Giving ‘non-core’ sports the attention they deserve
In the never-ending struggle for athletic directors to be all things to every sport, one of the major hurdles you face on a daily basis is providing enough support, encouragement, time and attention to your “non-core” sports.
While football, basketball, soccer, volleyball and baseball (and softball) command higher levels of focus (at most schools) from athletic directors, some of those smaller sports, such as track, wrestling, field hockey, swimming, ice hockey, lacrosse, cross country and gymnastics still wear your school’s uniform with pride, meaning they need your attention as well.“Every sport is valuable and equally important in our program. For example, in Baltimore County, we offer badminton,” says Dr. David Hoch, athletic director of Loch Raven High School (Md.). “That’s right, badminton. Not the backyard variety but the competitive brand with smash shots and strategy.
“However, a badminton player most likely will never play another sport — this is his or her chance to be involved in our athletic program. This could be said of several of our sports. They provide an opportunity for those special, unique students with defined interests and abilities, and that is invaluable.”
No badminton team is going to fill a packed stadium on a Friday night, and no gymnastics team is going to make enough money at the gate to be self-sufficient, so figuring out the needs of each team becomes a critical component of your position. The football team, which generates a tremendous amount of revenue due to ticket sales, spirit apparel and advertising (on scoreboards and on fencing around the field), also spends more money on transportation (bussing more athletes to events), gear and equipment.
If you base all of your decisions strictly on an economic basis, you may never reach the pool on the day of a swim meet or alert the media to an important wrestling match. Most athletic directors seem cognizant of making every sport feel special, but is that leading to actual efforts on your part to include all sports in your strategic athletic focus?
Several athletic directors shared with us some of their strategies for ensuring that non-core sports are just as much part of an athletic department as the big sports.
Make time for everyone
The most obvious idea for supporting your non-core sports also might be one of the hardest to achieve. With so many sports at your school, there isn’t enough time in the day to attend every event. But, as long as you make an effort, it shows coaches and athletes in those sports that you do care about their success and well-being.
“I make it a point to visit every sport we offer, including our off-campus sports like ice hockey, tennis, swimming, bowling, etc.,” says Bill Bruno, CMAA, the director of athletics at Brick Memorial High School (N.J.).
“I schedule time with each coach every week — they don’t all take me up on this offer but at least they know I’m available,” adds Patrick McHugh of North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. “I also check in with each coach the day after the game … hopefully in person … but at least by phone to hear how the game or match went if I was not in attendance.”
“I make it a habit to stop in to see part of a game for every sport,” Hoch says. “This means I stop to see some of a badminton match, a cross-country meet and a track meet. If we have multiple events that day, and that’s usually the case, I may not be able to stay, but I do want to stop in to support the athletes and the coach. This is important.”
In addition, Hoch says he uses email to his advantage to stay in touch with each coach.
“While answering the growing number of email messages during a day can be taxing for an athletic director, it is a great medium for staying in touch with your coaching staff,” Hoch explains. “You can send every coach a brief note saying ‘Nice game yesterday’ or, ‘Keep working hard, your players are really improving.’ It doesn’t have to be long, but a little encouragement, recognition, etc., is vital for all of your coaches. After all, the media-darling sports of football, basketball and lacrosse (in our area) get noticed. Make sure that you notice everyone.”
Media & promotions
Most local sports pages are filled with articles on football, basketball, volleyball and soccer teams, but that doesn’t mean sports editors are going out of their way to ignore other sports. In fact, most local sports writers would prefer to receive more information from every athletic squad at your school, so encourage your coaches to contact the local paper. Or, be proactive and find ways to get all of your teams into the limelight.
At Brick Memorial, Bruno has an in-house television station that he utilizes to announce the approaching athletic events as well as the results. He says his staff makes it a point to interview student-athletes from all sports. And, the school just partnered with MSG (Madison Square Garden) Sports, which is bringing even more attention to his athletics program.
“MSG Sports is doing tape-delayed highlights of every sport we offer. They go to every event, tape it, then reshow it during the course of the week. This has been a big hit with our athletes, parents and coaches,” he says.
Bruno adds that he has developed an excellent working relationship with the local media. Plus, he says, that relationship works well when the school has something else to promote in addition to athletics. Bruno says the school just recently held a canned-food drive for the local food bank and received outstanding coverage from the newspapers and radio stations in the area.
McHugh coaches track and field at North Shore, so he has an appreciation for what it takes to get his athletes media coverage. He takes this experience and applies it to the other teams under his department’s umbrella.
