The Full Plate: Addressing the Problem of Athletic Administrator “Burnout” in Maine Secondary Schools
A Report of the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association
Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover
Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Board of Directors
October 2, 2006
Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Ad Hoc Committee on
Athletic Administrator Turnover
Colin Roy, Athletic Administrator - Mt. Ararat High School (Topsham)
Paul Soucy, Athletic Administrator - Hermon High School
Gary Stevens, Athletic Administrator - Bonny Eagle High School (Standish)
Introduction: The Changing Nature of the High School Athletic Administratorship in Maine
During the past three decades, there has been a significant evolution in the role served by the athletic director in high schools in the state of Maine. At one time many secondary schools, particularly those in smaller communities, hired athletic coaches to complete tasks associated with school athletic administration. Paid a small stipend for their efforts, these individuals played a quasi administrative role within their respective schools. They recruited and hired staff, developed budgets for their departments, ordered and maintained equipment and supplies, and provided game management services.
At one time, in many school districts, there were few prerequisites to becoming the high school athletic director. Frequently the school athletic directorship was assumed by a physical education instructor or a veteran coach who possessed a knowledge about a wide variety of sports. Oftentimes this individual also served as a varsity coach in three sports and assumed a full teaching load within his school. In addition to the major administrative tasks associated with his after school
program, the athletic director assumed responsibility for all contest preparation, including, but not limited to: lining and roping fields, pulling out bleachers, cleaning facilities, and coordinating ticket sales.
Several major changes in the mid-1970's affected the athletic directorship in the state of Maine. First the advent of Title IX legislation resulted in major changes for high school athletics. All schools receiving federal funding were required, by law, to provide equivalent opportunities for female and male students. In turn, the number and quality of girls athletic programs grew significantly. Opportunities increased at the state level as well. The Maine Secondary School Principals Association (MSSPA), now the Maine Principals Association (MPA), the organization governing interscholastic athletics in the state, held the first postseason state championship tournaments for girls basketball in 1975 and followed suit for several other girls sports by the end of that decade.
As a result of these legislative mandates and the changing culture of school athletics that resulted from them, new demands fell on the shoulders of the high school athletic director. The growth in scope and quality of female athletic programs required more and more time of the individual assuming the athletic directorship. To meet the needs of all students, schools often were required to add subvarsity teams or brand new programs, such as field hockey, to offset the opportunities historically afforded to males. In addition, the evolution of the MSSPA as a state athletic association resulted in many new administrative tasks being assigned to schools. The responsibility of reporting schedules, certifying eligibility rosters, and ensuring compliance with state athletic association regulations all were part of the bailiwick of the high school athletic administrator.
In response to these changes, the high school athletic directorship itself took on a new look. Given the growing legal implications (Title IX compliance, liability issues, fairness in hiring practices) associated with high school athletics and the evolving role of the MSSPA, the position of athletic director in many schools changed accordingly. A strong knowledge of state and federal legislation and the competence to accurately interpret and enforce MSSPA rules became as integral a part of the athletic directors skill set as had been the ability to order game equipment and paint fields.
As a result, athletic administration statewide assumed a more professional look. In many cases, the tasks traditionally assigned to the part-time athletic director paid on a stipended basis were now delegated to a school administrator, often an assistant principal. In larger schools that offered more programs, the athletic directorship was a position unto itself with clearly communicated requirements for those who held the post. For some aspiring school administrators, the high school athletic directorship was an entry level administrative position that prepared them for the principalship, or, eventually, a superintendency. School units established job descriptions for their athletic administrators that frequently included job qualification credentials such as certification and years of service in education.
A group of professional athletic administrators, including Dwight Hunter of Caribou, Bob Lahey of Old Town, and Don Dow of Stearns, emerged as statewide leaders and role models for others in the field. In many cases the names of these individuals became synonymous with the schools they served. It was not uncommon for an athletic director to hold his position for fifteen or twenty years or more. (Eugene Stover, athletic administrator at Wiscasset High School, retired after thirty-seven years of service to that school.) Individuals such as Hunter, Lahey, and Dow helped
transform the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association (now Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association [MIAAA]) into an organization designed to promote the position of athletic director in the state of Maine by offering professional development at annual conferences and training institutes, identifying and communicating best practices to its membership, and serving as an advocate for adequate compensation and working conditions.
