An AD's work is about far more than fun, games

Laundry, sewing, shopping and, sometimes, really odd jobs among duties

High Schools

April 07, 2002|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

For Barbara Bates, it's a Friday night ritual: She takes home the beloved but sweaty head of her school's mascot, a wolverine, and gives it a sudsy scrub in the laundry. The sink is off-limits during a long soak, which is followed by an air dry.

"There are a lot of duties that athletic directors are expected to do that are not advertised in the job description," says Bates, who heads the athletic department at Western Tech in Baltimore County.

At schools throughout the area, the position of AD is all this and more: custodian, concessionaire, seamstress, purchasing agent and groundskeeper. It's a job that demands expertise on subjects from textiles to turf, from party planning to bus maintenance. Did Bates realize she would have to drive, let alone take a wrench to that big yellow vehicle in the parking lot? Of course not.

"I never pictured myself driving a bus," says Bates, who transports Western's teams when they go on the road. "When you take this job, you haven't a clue what you're getting into."

At Douglass High, Miguel Sye never expected to use needle and thread. But when a volleyball player ripped her jersey during the playoffs last year, Sye stitched it up with a trainer's aplomb.

"You do stuff like that, to make your school look good," she says.

The can-do attitude runs in the family. Her brother, Michael Sye, the AD at Woodlawn High, can be found sweeping the bleachers before basketball games, a leaf blower in hand. "I hate this, but you do it for the kids," he says. "It's like straightening your house before visitors arrive."

Each day brings challenges that redefine the AD post, says Dave Lang, of Western High in Baltimore City. "It's a minute-to-minute job," he says. "I can walk into my office any time to find that our field is under water, or a coach has called in sick, or the basketball uniforms stayed too long in the clothes dryer, which melted all the letters off."

In 14 years as an athletic director, Lang has washed, spun and rinsed enough jerseys to pass as a domestic. Perhaps you've seen him in the supermarket, mulling over detergents and fabric softeners to purchase for school. "Some of these mesh uniforms can get static cling like you wouldn't believe." says Lang, a former wrestling coach

All too often, ADs say, the dividing line between work and home has become a blur as they cope with an onslaught of time-consuming tasks. When Roger Wrenn loads his Ford pickup with sodas and snacks at Sam's Club on weekends, it's not for a family cookout but for the sports concession stand at Patterson High. And when Mark Schlenoff boasts of the deal he got on a new washer/dryer, it isn't the latest model for his own laundry room. It's an appliance he bought for the athletic department at Poly, a scratch-and-dent model on which Schlenoff saved $30. "And I got free delivery," he says.

That deal was golden; the one involving Poly's new goal posts was not. Work crews installed the posts last September, the day before a football game, but left mounds of rock and debris in both end zones. Clock ticking, Schlenoff grabbed a shovel. By game time, he'd leveled the playing field. "I wanted it done right," he says.

It helps if an AD has not only a strong back, but a green thumb as well. "We have whatever grass seed I can find at Ace Hardware," says Jim Horn, of South Carroll High. Last summer, during a lengthy drought, Horn tended his turf every hour on the hour, going out at least 160 times to move the hose to another patch of parched grass.

It's too much rain that interrupts the day of Diane George, of Loch Raven High. Diamond flooded? Guess who bails the ballfield. "I take a 5-ounce cup, scoop the water off, pour it into a trash can and then tote the can over to the drain," George says. "An AD keeps lots of clothing changes, for working in the mud."

Sometimes, they go from grunge to glitter. Athletic directors plan and attend end-of-season banquets, order flowers, stage awards ceremonies and fuss over the printed programs. "If one name is misspelled, I'll hear about it," says David Hoch, of Eastern Tech.

The problem with public events is that they involve the public. "If a game gets rained out, it takes 53 minutes to contact everyone to make that one change, from officials to cheerleaders to police to ticket-takers to groundskeepers to bus companies to the media," says Bernie Walter, AD at Arundel High. "I know this, because I put a stopwatch on myself."

At any school, the athletic director often ends up with duties that others are eager to delegate. That happened to Jerry O'Brien, at John Carroll School. Once, during a wrestling tournament, he and his principal checked out a disturbance in the only men's room near the packed gym. One of the athletes had thrown up on the floor.

The principal turned to O'Brien.

"You take care of that," he said.

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