The Arizona Interscholastic Association had a new home being built when executive director Harold Slemmer took over the reins of the high school athletics governing body July 1, 1999.
The new structure — and the legacy of then-outgoing executive director Voie Coy — was just the beginning of a transformation for the much-maligned institution.
In the four years since Slemmer assumed control, the AIA has improved communications among schools and media through additional staffing; developed a comprehensive Web site; increased TV exposure; and tackled a number of thorny issues, chief among them Arizona's chaotic open enrollment policy that allowed schools to openly recruit athletes from other districts.
While challenges remain — finding good venues for playoff games, exploring the issue of athlete "burnout'' and the heightened concern over dietary supplements — the AIA has made significant strides under Slemmer's guidance.
"I definitely think the trend of the AIA is in a good direction," Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen said. "The AIA is more approachable, and very open. That was something missing. The biggest thing is they've taken on a leadership role, not just a management role like before."
Slemmer, who has toiled at all levels of the education field (teacher, coach, athletic director, principal), began his tenure by maximizing the benefits of the AIA's spacious new offices
"It was a real blessing the building we are in now was on the way," Slemmer said of the structure at 17th Street and Glendale Avenue. "It's owned outright and acquired with the help of using some gate receipts over the years. With a place we could really work from, the first thing we needed to do was to get into the 21st century. We got a Web site up and running that is the envy of a lot of associations. There is a lot of information out there for the members and the public right at their fingertips.
‘‘What's furthering our cause is we have people here that understand the future (assistant executive directors Chuck Schmidt and Cindy McMannon and associate executive director Glen Treadaway, among others), who have a vision. We're looking at now, but aren't forgetting, about say, 2015, which isn't that far away."
Among the programs initiated or enhanced by the new AIA regime is one dealing with sportsmanship, and another that honors athletes, coaches, officials and administrators for excellence, especially in the field of academics.
"The Pursuing Victory With Honor Program and the Everyday Heroes are good examples," Hogen said. "They aren't just giving lip-service to those programs."
Pursuing Victory With Honor, started almost three years ago, is a program Slemmer said all 236-member schools have been exposed to.
"Victory with Honor is a program with a philosophy designed for character building, and to bring about good morals if it is delivered the right way," Slemmer said. "There are times and people out there that will rationalize something else or let their emotions get the best of them. It is something we should be doing, and not something we're just going to drop or forget about. We have to be realistic that it won't work itself out all the time. But it's important to students' experience."
Accessing records and statistics, a major weakness of the organization prior to Slemmer's arrival, has been remedied with the addition of Arizona prep sports historian Barry Sollenberger to the staff.
"I think I speak for a lot of people in saying the AIA is more user-friendly to its membership and the public," Tempe district athletic director Don Wilkinson said. "Harold came to the job from a principalship so he was in tune with schools, parents and kids. He's a good listener. They've been on a mission to improve in a lot of areas and that message has gotten out."
Ideas for change aren't always immediately implemented. The move to rid Arizona of the divisive 600 form — which created an environment for open recruiting of athletes — began before Slemmer arrived, but was backed with a groundswell of support at Slemmer's urging. The form was rescinded two years ago. This year, the AIA and its legislative council sought to examine year-round coaching and out-of season coaching, which many argue has burned out kids and coaches.
"The out-of-season coaching was brought up because there was a concern there," Slemmer said. "It brought the issue out in the open and it was discussed. That's what we wanted — to establish discussion. The attitude we wanted to arrive at was not ‘my way or your way,’ but what is the best way.”
Slemmer said goals of the organization in the future include finding the best facilities to host events. Also, the organization hopes to update physicals required for student-athletes to ensure they are healthy.
There has also been a steady rise in live televised exposure for championship and playoff games; not just in football and basketball, but the addition of volleyball, baseball, softball and wrestling the last couple of years. There was concern that would cut into attendance at those events, but so far Slemmer said the impact is negligible.
"There has been no significant impact on attendance, no losses on gate receipts," Slemmer said. "If anything, I think it gives people a chance to see an event, and then they may decide the next year to see it in person. We want to promote our events."
Expect exposure to expand and for the AIA to not rest on its laurels of the early 21st century.
"We want to get outside the box and see what we can be and strive for that," Slemmer said. "We want to continue to improve. We want to be proactive, not reactive. If we get to a point we are not making progress, we want to ask why not."