By: Rich Barton, CMAA and Marc Hunter, CMAA - Utah
Over the past two years of pandemic-era education and education-based athletics, we have learned much about our student-athletes, coaches, and the programs we offer at our high schools. More importantly, we have learned so much about ourselves and our colleagues - the leaders of education-based athletics. Now, as we continue to emerge in a new era of participation with new parameters and expectations, we must reflect on the past two years to refocus our lens for the best vision of the future.
With hindsight, we must ask ourselves what we have learned, what do we see, and where shall we go. In the simplest sense and the plainest of terms, two trends have emerged - one positive and one negative.
Without question, athletic administrators have demonstrated their unfailing capacity and commitment towards ensuring that participation in our gyms, arenas, courts, and fields is as healthy and safe as possible. Unfortunately, this daily commitment to flexibility, adaptability, and the willingness to do whatever is necessary to ensure healthy and safe participation can occur has taken its toll.
What was a concern before the pandemic has grown to an exponential level never before thought possible: the mass exodus of athletic administrators from the profession is the single most important issue before us.
We must now be solely committed to finding ways to recruit and retain quality people in these positions of leadership in our high schools. These strategies must be traditional as well as innovative and focused on both short- and long-term goals.
The leadership team of the Utah Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (UIAAA) has long been concerned with the changing landscape of athletic administration in Utah. Conversations with our state association colleagues across the nation have also affirmed retention as a national issue. Job turnover continues to increase, and the total number of years leaders spend as an interscholastic athletic administrator continues to decrease.
To ensure our programs remain healthy and safe, the UIAAA has recognized retention of athletic administrators as the most important goal of our organization. The UIAAA firmly believes professional development and certification of athletic administrators provide two impactful outcomes. The first is retention; professional development and certification will best prepare individuals for the position, and prepared individuals are more likely to stay in the position. The second outcome, and the most important, is that trained and certified athletic administrators will know why and understand how to keep education-based programs healthy and safe.
We have taken a Why, How, and What approach:
Our Why is about our mission right now as an organization. Our singular purpose, our number one priority, is to provide professional development and certification opportunities for our membership: the keys to retention. We believe that this focus will undoubtedly provide stronger athletic administrators who are better equipped for the challenges of today and tomorrow. We firmly believe professional development and certification will lead to retention and longevity.
Our How is a multi-pronged approach to serve our mission. Once we had clearly defined our Why - our mission - we quickly determined the best strategies to be used, the people to be contacted, and where to apply the positive pressure to bring our commitment to the masses. We felt a grass roots level approach to start would be best. If we struggled to make progress at the grass roots level, then a statewide campaign of awareness would be implemented. Our first priority was to seek support from other organizations committed to education and education-based athletics and activities as well as the state legislature. With that in mind, we first approached the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), then the Utah School Superintendents Association (USSA), and finally the Utah State Board of Education (USBE).
Our What started with a massive contact campaign. The UIAAA leadership group reached out to educators, community leaders, legislators, and ultimately the media. We started with phone calls to school board members, school administrators, school district leadership, state association leaders, and anyone else we felt could help us have our voices heard. We saved the legislative contacts for last. We felt if we could gather support from the other entities, legislators would feel the support we had amassed.
Our rationale and talking points are as follows: this roadmap can and should be followed by other state associations.
Why we exist as an organization:
Our initial work with the Utah High School Activity resulted in an addition to the UHSAA Handbook with a formal position statement regarding certification added to the Interpretations and Guidelines.
Interpretations & Guidelines 5.1.2: ATHLETIC ADMINISTRATORS' CERTIFICATION
The goal of the UHSAA support was to increase the number of certified athletic administrators. However, the position statement support from the UHSAA did not provide the intended increase in certification and retention of athletic administrators.