By: Bill Fitzgerald, CMAA - Fremont, Nebraska
Over many years, sports and activity offerings have expanded in size and stature in the educational setting. The current position of athletic/activities director, whose job is to manage these offerings, has been one of increasing duties and responsibilities while taking on a greater importance in each school district. The athletic/activities directors role became necessary as school programs grew in importance in each community that offered them. That role has changed over the years, but the need for a dedicated person in that role in each school has become essential to offering quality educationally based activities.
Educational activities originally were the thought of offering something for students to do that were connected to a school's educational offerings. Long ago, these school programs evolved from sports or activities that maybe started at the community level, but were eventually moved to, taken over, or started by schools to ensure consistency and continuity. By attaching the programs to the schools, the "other side of education" was born, helping in teaching values and instilling responsibility in those who took part in the offerings.
Early on as extracurricular offerings were beginning, coaches ran the original programs that might have provided competition against neighboring districts in the area. As more and more schools began to participate in extracurricular activities, the need for someone to coordinate these offerings was realized. In many districts, this person originally was a well-respected coach who took on the role of coordinator of athletics. As the activities grew, state associations were founded, as well as the NFHS to govern the states. This enabled consistent and fair competition based on the rules and regulations that applied across the board.
The position of athletic/activities director likely began in the largest districts in a state, based on the sheer number of participants, coaches, and programs that were offered by a school or district. Many times, it was tied to another administrative position, such as a principal or superintendent, and with the advent of the assistant principal, these duties many times would fall to such a position. In a smaller school district, it might still be a coach who is given a period or two in the school day to accomplish what is necessary to keep an activities program functioning.
Although this seems like either of these options might be a good combination for a school district, it is entirely possible that such a combination may very well be a set-up for failure - either for the programs themselves, or by the person assigned to the management duties due to the requirements of the job. Consider the following circumstances that generally occur to the athletic/activities director who has combined duties of another nature in a school district:
All these considerations bring forth a valid point: The position of athletic/activities director should be a job in and of itself, preferably not tied to another administrative duty or teaching position in many schools. The duties they handle daily and the time commitment they have in the management of the department point to the necessity of limiting what this person has on their respective plate. Adding more to the athletic/activities director position can often lead to less quality and success in the educationally based offerings a school can provide.
Combining two such duties also can lead to difficulties on the home front while trying to juggle the responsibilities of what has been assigned with that of family life. Recently, many athletic/activities directors have not made it in combined duties more than five years or at most ten years. They find the stress and time commitment not commensurate to the compensation, and often find themselves looking for a different position with fewer responsibilities and less time commitment. The turnover rate in many states for an athletic/activities director position can be in the 30 to 40 percent range statewide in many areas of the country in any given year.
Even though the recent need by many districts to trim expenses has dictated trying new and unique combinations of the athletic/activities directors' duties with another position, it is usually not the best use of resources in doing so. School districts would be better served to commit 100% to a position that focuses on the needs of an educationally based activities program with a dedicated person in charge of those students and sponsors who choose to participate. By doing so, consistency and stability will see a major increase in the activity programs being offered with that person becoming the educational leader of this valuable "other" part of the educationally based offerings. Their ability to be solely focused on that responsibility alone will do nothing but improve the wellbeing of both the individual and the department.