHSAA March 3, Thiel was finally granted a hardship waiver that allowed him to begin playing earlier this month.

    "I commend the LHSAA for taking another look at this. We have no ill will. We're just happy they re-evaluated the situation," Michael Thiel told The Advocate Friday. "It is a positive story for a change. It's the right result.”

    "It reinforces your faith in humanity."

    Hardship waivers are used in high school sports to help make a student eligible for competition if he has a condition that causes him to not meet the requirements for eligibility. As a part of the lawsuit that brought Thiel’s situation to the LHSAA’s attention, Thiel’s family claimed that the LHSAA had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by not allowing Thiel to play baseball even though he met the requirements for a hardship waiver.

    After Thiel became eligible to play, Thiel’s family dropped the suit March 18.

    As part of the agreement with the LHSAA, Thiel — a high school sophomore — must meet all future eligibility requirements if he wishes to continue playing high school sports in his junior and senior seasons.

    Thiel’s father told The Advocate his son has already recorded a couple of hits in two games since his reinstatement on the team.

  • Transgender Students Allowed to Play, Homeschoolers Benched in Virginia

    by Michael Gaio February 2014

    It was a big news week for high school athletes in Virginia.

  • High School Athletic Trainers Key in Concussion Management

    by Dennis Van Milligen February 2014

    Spring Hill (Kan.) High School senior Nathan Stiles had just scored a 65-yard touchdown when he began grasping his helmet and screaming that his head hurt. He collapsed near his team’s sideline and died just days before his 18th birthday. He died of a brain hemorrhage, which doctors determined was caused by a concussion one month earlier. His autopsy revealed Stiles had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease commonly associated with retired football players and boxers.

  • Youth Participation in Team Sports on the Decline

    by Michael Gaio February 2014

    The Wall Street Journal recently published a lengthy article detailing the drop in participation in the four most-popular U.S. team sports — basketball, soccer, baseball and football. The results are not pretty. The author examined data from youth leagues, school sports groups and industry associations from 2008 to 2012.

  • Club Sports Pushing Athletes Away From High School

    by Dennis Van Milligen January 2014

    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."

  • Blog: Prioritizing The Student-Athlete a Must for ADs

    by Dennis Van Milligen January 2014

    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?

  • Fundraising Ideas for High School Athletic Directors

    by Dennis Van Milligen December 2013

    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."

  • Youth Football Participation Dropping Drastically

    by Michael Gaio November 2013

    You don't have to be a football fan to know that concussions have been in the news a lot lately. And if you're an AB reader, you know head injuries are unfortunately a topic we have to cover way too often. Just this week we've reported deaths of two youth football players who died following head injuries.

  • High School Athletic Directors Hiring More Off-Campus Coaches

    by Dennis Van Milligen October 2013

    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.