Today over three decades later, the landscape of Maine high school athletics continues to change dramatically. The expansion of programming in high schools to include sports such as indoor track and field, boys and girls lacrosse, volleyball, and ice hockey, among others, has challenged the individual capacities of those who serve as athletic administrators to meet the time, energy, and organizational demands posed by these new challenges. Outdoor facilities throughout the state have been renovated and refitted for lights to permit nighttime play, further expanding the length of the work day of the athletic director. The increasingly litigious nature of American society has added new responsibilities and accompanying pressures upon those who serve their schools in
these positions. Subsequently, people are leaving the profession in droves. In 2006 athletic administrator turnover is at an all-time high in Maine schools. The days of the Dwight Hunters and Gene Stovers serving their schools for three or more decades are clearly passe.
Defining the Issue: The Work of the Ad Hoc Committee
At the request of Executive Director Martin Ryan, CMAA, in 2005 the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Board of Directors assembled an Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover to study the root causes of athletic administrator turnover within the state. Concerned about not only the sheer volume, but also the quality of the pool of individuals who were abandoning the profession to assume other roles in (and in some cases, out of) education, Executive Director Ryan challenged the MIAAA Ad Hoc Committee to identify the contributing factors
to what has commonly been called "athletic administrator burnout" and make recommendations to address those concerns. The MIAAA Board of Directors appointed a committee consisting of Colin Roy of Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Paul Soucy of Hermon High School, and Gary Stevens of Bonny Eagle High School in Standish to study this problem. The group convened during the spring of 2006 to begin its work.
As a means of collecting information for developing its report and subsequent recommendations, the Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover conducted a series of surveys during 2006 in order to obtain and analyze data that could be used to assess the current status of the profession in the state of Maine. A member of each of the eight major athletic conferences in the state assisted the Ad Hoc Committee in distributing and collecting surveys. Among those instruments used were a survey designed for current athletic administrators, a second geared towards individuals who
have either retired from or left the profession, and a questionnaire for current Maine high school principals. A description of each survey process follows:
All athletic administrators in the state of Maine were afforded the opportunity to complete a multiple part survey in which a variety of information was collected. 51 individuals completed this survey. One series of questions allowed participants to identify elements of their work through an athletic administrator profile. Among those items included in this instrument were:
a. school population
b. years of experience
c. estimated hours of work per week
d. job description (i.e. various roles assumed within the school)
e. certification required
f. number of programs offered within the school
g. number of teams and coaches
h. current salary
i. number of days required by working contract
j. existence of support personnel
k. positions held prior to athletic administratorship
l. coaching experience
A second series of questions required participants to respond to a series of statements using a Likert Scale approach (ex. 1 = Strongly Disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Agree 4 = Strongly Agree).
Among the many topics addressed in this section were: respect accorded to athletic administrators by colleagues, coaches, parents, and students; adequacy of human and fiscal resources; and overall job satisfaction. Athletic administrators were afforded the opportunity to provide commentary explaining their responses.
A final section required respondents to construct open-ended responses to questions addressing issues as diverse as the changing nature of athletic administration to personal and professional aspirations. Athletic administrators participating in the survey also identified what they liked best and least about their profession given the variables that they face in their everyday work.
Survey for Former Athletic Administrators
The Ad Hoc Committee also sought to obtain the perspective of those who have recently left the profession. As a result, a survey designed for former athletic administrators was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee and administered to individuals who have retired or otherwise are no longer employed in the field. Thirteen former athletic directors participated in this process. The survey was comprised of a series of open-ended questions. Among those items addressed in the instrument were:
a. years of service
b. current position
c. reasons for leaving the field
d. how the position of athletic administrator changed during the person’s tenure
e. what the person liked and disliked about his or her job
f. impact of profession on the individual, both personally and professionally
g. ideas on retaining people in the profession
In order to gather information regarding the connections between athletics and the experiences of the school principal, a questionnaire was developed for those currently in principalships within the state of Maine. This objective survey required participants to identify elements of their experience prior to becoming a school principal. Data was collected identifying other positions held by individuals on their career pathway to the principalship. 56 people responded to this survey.
