Superintendent of Schools Aldridge Boone met with a crowd of about 100 people for close to four hours last Thursday (Feb. 17) to talk about the future of the athletic program in the Rappahannock County Public Schools.
Many at the meeting in the high school auditorium said they liked what athletic director Jamie Harris has accomplished in the short time he’s held the job, since July 1, and they wanted him to continue in that role.
Boone has proposed doing away with the athletic director position and shifting those duties to high school principal Robert Stump, who joined the school division last June and has a background in athletic coaching.
More than one speaker, however, said lack of consistency due to a revolving door of principals and athletic directors has hurt efforts to recruit players and coaches.
Boone said eliminating the athletic director position would save the school division money. He noted that it is a part-time position now.
Besides serving as athletic director, which involves scheduling games and having a role in the hiring of coaches and equipping the teams, Harris has been teaching sixth- and seventh-grade physical education classes. He also coached the varsity high school wrestling team. He will teach two strength and conditioning classes as well as the physical education classes next school year.
“I’m still trying to digest everything,” he told the News at the community meeting last Thursday.
“I believe I can build any program and see it through successfully. Those are the values I teach and coach. I think I’ve done what I set out to do,” he said.
Asked how he felt about the compliments sent his way by many of the speakers, he said he “really felt the emotion of it.”
Harris said he thinks that “we’ve earned the respect” of other teams in the Bull Run District. “We’ve shown that we are very capable.”
Harris sat quietly toward the back of the auditorium during the public forum.
Boone said he wanted it known that “I’m not against athletics. I played a lot of sports. I believe athletics are a very important supplement. They are among the things that motivate a child to do well.”
He said he had heard talk that he wanted to do away with middle school and junior varsity sports and wanted to pull out of the Bull Run District. “I have no intention of doing that. I don’t want to do anything to the detriment of children. We have a 382-student high school, including eighth grade. We have a principal, an assistant principal and an athletic director. I’m looking to save money and to consider how we can direct that money elsewhere. This has nothing to do with Jamie Harris.
“Mr. Harris has done a fine job and I’m sure Mr. Stump will do a fine job,” Boone said.
The superintendent said Harris would be paid a stipend during the summer to help with the transition.
Boone said the question he considered was “do we need the athletic director position and my answer is ‘no, we don’t.'”
One speaker said “something is going to get lost” if an administrator is in charge of running both a school and an athletics program. Another speaker said he’d rather have the principal of the school his child attends to be focused on education rather than sports.
Amy Hitt, president of the Rappahannock County School Sports Association (RCSSA), a booster organization, said although there are fewer students currently in high school who have gone out for sports, she sees that changing in a couple years based on the crop of younger students involved in sports.
“In the next two years our (high school) program will be full. In my opinion we need an athletic director,” Hitt said.
She also said school sports need more fans in the stands and more hands helping in efforts to support the team.
Another member of the audience, Sharon Kilpatrick, said, “Mediocre is not good enough. We want excellence. The athletic director position is very demanding and it’s not really compatible with the principal position.”
“There are only so many hours in the day. His main job should be education,” said another speaker, Hodge Miller, referring to the principal.
Miller said he graduated from Rappahannock High School and coached at the school when Jon Smythe was athletic director.
Miller said Smythe “brought in good coaches. And he had a roster of players starting with the youth. You can’t expect to be good if the first time you pick up a basketball is in high school.” He said the athletic director should be involved in nurturing younger players.
“Kids can be successful if they have good coaching,” Miller said.
Hitt said the school division should have all its coaching slots filled at the start of the school year so that they can get an early start on recruiting students to play.
Boone said that the administration has been looking for coaches for the teams. He also said more must be done to increase student participation. Poor grades have prevented some students from participating. The superintendent said a goal of his is to “match up every student with someone to look out for him (or her.)”
Mike Tupper, director of instruction, staff development and testing for the school division, said students need to hear that “participating in athletics is a fun thing. We have to have kids willing to participate in multiple sports.”
Boone said “I feel confident the athletic program will move forward” regardless of what happens with the athletic director position.
Doing away with the position starting in the next school year remains a proposal at this point. The school board will review it as well as other aspects of the superintendent’s budget and then pass on the budget recommendation to the county board of supervisors for action.
“I’m going to do the best job I can and it won’t take away from academics,” said principal Stump about taking on the athletic director’s duties if that comes to pass.
Boone said he was “encouraged by the turnout, the feedback and the overall feelings” expressed at the meeting. “I think this has been a very positive thing. I haven’t heard a lot of things I haven’t agreed with. I agree that the duties of the athletic director are important. The only thing we disagree about is the method.”