Building on the Carmel High School tradition
Jim Inskeep knew this was what he wanted to do since his days as a student at nearby Carmel (Indiana) Junior High School. Not a professional athlete or even a coach — an athletic administrator.
The trade was in his blood. His father, Roland, spent 23 years as an athletic director at North Central High School, and Inskeep recalls tagging along with him to practices, games and other events. He spent so much time at the school that he’s confident he could still navigate its hallways in the dark.“It was something I wanted to do, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get to that point,” Inskeep said. “The timing just worked out very well for me to get to a position that I had coveted for most of my life.”
Entering his 15th year as athletic director at Carmel High School (Indiana), ironically a rival of North Central, Inskeep has continued to elevate what has been a long tradition of success, whether it’s winning titles or preparing student-athletes for their futures. With 20 programs and 119 coaches on staff, his hands are more than a bit full.
Throughout the Hoosier state the Greyhounds are known for their championships, but Inskeep knows there’s much more to it. Like most great programs, it’s largely about the coaches in charge, and Inskeep firmly believes he has some of the best people around.
“For us, it’s about providing the resources that they need to be successful,” Inskeep said. “We find our job in the athletic office is to provide support for them, and while there is a chain of command, our job is to support what their goals are for their individual programs.”
Inskeep prefers not to meddle into his coaches’ programs. He views his role as one that provides guidance and direction for the school’s many coaches, but beyond that he likes to let each of them manage their programs in their own ways.
The coaches have certainly earned it. Look across the school’s range of athletic offerings and you’ll find conference, state and individual championships associated with each of them. Student-athletes have even managed to maintain a GPA of around 3.4, which Inskeep said has been higher than the general student population each of his 14 years at the school.
Academics are anything but an afterthought at Carmel, and Inskeep said much of that comes from the parents. But it also comes from the teachers and coaches, and as much as the Greyhounds pride themselves on titles, education comes first.
“There is an emphasis here in our building that you come to school for an education,” Inskeep said. “You’re not going to mess around and the culture itself is like going to work for the kids. This is their job when they’re here, so that in and of itself leads to success in the classroom.”
Culture is important to Inskeep, as it is with most athletic administrators. It’s what guides those involved with his department, and it’s what will set the standard for those yet to come.
Carmel athletics already had a strong foundation before Inskeep arrived, but culture remained one of his priorities. With many schools, it’s a like a garden that must be watered and nurtured, and Inskeep wanted to sustain a positive atmosphere that would put his coaches and student-athletes in best position to meet their goals.
Inskeep said he constantly offers assistance in any way he can, and he’s always working to improve facilities to keep up with the needs of his student-athletes. His department also receives a significant amount of support from the school board and administration.
That’s one of the things coaches appreciate most about Inskeep and his staff. Some schools put the major sports like football and basketball on a pedestal, but each Carmel coach feels like they’re viewed through the same lens. Winning titles in the most popular sports is great, but Inskeep wants each one of his programs to have a shot.
Doing that means hiring and retaining top-notch coaches, which is one of the biggest obstacles in high school athletic departments today. There are not a lot of new coaches at Carmel, and some have been there more than 20 years.
Inskeep said he doesn’t have any secret to keep his coaches from fleeing for different jobs, but offering his support is where it all starts.
“When things are going rough you have disappointment along the way, and I want to be the first person that steps in and picks that coach up and listens and provides the type of support that they need to go on to the next challenge ahead of them,” he said. “I try to lend a listening ear and give advice when asked.”
It also helps to provide the school’s coaches with professional development opportunities. Inskeep said a percentage of the athletic budget is allocated for clinics or other workshops, and he encourages them to continue to be “life learners in their profession.”
Over the last 10 years a number of colleges and university have opened their doors to high school coaches, allowing them to observe, communicate and learn from their staffs. Inskeep said that’s also been beneficial for Carmel’s coaches.
“Whether it’s a spring practice or sitting in on a session with coaches, we encourage that,” he said, “and when they find a place they’d like to visit, they can go and bring back some ideas.”
Staying at the top
Rivals of Carmel High School say its teams have achieved so much because of the school’s enrollment (more than 4,400 students) and its budget.
Inskeep concedes that the student body certainly gives the athletic department a larger pool to draw from, but his annual budget is rather modest for a community that’s median household income is more than $107,000, according to the most recent U.S. Census.
Inskeep said Indiana restricts athletic budgets, allowing him to only spend on student-athletes based on what he brings in through gate receipts, donations or sponsorships, so no tax dollars go toward equipment or jerseys. His annual budget hovers around $450,000, excluding facility improvements and coaching stipends, which are paid for through the tax base.
“I think socioeconomics do play into the success of high school athletics and there is all sorts of data that backs that up,” Inskeep said. “But you can’t just have a high socioeconomic community and have instant success. It doesn’t work that way.
“What we tried to do is hire and retain coaches that are kid-centered, and I think that has proven to be beneficial to our programs, and we’ve had a lot of success as a result.”
Money and enrollment gives athletic programs options, but it still comes down to hiring quality coaches that know how to work with student-athletes, and those are opportunities available to all school districts.
The coaches at Carmel are a close-knit group, and most say they feed off of each other to grow and improve their teams. A few used the girls swim program as a model, where coach Chris Plumb has helped lead the team to a streak of 28 consecutive state titles the longest active streak in the nation and one shy of the all-time record.
Inskeep knows that preserving his department’s level of success is going to take help, and he gets a lot of it from outside the school. The Carmel Dads’ Club acts as a feeder program for many sports, and the Carmel Swim Club has played a central role in the swimming program’s historic run. The school has multiple booster clubs that receive heavy involvement from parents, so Inskeep must maintain strong relationships with those in the community.
“They all have their own set of bylaws that they submit to us so that each year a new group isn’t coming in and reinventing the wheel,” he said. “There is a set of guidelines they’ll adhere to that keeps them on the path to what we want them to be, which is providing support to the program and not individually trying to manage the program.”
The big picture
All the outside talk about Carmel athletics revolves around the championships, but Inskeep and his group of coaches speak at length about having a greater purpose. If they can instill leadership, respect and a number of other qualities in their student-athletes that serve them well beyond high school, they feel like they’ve done their jobs.
You hear that type of talk from great coaches all across the country. Oftentimes, the most rewarding aspect of the job is when alumni return to the school, either to help the program or personally thank the coach that made such a tremendous impact on their lives.
Inskeep said when an athlete comes through his program, he wants them to leave with improved time management skills and an experience that’s going to increase their changes of success at whatever they choose to do. The victories are just icing on the cake.
“For a lot of our kids, this is the last step in their athletic career,” he said. “For the success that we’ve had in championships for our programs, we don’t have a huge percentage of kids that go on to play collegiately. Their goals are similar to what their families and parents have, and that’s to have a higher education after high school.”
That’s exactly why there is so little talk about winning at Carmel, and it’s why the school brags about championships just as much as it does about athletes winning mental attitude or sportsmanship awards.
Inskeep understands that at some point a small number of his student-athletes had dreams of an athletic scholarship. Some get there, but most end up with scholarships on the academic side, which is anything but a consolation prize.
That’s how Inskeep imagines it will stay for the foreseeable future. Carmel has always been a place where education-based athletics was the foundation for its success, and as long as he’s athletic director, that’s how it’s going to stay.
“Our job here is to man the ship and not own the ship,” Inskeep said. “I feel like we have a responsibility to carry on the tradition and leave it better than we found it.”