A Profile of the Maine Athletic Administrator
Maine athletic administrators share some common characteristics. In an era in which a growing number of colleges and universities offer extensive sports management programs, it is noteworthy that a vast majority of Maine’s athletic directors were promoted to their positions from either within their educational organization or were hired away from other school districts. Approximately 90% of those who assume this role within their schools began (or in some cases, continue) their careers as classroom teachers. For most of the state’s athletic directors, their knowledge of the Maine athletic landscape is a result of their work in an athletic environment. As might be expected, 92% of those polled by the Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover served as an athletic coach either at the high school or collegiate level. 38 respondents (or 73%) coached basketball, and nearly 40% have experience coaching the sports of football, baseball, softball, or soccer.
Based upon the data collected from the surveys distributed by the Ad Hoc Committee, however, it is clear that, despite the fact that those who manage the state’s high school athletic programs are frequently products of the system in which they work, one cannot otherwise generalize any sort of profile that captures the essence of the work required of them; in other words, in terms of job description, there is no “typical” Maine athletic administrator. What does emerge from an examination of the myriad of job descriptions in the state is that one’s responsibilities and role within his or her school is oftentimes based upon the location of the community where the individual works and the size of the school that he or she serves. Over one third of all athletic administrators responding to the Membership Survey have the dual role of high school/middle school athletic administrator. Another 23.5% of those polled, many of whom work in rural schools in Aroostook County or in the Downeast/Acadia region, have teaching responsibilities in addition to their administrative duties connected with athletics. One fact is clear: relatively few educational positions in Maine are designed solely for the purposes of administering interscholastic athletic programs. Fewer than one in six surveyed report job descriptions which are exclusively tied to work with high school athletics.
Local needs and human resources (or lack of them) in both the curricular and co-curricular arenas dictate the conditions of the work day of a given athletic administrator. Oftentimes the high school’s athletic administrator is given a large number of what might be considered “add-on” assignments. The potpourri of job descriptions extant in the state illustrates that fact. Athletic administrators in the state report that they are responsible for activities as diverse as advising the student council, assigning building usage, performing lunch duty coverage, arranging district transportation, serving as a liaison for multiple academic departments, and serving as a facilities director. One southern Maine athletic administrator is given responsibility for coordinating his school’s graduation exercises while another serves as senior class advisor.
Although the Maine Legislature is currently engaged in conversations about certification for athletic administrators, the requirements for working in this capacity in Maine schools remains extensively a local issue. Several schools require a teaching certificate for those employed in this capacity. One third of respondents work in school systems requiring their athletic administrators to hold a valid Maine assistant principal certificate. Approximately twenty percent of those surveyed, however, report that their school systems have no certification requirements whatsoever.
The level of support services available for athletic directors in Maine varies from community to community. Although 62% of all surveyed indicate that they have access to groundskeeping services to prepare their outdoor playing fields for practices and contests, a large number of Maine athletic directors perform those tasks themselves. Clerical assistance for those who operate the state’s interscholastic programs is in even shorter supply. Only 57% of survey respondents report access to a full-time or part time secretary; the balance of those in the profession complete state association forms and do routine typing and filing work themselves. Of particular concern is that only three out of five Maine high schools report having an athletic trainer either on staff or paid through a contracted services agreement. In other words, forty percent of Maine’s high schools do not have direct access to any sort of medical services for their athletes during practices and/or games.
Although one is inclined to generalize that the availability of support services is directly connected to school size and/or geography, the data suggests otherwise. Given that thirty-seven of the fifty-one respondents (72%) work in either Class A or B schools in Maine, a direct correlation between school size (and geography) and existence of support services would exist if a similar percentage of schools report the same. Clearly that is not the case. Many individuals overseeing substantially sized athletic programs in Maine prepare their own grounds, set up their own gymnasiums, type their own documents, and serve as first responders in the event of medical emergencies.
Regardless of the degree of presence of athletic support services connected with athletic administration positions in Maine, some commonalities do nevertheless exist for all of those who assume this critical role. Whether one works in Madawaska or Kittery, Rumford or Machias, the school athletic administrator oversees the complete operation associated with all interscholastic programs his or her school offers. In an age where new opportunities and programs abound throughout the state, athletic administrators in Maine manage, on average, approximately twenty distinct programs during the school year. Based on the survey data, school athletic administrators in Maine, oversee an average of forty distinct athletic teams at the varsity, subvarsity, and middle school levels. In this role, athletic administrators hire coaching personnel, develop practice and game schedules, and facilitate, whether directly or indirectly, contest management procedures and transportation for each of them. Budgetary needs are identified, articulated, and if available, utilized to ensure that the games will be played.
