Jimmy Swindler, Rappahannock native and the local public school system’s athletics (and facilities) director for the past four years, says his most recent roster decision was his most difficult.
That would be his decision last month to take himself out of the AD position and become Rappahannock County Public Schools’ facilities director as of July 1, when the formerly shared position becomes two separate jobs.
“It has been a challenge,” Swindler said this week. “Not that the two jobs cannot be done by one person, but they can’t be done well — and the biggest part of that is, an athletic director really needs to be at the high school most of the time, while facilities keeps me at the board office or the elementary school too often, and it’s not fair to the athletes . . . . I’m thankful that the school board and superintendent recognized that the two jobs need to be broken out.”
On the other hand, Swindler says, “it’s been a bittersweet choice, a tough choice.” Swindler says he plans to start work on a doctorate degree this summer, and “it would be challenging to pursue a graduate degree while being athletic director,” a post that requires probably the oddest number of off-hours work and out-of-town travel of any in the school division’s administration.
Swindler’s outgoing manner and his long association with all things Rappahannock have helped him persuade a number of new, enthusiastic and talented coaches to take on high school and middle school teams during his tenure. Combined with the Virginia High School League (VHSL) decision two years ago to reconfigure postseason play — allowing a small 1A school like RCHS, which shares the Bull Run District with much larger 2A and 3A divisions, to compete in postseason conference tournaments with similar-sized schools — Swindler says morale among athletes and parents has improved enormously.
“Our teams are just on a more competitive footing,” he said. “There’s been a visible change in morale — not that morale was horrible before, but prior to [the VHSL changes], there was an assumption that in most sports, we were going to lose. Once in a while there’d be an individual athlete who shined above all, but in most sports, particularly in the postseason, it didn’t look promising.
“Last year, our boys varsity soccer team [competing in regular-season district play] went 3-13,” he added, “but headed for the conference tournament and got to be one game away from being in the state playoffs. That’s the beauty of the new VHSL setup.”
Swindler credits parents and athletics supporters in the community — like those who’ve started feeder leagues for younger players, including the Rappahannock Youth Basketball League and equivalent clubs for soccer, baseball and other sports — with “stepping up in a real way” in recent years. The school division’s biggest sports challenge — generating enough interest for both a varsity and middle-school football program — remains a challenge, but Swindler says varsity coach Mark Heinle is working hard on generating enthusiasm (and, he says, on creating a possible Rappahannock-based team to compete in football club leagues in surrounding counties).
“I would just like to make sure everybody . . .” Swindler starts to say, and turns his head away for a moment, overcome by emotion. “I want to make sure everybody understands how much I appreciate the opportunity to do what I’ve done for the last four years.”
He’s quiet for a moment, and then turns back to his interviewer and smiles. “It’s bittersweet, I told you.”
Superintendent Donna Matthews said this week that candidates for athletic director are being interviewed this week. Swindler said it’s possible a recommended choice could come before the school board at either its April or May meetings.