“Although basketball and football are going to get the most attention from our community in general, there are lots of things that ‘minor’ sport coaches can do to get support and attention for their team,” McHugh says. “I have developed strong relationships with local press and also with websites that cover track and field. Because I have always coached a minor sport and one with the worst facility at our school, I can share my thoughts with others. And, the fact the athletic director has it bad gives me some credibility…to a certain extent.”
Karl S. Heimbach, CMAA, the athletic director at Col. Zadok Magruder High School (Rockville, Md.) says he promotes all of his school’s sports with record boards in the main gym lobby, as well as posting upcoming games and matches at the front of the school, in the gym and in the hallways.
Host & attend big events
Hosting a large invitational at your school can be a lot of work for you and your staff, as well as a strain on the school as a whole, but it is a great way to draw attention to your teams, as well as showing other area schools how organized and together your athletic department is.
At De La Salle High School (Concord, Calif.), athletic director Leo Lopoz says he loves having the area’s top athletes competing at his school. De La Salle hosts a large cross-country, swimming and track-and-field invitational every year.
“The signature events help build our community here because it gets players, parents and outsiders involved to make the event happen,” he says. “We want to put on the best show possible because we are proud of our school.”
“We encourage our teams to host invitationals and our department helps with all the planning,” adds Heimbach. “We also approve sending our track and cross-country teams to larger, special meets.” By attending broader invitationals, it allows for extra media coverage, helps the team come together as a group and shows you are committed to their efforts by spending the money on off-site travel.
Bruno serves as the meet director for five large indoor and outdoor track-and-field events each year, so he gets to see his school’s team compete in person while working to make the event a success. He also serves as the site director for the gymnastics conference championship meet.
Budgets & money
Budgeting and money allowances for teams are tricky areas for athletic directors who want to promote equality in their departments. Sure, it’s nice to say the football team is on par with the cross-country team. But, the football team needs more equipment, more busses and a larger area for practice. There is no way the appropriations for each sport are going to be equal, and most coaches and athletic directors would not argue that it should be, but, don’t neglect the needs of your non-core sports when it comes to budgeting time.
“When you’re budgeting money, you should try to treat all coaches fairly,” says Hoch “Obviously, it costs a great deal more to outfit a football player than a cross-country runner, but you can be fair. When coaches know that this is your approach, they know that you care and understand the important work that they do for your school’s athletic program.”
Heimbach agrees with Hoch and says allowing coaches to purchase the uniforms and equipment they feel they need goes a long way in establishing a strong relationship with that team’s coach. In addition, he makes an effort to improve the facilities used by some of these non-core sports at least once a year. “You should try to make one improvement to a pool or a field each year when you can so those athletes and coaches can feel special.”
One of the main areas where athletic directors have direct influence is in the awards ceremony held after a school sports season. Some schools have a giant fall sports assembly, for example, where students are recognized for their efforts. In this case, make sure your football team doesn’t take up 30 minutes giving out awards to all 70 to 80 players on the squad while the field hockey team’s time is pushed back to the last five minutes of the night.
Derek Maki, CMAA, the athletic director at Kenwood High School (Baltimore, Md.) says at his school, all sports are provided equal time and give out the same awards at the post-season banquet.
Hoch echoes the same thought about his school’s recognition night. “In our awards program, all teams get the same, standard number and type of awards to present. No team — including football — can go over this number. In this manner, badminton gets the same recognition as soccer. If a coach wants to go beyond our standard categories, he or she can give their own additional awards at a team pizza party or gathering. But at our Fall Sports Awards Program, everyone is the same.”
At Kempsville High School (Virginia Beach, Va.), coaches are not allowed to bring extra attention to their teams by hosting additional post-season awards nights, according to athletic director Dr. Carol R. Chory, CMAA. This keeps all teams level unless there is a scheduling conflict.
“Our awards night is one big night for all sports to come together for that particular season,” she says. “We do not let one team have something on their own unless their participation in post-season play takes them past the date of our awards night.”
In addition to these main, consensus ideas, some of the athletic directors had unique strategies when focusing on non-core sports.
• Purchasing (or getting donations to purchase) team shirts so athletes can walk around school wearing apparel promoting their sport. — Maki
• Push coaches to ask for additional items from the booster club. — Heimbach
• Work a scoreboard or do a scorebook for your minor sports. That gets you to the game and fully attentive throughout the game. — McHugh
• Pay for membership for all your coaches in the National Federation of State High School Associations. This provides $1 million in liability coverage and is an opportunity for professional development for your coaches. — Hoch