Personnel management is also a staple of the athletic administrator’s daily regimen. Results of the Ad Hoc Committee survey indicate that athletic administrators oversee the work of an average of fifty-five coaches apiece. The supervision process includes, but is not limited to recruitment, hiring, observation and evaluation, and professional development of a large staff. Given that a growing number of Maine’s high school athletic coaches do not work in the school buildings whose students they service, communication is increasingly challenging and requires knowledge and use of multiple technologies.
Of increasing importance to the athletic administrator of the twenty-first century is a knowledge of current legal trends and requirements. Although few of the state’s cadre of athletic administrators report that their school districts require administrative certification, thus ensuring that they have completed coursework in federal and state law, it is becoming increasingly clear that keeping abreast of this subject is a de facto prerequisite for the job. Knowledge of risk management, legal implications of the hiring process, Title IX, and the constitutional implications of the high school athletic experience are essential skills for athletic administrators to not only avoid lawsuits, but to ensure that they retain their positions in their schools.
The Current State of the Profession: What Maine Athletic Administrators are Saying
Turnover is a constant in any work organization or profession. As new opportunities present themselves, individuals seeking advancement or enrichment move from one worksheet to another or are promoted within their own organizations. Change also occurs naturally as individuals who have dedicated a lifetime to their craft approach retirement age. In many professions, therefore, there is clearly a cyclical nature to work. People assume a given position in that profession with a specific skill set, develop that skill set to advance to the next level, and then move on to have their positions filled by another.
Historically the field of athletic administration in the state of Maine has been part of a career cycle shaping educational organizations. At one time the prototypical path for the school principal followed him or her from being a teacher and coach to athletic director, assistant principal, and ultimately, the instructional leader of his school. In this model, classroom teachers aspiring towards a career in administration frequently began their administrative careers as a high school or middle school athletic director (oftentimes combined with assistant principal duties) and honed their organizational, budgetary, and personnel leadership skills in these positions. As evidenced by the results of the Ad Hoc Committee survey, there are several individuals who still aspire to become assistant principals or principals and view the athletic directorship as a means to achieving these goals.
A profile of secondary principals in the state of Maine indicates that many of Maine’s current high school leaders followed this route to their principalship. According to the Principals Survey conducted by the MIAAA Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover, all participants report that they began their careers in education as a classroom teacher, averaging 11.95 years of experience among them. Almost three quarters of Maine principals participating in the survey were teacher coaches and served in this capacity for an average of just under eleven years. Over one third served as an athletic administrator with the average tenure of those who worked in the field being 5.30 years. Three quarters of all Maine principals surveyed also served as assistant principals, many of whose positions also required them to oversee high school interscholastic sports programs.
Given this historic trend of entrance to and egress from athletic administration, on the surface it appears as if turnover within the field is part of the cyclical nature of educational organizations. Turnover is a certainly a current trend in Maine athletic administration. A Portland Press Herald article of August 27, 2006 cites changes in athletic directors in twenty-five Maine high schools located within a sixty mile radius of Portland in the period from August 2004 to August 2005 alone. In the Southwestern Maine Activities Association (SMAA), a seventeen member conference comprised of some of Maine's largest high schools, nine athletic directorships are currently occupied by a different person than the one who held that post six years ago. Fourschools have had at least three individuals serve their departments during that same juncture. In addition, four former SMAA athletic directors left their posts to assume assistant principal or principal positions.
The numbers of people moving in and out of the athletic administration profession beg analysis of the reasons why individuals are choosing to leave their schools or the field altogether. The multiple nature of the job descriptions required of many in the profession, particularly in the rural or remote parts of Maine, does not alone explain the current trends. The exodus is particularly prolific in the larger schools of southern Maine where human and financial resources are more abundant. In the SMAA, for example, only one athletic administrator retains teaching responsibilities and only three serve in dual assistant principal/athletic administrator roles.
Most have full-time or part-time clerical help and almost every school in that conference has access to athletic training services, and in a few cases, a team physician. Nevertheless, only about half of the individuals holding athletic directorships in that conference in 2000 remain in those positions today. Is there something about the nature of the work that is causing this phenomenon?
