Serving as a school’s activities administrator brings an array of challenges, and conversely, plenty of rewards. These individuals are the point guard of a department and manage activities ranging from athletics to the fine arts to special school events like Homecoming, Snow Week and Prom.
High School Today contacted four activities administrators who also officiate to find out how they make the juggling work between a professional career and giving back through the avocation of officiating.
From debating whether to continue as an official when they became an administrator to finding strategies of balancing work and time management, and ultimately, encouraging others to follow their lead, the four were passionate, candid and filled with gratitude as they shared their journeys.
Irene-Wakonda High School
Irene, South Dakota
Professional: Activities director (18th year); school bus driver; business teacher; longtime basketball, track and field, and volleyball coach; superintendent of Irene Golf Club.
Sports officiated: Volleyball (12 years), football (19 years), basketball (27 years)
Reflection: “I played basketball and baseball in college, so it was an easy transition to officiating. It was a great chance to hang out with friends. It is a lot of fun. We still have the same group. It’s never been about making any extra money. I never gave it a second thought about being able to balance being both an official and an administrator. I don’t think there has ever been an issue with conflict of interest. I still like to coach, administer and officiate. Doing all three is very rewarding. I don’t know that there have really been a ton of challenges along the way with balancing the officiating and administration. If we have home games, I try not to officiate elsewhere. The biggest challenge is finding the time to manage it all. I was an official before I entered administration. (Upper administration) was OK with it as long as all the bases were covered. The biggest piece of advice I would give an administrator who would like to officiate is to either do it early before you have kids or wait until after they are done with school. You just don’t want to miss your kids’ stuff. They are only young once. Finding that balance is key. Learn to step back a little to enjoy the time with your kids, your students and your school.”
Bear Lake High School
Bear Lake, Michigan
Professional: In 38th year as an athletic director; member of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Representative Council; Executive Director, Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
Sports officiated: Since 1978, officiates Competitive Cheer, Track and Field, Cross Country, Volleyball. Also officiated softball and baseball early in career.
Reflection: “I added to my sport officiating list when I became an administrator because of having an official get in an accident on their way to a game. The official was OK, but the game had to be postponed due to the lack of an official. That was when I figured I needed to get registered for those last-minute situations. I only work games (now) as a last-minute replacement. My school events come first. I often work track and field and cross country events that my school is attending as a referee or event official, helping others to play and enjoying my student-athletes while they are playing. It is always a great day when we can see an athlete do their best, and that makes my day. I challenge administrators to become officials, especially when they have come from the coaching ranks. Why not give back and get a little relief as an official? Sometimes, you also need to be the official in your own gym due to circumstances beyond your control. It might even be that retirement gig to stay busy.”
Monticello High School
Professional: In 15th year as a school administrator and 11th year as a high school activities director; Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors; Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association; Region 8AA Committee Chair.
Sports officiated: In a career of more than 30 years, he still officiates basketball and also worked baseball.
Reflection: “I knew I wanted to continue as an official when I became an administrator, but I was concerned that it would be a few more nights away from my family. My family has been very supportive over the years. You really need to make sure you are organized and you have all of your events covered at your own school before you can think about the officiating. It’s helpful to try and officiate games that are closer to your school because it’s hard sometimes to get out of the office. I also try to schedule the games when I do not have events of our own going on. It is always fun to go to other schools and interact with the staff there. The camaraderie that you have with your officiating partners is very special. Officiating can be very rewarding. It’s a special feeling to give back and to be a part of high school activities. We have had a shortage of officials, so I encourage everyone to step up when and where they can.”
Fridley High School
Professional: Longtime teacher, coach and administrator in Minneapolis (25 years) and in suburban Fridley (in his 14th year); Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association (past president); Why We Play faculty; two-time Region 5AA Activities Administrator of the Year; Minnesota State High School League leadership committees; Augsburg College Hall of Fame inductee; Minnesota State High School League wrestling clinician.
Sports officiated: High school and college wrestling. Umpired baseball and basketball early in his officiating career. Began umpiring as an eighth-grader in his native Minneapolis.
Reflection: “I wasn’t hesitant about continuing service as an official when I became an activities administrator. I was up front when I interviewed for the position. I was hopeful to have a good and strong staff that helps run the programs that I oversee. There is no way this can be done if you don’t have good support from the administrative staff and a strong activities assistant like mine. The biggest challenge is time management. I make sure I am at the events. Where I think my presence is important is for the big rivalries, senior nights, parent nights, etc. As an activities director, I think it is healthy for students and parents to see any staff member as more than the one educational role model by which they are most identified. I am lucky to have a wife and family that supported me being away from home. I find the fellowship with my association brethren, other wrestling officials and coaches around the state very meaningful. I enjoy the challenge of knowing the rules well, getting tough calls correct and handling pressure in a professional and calm manner. Most of all, I am helping kids grow, and hopefully, love the sport for a lifetime. (On giving advice to an administrator that is considering officiating) Be upfront about it and be a good planner. For me, it is a stress reliever and a time where I can shut off all responsibilities and be totally immersed, both physically and mentally. It is a great hobby that keeps me sharp.”
Tim Leighton is communications coordinator of the Minnesota State High School League, and he is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.