December 20, 2021 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Sports Under 40: Starting an Athletic Department from the Ground Up

In 2014, I was tasked with starting and establishing an athletic department at Cornerstone School in Jacksonville, FL. The only issue was I had no experience in a high school athletic department until that point. I was 24 years old and fresh out of college. Other than my degree and three years of being an assistant coach at the collegiate level, I had no training for being an athletic director. After being handed the keys and being faced with this challenge, I found myself pressed for time with the school year quickly approaching.

One of my first tasks was hiring an assistant athletic director. Once I hired Kiryn Williams we quickly got to work! Our first major effort was finding facilities since we had no athletic facilities on campus. We were able to find a local recreation center that was available to rent. We used this space for gym time for our volleyball and basketball teams. While we were locating facilities we were also scheduling games with local schools. As time went on we built a schedule and began to make some noise in the athletic realm in Jacksonville. 

startingCoach Williams and I met every day and began to map out the future of the program. We made goals, plans, and a timeline for the next five years. We decided that we had the ability to establish volleyball and basketball programs easier than any other program. We met with our administration and presented our plans.

I began with attempting to start the volleyball program. After making my first coaching staff hire we discussed the future of the volleyball program and felt that starting with middle school teams and allowing the program to build on its own was the best decision for our program. We had open tryouts for sixth through eighth grade and had over 15 girls come out. We also had several high school girls who were interested in playing volleyball but decided to start the program in the middle school and allow the promotion of our players to help build from the middle school level to the junior varsity level and on into the varsity level. 

Once the volleyball season was underway, we began to work towards establishing the basketball program. We were able to establish both middle school and varsity programs in both boys and girls basketball. Each basketball team within our program played a 15-20 game schedule. 

All of our teams were successful and finished off the year with winning records and plenty of positive things to build on for the future. At the end of the school year, we sat down with our administration and began to map out the next several years. We decided to start 8-man tackle football the following year and we had over 20 players come out for tryouts. We made the first round of the FCAPPS state playoffs in our second year of existence! In 2017 our varsity boys basketball team won state runner-up in the FICAA. 

If you are ever faced with a similar situation here are a few takeaways: 

  • Read and research
  • Reach out to local athletic directors and ask them questions
  • Do not be afraid to fail
  • Establish sports that your student body will enjoy and want to participate in
  • Surround yourself with a good staff
  • Look at establishing individual sports (i.e. Cross Country, Swimming, Golf, and Tennis)

» ALSO SEE: Univ. of Mississippi Athletic Training Program Starts Concussion Education Course

The above ideas are just a few pointers for new athletic directors or even veteran athletic directors who may be faced with starting teams, programs, and/or entire departments. If there is anything I can do to help please feel free to reach out!

You can contact me via email at [email protected] and on Twitter and Instagram @Coach_ZTS.