What is clear is the fact that the position of athletic administrator remains important in most Maine communities. Athletic administrators in Maine concur, by and large, that they feel respected by the students and parents whom they serve in their communities, the coaches whom they supervise, and the building administration that oversees their work. Although some admit a disconnect with their central offices (“I don’t think that my superintendent/principal has any idea how much time I
put in.”, “My super doesn’t understand interscholastic athletics; she comes from the elementary level.”), most feel support nevertheless from their district administration.
Nevertheless, the research of the Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover suggests that there are a number of factors leading people to flee the profession, a profession that most agree is rewarding in many ways. In no particular rank order, the major issues confronting the profession and creating tension for those who work within it are as follows:
1. Maine athletic administrators work long, arduous hours that impact them personally and professionally.
According to the Ad Hoc Committee's Membership Survey, Maine athletic administrators work approximately 54 hours per week on average. Several in the profession devote 60-75 hours weekly, including significant weekend hours, to meeting their responsibilities. One southern Maine athletic director, for example, reports that he worked 29 Saturdays during the 2005-2006 school year.
The issue of time emerges as a key theme among both current and former athletic administrators when asked what they like least about their job. “I never seem to get caught up,” laments one Maine athletic administrator. “Some days go from 8 AM to 10 PM,” notes another. A retiree from the field observes, “The [athletic administrator] puts in more time than any other professional in education. There is no closure at the end of the day.” Furthermore, he adds, “You work school vacations, summers (to a lesser degree) and throughout the school year.” For another retired athletic administrator, he realized when his career was over that the job, in many regards, had totally consumed him to the point that it became synonymous with his sense of self. “It was if my personal life and professional career,” he reflected, ”had become as one.”
The number of hours required to proficiently meet the demands of the profession have a negative impact on the quality of both one’s health and personal life. The daily diet of an athletic administrator who is not careful about taking care of himself or herself may consist of concession food or fast food consumed on the run. Exercise is oftentimes forgotten or sacrificed for the sake of work, or when getting home for the day, sleep. The stresses associated with athletics put the athletic administrator at a higher risk for heart disease or other ailments than people serving in many other professions.
The stresses inherent in the profession manifest themselves in other ways as well. The job itself becomes all encompassing for many. “I try not to let it get to me,” indicates one A.D., “but it seems like I think about stuff 24/7. When the phone rings, my first response is “What happened now?”
Family life is also frequently strained due to the time demands incumbent upon athletic administrators. “I enjoyed my time [as an athletic director],” noted one retiree, “but at a cost. Fall and winter seasons were long and hard.” Another states, “It takes tremendous amounts of family time away from my very understanding wife and two young children.”
Spouses of athletic administrators concur on this point. A wife of a southern Maine athletic administrator serving a large high school and middle school notes, “There are some weeks when the only time I can see [my husband] is if I decide to go to a function at the field and have a hamburger with him.” Another observes, “We have an eight-month old son and sometimes I call myself the single mother!”
Given the time commitment and responsibility connected with interscholastic athletics, many spouses find that their husbands’ careers pose other impositions upon family life. “The A.D. family is not allowed to go anywhere without the cell phone,” laments one spouse, who notes that her husband has had to work from long distance on two consecutive summer vacations. Another notes that because her husband is away from home up to twelve hours per day for as many as six days per week, she must bear all the responsibilities for running the household.
Nevertheless, spouses of athletic administrators remain generally supportive of their husbands as they recognize that they love what they do. Some have reconciled their situations by employing the old adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” One spouse of a veteran athletic director has opted to involve herself in her husband’s athletic program as an announcer at fall and winter game events. “I guess you could say,” she observes, “I have come to realize that if I want to see him, I have to go where he is!”
In essence, during an activity season, the athletic administrators day consists of two distinct parts -- the traditional school day in which the entire student body is present and the after school period that can extend well into the night. Although some athletic directors who do not have classroom duties are provided flexible time that allows them to begin work after the first passing bell rings, many do not take advantage of that opportunity given the nature of their responsibilities. In order to communicate with students and teachers, it is necessary to be at school when they are. For athletic administrators who also have teaching or assistant principal duties, the option of arriving late is non-existent. In many cases, the teaching athletic administrator has only preparation time in order to perform his duties. As a result, many in the profession arrive early, remain at school late, or utilize weekend time to keep pace with not only their school responsibilities, but also completion of those tasks required by the state athletic association.
In many ways, the athletic administrator’s day begins anew at 2:00 PM when the general school population and staff go home. At that time, a new menu of activities arrives on his or her plate.
