New athletic director brings energy, enthusiasm

Jimmy Swindler, the new athletic director for Rappahannock schools, stands still briefly for a photo at the Rappahannock News earlier this week. Photo by Alisa Booze Troetschel.

If you’re the parent of a high school student who doesn’t play sports, you may well receive a personal invitation from Jimmy Swindler to bring your teen to team tryouts.

In the April 12 regular monthly meeting of the Rappahannock County School Board, chairman Wesley Mills announced the appointment of James E. Swindler II to be athletic director for Rappahannock schools, starting July 1.

After lining up coaches for all teams for the 2011-12 school year, Swindler said that his top priority is to grow the number of students playing sports as well as their parents involvement.

“We have a fantastic middle school program.” said Swindler. “We have a fantastic turnout of kids.” But then the students’ enthusiasm wanes at the JV and varsity levels.

“It mystifies me.” Swindler said. As the father of two high school players, he attends many games.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the stands, talking to kids and wondering why they are not playing,” said Swindler.
Swindler plans to share the value of participating in sports with parents. There are two selling points, he said.

Sports participation can distinguish a college application from those submitted by students with similar grades. Because the tryout pool is smaller than many other counties, Rappahannock students can play more sports and increase their attractiveness to college admissions, he said.

Swindler also takes a long-term view of the rewards of playing sports. Such experiences teach leadership and teamwork skills, which students employ in their careers and throughout their lives, Swindler said.

With administrative approval, Swindler wants to send all high school students’ parents of a letter of introduction. And, he said, “there’s the good old-fashioned pick-up-the-phone-and-call-people” method. He envisions calling parents to let them know that team tryouts are coming up.

Having lived in the county since the age of 10, and graduating from Rappahannock County High School in 1978, Swindler sees an advantage to being acquainted with many parents. This familiarity has worked well for him in his nine years of teaching sixth-grade history at Rappahannock County Elementary School.

“Being plugged into the community gives me a leg up,” Swindler said.

In part because of Swindler’s local roots, Amy Hitt, president of the Rappahannock County School Sports Association (RCSSA), says she also expects community members to be responsive to Swindler in financially supporting teams. More people might apply for coaching jobs, she said. However, Hitt notes that Rappahannock coaches are severely underpaid. She describes their salaries as “a pittance compared to what coaches get in other counties [in Virginia].”

Hitt is pleased that Swindler was selected to be the athletic director, and said she hopes he receives the authority and leeway to do his job well.

Swindler’s aspirations to spread the word about Rappahannock athletics may meet Hitt’s hopes of more publicity and communication from the athletic department. Swindler leaned forward in his chair as he described one of his goals — for fliers to be posted throughout the community announcing every upcoming game.

Swindler wants to “work hand in hand” with RCSSA as he views the organization as “an integral part of sports programs.” He wants to attend all of their meetings, and said that he and Hitt get along well together.

On Hitt’s part, she would like to him to be at all of the group’s fundraisers. RCSSA is committed to making a $40,000 annual loan payment for lights at the baseball, softball and football/soccer fields.

Swindler views promotion as huge component of his new job.

“I am the head cheerleader for sports programs,” Swindler said. He hopes to attend all the games where he will talk to people in the crowd.

“Jimmy has a talent in interfacing with the public,” Mills said.

One of Swindler’s goals is to see more faces in the bleachers. As a middle school and JV volleyball coach for six years, he was amazed that, at home games, sometimes more spectators turned out to support the visiting team than Rappahannock’s.

Swindler did say that he was impressed by attendance at football games this past season.

Swindler also coaches middle school girls’ basketball. In keeping with a new policy, as athletic director he will not coach any team. Mills said that this allows the athletic director to objectively focus on his responsibilities.

While the athletic director is a full-time position, Swindler hopes to teach a class or two. Mills shares his desire.
“We treasure his ability as a teacher,” said Mills.

Teaching is a second career for Swindler that he began at the age of 41. From the beginning, he said that knew he wanted to go further than teaching.

Speaking of his new position, Swindler describes being the athletic director as “a good fit for me, given my coaching background and wanting to move to the next level.” He is close to finishing his studies at Shenandoah University to earn a master of science degree in education, with a concentration in administration.

“I am looking to move on in my career but not to move on from Rappahannock,” Swindler said. He added that it’s well known that salaries are higher in other localities, and that one wouldn’t have to go that far.

“I started my teaching career in Rappahannock and I hope to end it here, ” said Swindler.

For the immediate future, though, Swindler is looking forward to “an enormous amount of fun” as Rappahannock schools’ athletic director.

About Alisa Booze Troetschel 30 Articles
By some folks' standards, Alisa Booze Troetschel is a newcomer. She moved to northwest Virginia two years ago after completing graduate studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. She has photographed, written and edited for local, regional and national magazines and newspapers, while delighting in the beauty surrounding her new home.