Behind the scenes of the athletic field, is a group of men and women who, without much fanfare and praise, makes the engine of high school athletics run smoothly.
These individuals are known as high school athletic directors. From scheduling to eligibility, athletic directors have a fundamental, yet monumental task of organizing high school sporting events.
A lot of preparation goes into the primary function of a high school athletic director, which is to make sure games are played as scheduled and the fans enjoy the games.
What does an athletic director do? Is their role that great in getting high school sports rolling? Questions that have been asked for years and until recently, had no answers.
A few local athletic directors shared with their on-the-job experiences. Their efforts should be honored more, but they do it for the love of sports and people, not for the publicity.
Brent Keefer is an assistant principal at Sikeston High School. Besides his duties with general discipline at the high school, Keefer is in his second-year as athletic director, following the big footsteps of long-time director Charlie Vickery.
"It has always been a dream of mine to be an athletic director at Sikeston," said Keefer. "Charlie did an excellent job while he was here, and I just want to continue that excellence."
Keefer explained that a lot of his time is spent on paperwork. Reading mail and emails from other schools can take up hours of his time. Keefer insists that proper preparation is key to the job.
"I prepare schedules a year in advance," said Keefer, who also oversees the junior high scheduling. "Besides football, which is on a two-year scheduling cycle, next fall's sports schedule has been completed. Officials have been contracted for the fall as well. Except for some junior high games, the winter schedule is close to complete."
Keefer stated that with good preparation, a school can have choice from the area's best officials and referees.
Having the fields and gyms ready for competition is a joint venture between him and the coaches.
"Usually the coaches have the responsibility at Sikeston to get their fields ready for play," said Keefer. "But if they are not ready, it will fall back on me. We have outstanding coaches here at Sikeston and they are on top of their responsibilities."
Game officials are sent contracts by a computerized program that most area schools can utilize explained Keefer. Games between schools also have a contract which is a basic agreement that a game will take place on the agreed date.
"We sign, send and keep a copy," said Keefer, "the official signs his copy and sends it back to the school. The same is true for a contract between schools. All games and officials have signed contracts."
Diane Fowler is the assistant athletic director at New Madrid County Central, and is also a teacher. Fowler has been an assistant for three years under Lennies McFerren.
Fowler explained that because NMCC encompasses a large area, besides schedules, contracts and officials, she also has to deal with transportation issues concerning her athletes.
"Here at New Madrid County Central," said Fowler, "not only do we bus the kids to games, we also pick them up and drop off at their home. It is quite an undertaking to make sure that all our athletes get home safely. This is also done for all of our practices."
In dealing with scheduling, Fowler insists it is not a one-way street.
"We talk with all of our coaches to find out what they like or dislike about their schedule," said Fowler. "Most of our schedules are locked in with conference and district games. But if we make some changes, we definitely get the input of the coaches."
As in the case with Sikeston, NMCC has the same routine with game and official contracts.
"We send two copies to the opposing school," said Fowler. "We sign one and send one back. This is all done by computers and it is a guarantee of a game that will have officials."
On any given school day, Fowler has duties that need to be taken care of.
"If it is a game day," said Fowler, "I have to make sure that the gym is heated in preparation for game time. Make sure we have someone in place to do the night's concession stand. Want to be sure to greet the officials and opposing team, to be there for anything they might need. Also, need to insure that a bus will be available after the game to provide transportation back home for all of our athletes."
Like Keefer, Fowler spends the majority of her day on paperwork. Fowler mails out the contracts and receives contracts. Game officials and coaches are sent reminders from Fowler of upcoming games with NMCC.
Gavin Miller is Dexter High School's athletic director. Besides his duty as director, Miller is head girls basketball coach, assistant football coach and head of Dexter's Cooperative Occupational Education program. Miller revealed that this program has about 50 or 60 students who besides going to school, have jobs in the community.
With all of his duties, Miller enjoys the day-to-day workings of being an athletic director.
"At the beginning of the school year," said Miller, "I double check everything to make sure every game has a contract. In the last week in July, I send everybody we play a copy of our schedule for the next school year. Make sure you cross your 'T's' and dot your 'I's.'"
Miller tries to keep on top of the scheduling for Dexter.
"If one of our teams has an open date," said Miller, "I am calling other schools for openings. I also check the Internet to try and find a school to fill an opening. I am constantly on the phone with schools confirming games that will be played today or tomorrow. I have interactions with our bus supervisor to confirm dates and location of sporting events."
Miller also keeps line of communications open with coaches and administration at Dexter.
"I make our schedules a year in advance," said Miller. "However with the upcoming football season, we have an open date in Week 2 and I have gotten together with our football coach to get his input on who he would like to play. In all sports at Dexter, I like to get the coaches involved. Give them freedom and a voice on their schedule. I also check with our principal because of budget concerns with transportation cost. Any game north of Jackson and cross the state border, I like to let him know what is currently going on with the scheduling."
Miller likes to stay on top of any eligibility concerns at his school.
"If we have a student move in," explained Miller, "I usually have a conversation with our counselors. I also would like to talk to the student to try and find out the situation which led to the move here. The state gives out handbooks on eligibility and has guidelines to be followed. We need release from school. Have several forms to fill out for the type of situation, i.e. divorce, death in family."
While the duties may vary, the one recurring theme from the directors was their love of sports and the kids.
"The best part of the job is just to be around the games," said Keefer. "I like sports and in my role I can be involved because there is always something to do. The job has good and bad days just like any other job. Sometimes the weather won't cooperate and it can make for some tense days. But overall, I have nothing but positives. I give a lot of the credit to our coaches, whom I get along with and it makes the job that much more enjoyable."
Fowler likes the fact that after 20-plus years of teaching, being an assistant athletic director is a good change of pace.
"I have reinvented myself," said Fowler. "It is great to work with a guy like Lennies (McFerren), he is just a great guy. We have the same mindset. We work well together, I am the detailed-oriented person, while Lennies is best with the public relations."
Fowler did express that NMCC does drug test which is not one of her favorite parts of the job. Another headache is trying to get the students to get in their physicals on time.
Like Fowler, Miller has some frustrations on the job. Miller does not like to hear that fans are irate over an official, and has no time for parents who talk about his coaches.
Overall, Miller loves what he is doing and appreciates the opportunity he has had in his five years as athletic director at Dexter.
"I love the fact that I am constantly interacting with other people," said Miller. "I am an organize freak and enjoy matching what my books says to what is on our sports calendar. But most of all, I love just being around our kids. We have great student-athletes at Dexter, and it is an honor just being around them."
It is no big secret, the directors all have a passion. No, it is not a passion for paperwork or of state rules and guidelines. It is a passion for the people they have contact with every day. The coaches, students and each other.