For most, particularly on game days, the day ends long after the last student-athlete and/or coach has left. Sixteen-hour days are not uncommon, particularly during the winter months. Making this scenario particularly challenging is that one must constantly be at the top of his game when his energy may be at its lowest. For example, dealing with spectator issues in the aftermath of an emotionally charged basketball or football game that ends at 9:30 PM or 10:00 PM may require the athletic administrator who has been on duty since 7:00 AM to make critical decisions requiring split second timing and keen judgment.
Furthermore, the growth of new sport programs, including ice hockey, boys and girls lacrosse, and volleyball, and the pressure from communities to add lights to outdoor venues has extended both his or her workload and the length of the work day. As a result of program growth, athletic administrators are responsible for more coaches, more scheduling, more game management, and more student-athletes.
Individuals who have recently exited the profession of athletic administration cite the time to do the job and the associated stresses as the major factors influencing their decision to leave. The time commitment required of the position, say several individuals, affected their attitude and outlook about the profession. Family considerations also played a significant role in this process. For others, the pressures inherent in the position led to “burnout” or otherwise caused them to examine how being an athletic administrator was affecting their physical or emotional health.
2. Maine athletic administrators feel underpaid for their work.
Secondary school athletic administrators in the state of Maine are compensated under a variety of models. In several of the larger schools in the state, particularly in southern Maine, the athletic administrator is considered to be a member of the school administration and works full-time in that capacity. As a result, he or she is paid a salary commensurate with the title he or she holds. Such an arrangement, however, is not the norm. In many other communities, the high school athletic administrator is a member of the teaching faculty with classroom duties assigned to him in addition to his co-curricular role. In these cases, the athletic director’s salary figure is based, in part, on his or her level of experience; in turn, the school system’s teacher contract is applied to determine that part of his pay. Usually a stipend for being athletic director, and in some instances, a per diem rate for any additional contracted days required by the local school district are added to this base salary. Several other school systems have designated their athletic administrators as part-time employees. At least two communities have hired retired educators as athletic directors at a reduced salary and a considerable cost savings to their districts. Despite their “part-time” label, however, these individuals perform the same tasks and work similar hours to their “full-time” counterparts.
Regardless of the contractual arrangement adopted by school units, Maine athletic administrators share a strong feeling that they are significantly underpaid given their responsibilities and the expectations thrust upon them by school systems, community members, and the nature of the job itself. Many of the state’s A.D.’s also assume full or partial responsibility for middle school or junior high school athletic programs as well. (One southern Maine high school athletic director is assigned additional administrative duties for two middle schools within his school unit.) Such a phenomenon is not limited to medium sized or small schools. In the SMAA, one of two large school conferences in the state, nearly half of the league’s seventeen athletic directors coordinate at least some aspects of their district’s middle school extra-curricular programs.
The role of athletic administrators has expanded significantly in the past two decades. One retired educator observes that the athletic directorship, “once a part-time position with [a] primary focus on scheduling” has evolved into a position requiring substantial time devoted to supervision and evaluation. Compared to other midlevel managers in their school units who have similar supervisory responsibilities, athletic directors oftentimes feel under compensated for their efforts. One athletic director responsible for 109 coaches and 86 athletic teams at the high school and middle school levels, for example, notes that assistant principals in his district are paid $5000.00 per year more than he is. Another A.D. reports that an assistant principal in his school earns $2500.00 more than he does despite the fact that he outranks his colleague in seniority by five years.
Finding the personal time needed to address personal or family needs is challenging for most people holding this position. The contract year of an athletic administrator varies from district to district and region to region. Some individuals are contracted for 182 (a standard teacher’s contract year), while others are designated by their school units as year-round employees. However, most individuals work numerous days in excess of the stated contracted minimum to meet the growing demands of the profession. Many sacrifice vacation time to which are contractually entitled in order to keep pace with the myriad of tasks associated with their jobs. Since entering athletic administration, notes one individual, his position has become “more demanding.” He adds, “The expectations continue to grow, but the length of the day stays the same.”
Given the administrative function they serve and the excessive time commitment incumbent upon them, in terms of the length of the work day (not to mention the sheer number of them!), it is not surprising that a number of athletic directors in Maine feel underpaid for their work.
