No doubt the job holds considerable sway. A school’s athletic program is a window into its reputation, as well as its community. Yet Jenkins, known for presenting a positive image in Bloomfield, laments that too often, “people just look at wins, trophies, championships.” He believes athletics should be an extension of the classroom. He harps on themes like punctuality and respect. “It’s an awesome profession, one of the greatest ways to build influence in your community by the tone you set, the coaches you hire,” says consultant Kevin Bryant, a district athletic director in Oregon and author of a 2014 book, The Athletic Director Survival Guide (published by his own Thrive Athletic Consulting). “But it’s a very lonely job. No one in the building understands what you do. It’s like wallpaper, nobody notices you until something goes wrong.” And much can go awry. “When something happens in the classroom, you deal with it,” says Kim DeGraw-Cole, an NJSIAA assistant director and former AD at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin. “Something happens on the athletic field, it becomes a headline.” Not the least problem is fan behavior, which invariably puts ADs in the crosshairs. In 2016, a HowellManasquan hockey game was marred by a parent’s physical altercation with a pair of referees. Earlier this year, at a Jefferson Township-Dover High basketball game, some Jefferson students chanted “build the wall” at Dover’s Latino players and “ashy knees” at the team’s African-American members. The incident played out for days in the media. The NJSIAA directed the schools to work the problem out themselves. Such high-profile incidents are hardly the norm, but seething parents are increasingly problematic. “I’ve talked to quite a few people, and they agree it’s gotten worse since the economic downturn [in 2007],” says former Verona High AD Gary Farishian. “People are angrier, more frustrated,” he continues. “Nine out of 10 instances when a parent complains to an AD, it’s about their kid’s playing time.” Beyond the parental complaints, there are longstanding and polarizing issues to deal with. New Jersey high schools have been grappling with a transfer epidemic in which student athletes hopscotch from school to school in search of athletic advantage. Earlier this year, the commissioner of education rejected an NJSIAA rule intended to discourage student transfers, saying it unfairly punished students who transfer for legitimate reasons. The private-vs.-public-school issue is an ongoing national debate. Yet tensions in New Jersey have been particularly raw over the inherent advantages of certain private schools that ramp up recruiting to ensure their success. The issue recently got the better of Mike Wolfthal, longtime AD at Bishop Ahr High School in Edison. Frustrated over a December 2015 NJSIAA vote separating public and private schools in football and wrestling in his conference, Wolfthal blasted a profane e-mail to his peers. He later apologized, but the fury behind this controversy still inflames many. Stress is no stranger in a high school sports culture where winning often takes priority over fun and life lessons. Indeed, there’s much on the line, with so many student athletes hoping to earn college scholarships. Bryant, the consultant, says it takes up to five years for a new AD to fully “get their head around the position.” Meanwhile, they have to deal with the fear factor. Former Hunterdon Central athletic director Bob Rossi says he has seen younger ADs live in constant worry about buses showing up late, or heading in the wrong direction after leaving for their destinations.
35 | DAANJ WINTER 2017
Directors of Athletics Association of New Jersey, Inc.