Rappahannock public schools yesterday offered the job of athletics/activities director to Jamie Harris, a physical education teacher who made an impressive debut in his first year coaching varsity wrestling and softball teams at the high school — an impression that continued into Wednesday’s District girls’ softball semifinal game (see related story at right).
“The School Board authorized me to make an offer” to Harris, Superintendent Bob Chappell said in a statement released yesterday. “Coach Jamie Harris has accepted our offer. Harris is a ‘turnaround specialist.’ He has taken a struggling wrestling program and made it one of the most popular and successful programs at the high school.”
“His energy, enthusiasm, organizational ability and knack for recruiting kids to play sports will help him lead our athletic program to be the best it can be for our students. We want to restore the pride that our students and community have in their athletic programs,” Chappell said in an email Wednesday.
The phrase “restore the pride” also serves as an adequate description of Chappell’s motivation for earlier this year deciding to return the school division’s football and basketball programs to Virginia High School League (VHSL) play.
Chappell, along with former athletic director Bob Czekaj and former high school administrators, had decided three years ago to try semi-independent football and basketball seasons, in the hopes that playing smaller schools would improve Rappahannock’s win-loss record, along with team morale and participation.
RCHS is the smallest school division in VHSL’s Bull Run District — with half the student population of the next largest.
Chappell has said he thought the experiment was a mistake, and Czekaj, who was not reoffered the athletic director job (though his teaching contract was renewed), had become a lightning rod for the storms of parental unhappiness that grew with each team’s accumulated losses (and dropping sign-ups).
“As I told the interview committee,” Harris said by phone yesterday, “I love challenges.”
Harris and other candidates, a mix of inside and outside-the-division candidates, Chappell said, were interviewed by him and members of the School Board — as well as Aldridge Boone, who replaces the retiring Chappell as superintendent July 1.
Harris, who grew up in Southwestern Virginia, taught there for seven years before taking a year off to teach physical education to inmates for the Virginia Department of Correctional Education. He lives in Luray.
He believes even small schools can become competitive.
“When I was in southwest Virginia the schools I worked with were some of the smaller schools in the state, and competed in some of the smallest districts. It’s all about motivating. The kids in southwest Virgina — they expect to win. Going through elementary school and high school, you have feeder programs, so when you get to the high school level, you believed you could beat anyone.”
Harris said he feels part of the athletic director’s job should be to work with local youth sports organizations to “make them stronger,” and has already started an all-ages wrestling club — the Rappahannock Rage, based at the high school — as an example.
“It’s going to take a lot of communication and hard work,” he said. “But we can be very successful in Rappahannock County, and I know we will be.”