Particularly for those in smaller schools who are compensated according to a salary scale negotiated by a teacher’s association, the extra stipend they earn is hardly commensurate with the hours that they toil or the burdens that they bear. Whether it be on a true per diem or an actual per hour basis, the Maine athletic administrator is, on average, paid less than any other educational professional in his or her system with similar years of experience. Most Maine school administrative units are, to use a catch phrase, receiving a “big bang for their buck” when it comes to compensating the person charged with their school athletic programs.
3. Maine athletic administrators feel that they lack the fiscal and human resources necessary to be successful in their work.
Many athletic administrators feel that they greatly lack the financial backing necessary for carrying out their programs. Several rely on gate receipts to supplement or significantly fund parts of their programs. Given the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) funding model adopted by the state of Maine, more and more athletic administrators may, in the near future, be required to utilize booster organizations to purchase the essentials required for their programs.
More significantly, athletic administrators feel isolated in their work. 60% of those participating in the Membership Survey cite that they lack adequate human resources to assist in the management and operation of their programs. Many athletic directors serving rural communities
in Maine manage one person offices. Several assert that basic clerical or secretarial services would help relieve the burdens incumbent in their positions and free up time for other tasks.
Nearly half of Maine athletic administrators surveyed feel that their positions as currently structured are unmanageable. More significantly, 63% of respondents state that they feel overwhelmed in their jobs. Nevertheless, according to the survey, athletic administrators state that they feel that they have strong time management skills that allow them to compensate for these shortfalls.
4. Parental influences in sports are putting a strain on Maine athletic administrators.
Although most athletic administrators state that they feel by and large that parents respect the position of athletic director within their communities, negative parent involvement in athletics is cited by several respondents to the Membership Survey as something that they like least about the profession. What is a common theme in these responses is the sense that parent expectations for their youngsters and the programs that serve them have become unrealistic and result in confrontation and conflict.
Despite these tensions, many athletic administrators nevertheless find the profession rewarding in many ways. In fact, many speak in overwhelmingly positive terms about their profession, a testimony to their commitment to what they are doing and their resilience in the face of a very demanding job. Among the many factors that lead athletic administrators to remain in the profession are:
1. the opportunity to work with student-athletes and be part of their personal growth
2. working with athletic coaches and overseeing their professional growth
3. collegiality with others in the profession; connections made with other athletic administrators
4. professional development -- chance to enhance skills required to perform the job and ability to problem solve in a high stakes environment
Maine’s athletic administrators do what they do because they recognize that their work is important and impacts young people in a positive way. “It has given me an opportunity to give back what I received from my positive experiences in athletics,” observes one Maine athletic administrator.
Another relates, “I have developed relationships that I feel will last a lifetime.” “It was consuming,” notes one retiree, “but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Given positive factors and the aforementioned concerns that are causing people to leave the profession, it is essential that school systems reexamine the role of the athletic administrator in their communities. The majority of Maine’s athletic directors clearly enjoy the job that they do and feel that it is integral to the overall school program. Nevertheless, tensions exist that compromise their ability to perform their responsibilities effectively. The MIAAA and school leadership statewide must step up to address this issue at this critical period. By doing so, educational and athletic leaders in Maine will, in turn, support the current generation of athletic directors and train and recruit effective leaders for the future.
Based upon what Maine athletic administrators have articulated in surveys conducted in the spring of 2006, the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover makes the following recommendations in order to address the concerns and current needs of the professionals in our state who service student-athletic programs:
1. Working with the Maine Principals’ Association (MPA), the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) needs to publicize the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Administrator Turnover to the membership of the MPA and superintendents and school boards throughout the state
2. School administrative units in the state of Maine need to reexamine the role and work of athletic administrators in their communities and build contractual arrangements reflecting the actual time and responsibilities associated with those roles.
3. School administrative units in the state of Maine need to provide athletic administrators with appropriate support personnel, particularly clerical or secretarial, to perform the tasks required of their jobs.
4. In order to foster a higher performing work force, school administrative units in the state of Maine should assess the current job description of and time expectations associated with their athletic administrators and make adjustments accordingly.
5. The MIAAA, working with the major conferences of the state and the MPA, should encourage formal mentorship programs to assist new athletic administrators in performing their duties.
6. The MIAAA, working with the major conferences of the state and the MPA, should examine the issue of personal wellness in athletic administration and offer programming (perhaps through state conference) related to this issue.