September 23, 2004
Athletes and coaches get all the glory when it comes to high school sports. But there is another group of people, instrumental in creating an arena for success, that rarely rates a mention.
Administrators at the state and district levels shoulder complicated, monotonous and sometimes unpopular tasks of scheduling, information dispensing, record tracking, policy making and peace keeping.
Today the Tribune looks at the most influential voices in that group, singling out five administrators for their widely acknowledged stature and their sizeable contributions to the welfare of Arizona and East Valley high school sports.
Given the East Valley’s influence in state educational circles, it’s no surprise that most of those five have East Valley ties.
Since earning the post of Arizona Interscholastic Association executive director, Harold Slemmer has ushered in a new era of respect and friendly relations with member schools and the media that didn’t exist under the previous administration. Tucson director of interscholastics Sheila Baize and Tempe district athletic director Don Wilkinson are two of the longest tenured ADs in the state and, consequently, two of its most credible and outspoken voices. Mesa’s affable Steve Hogen is the athletic director of the state’s largest district. And AIA sports information director Barry Sollenberger is the state’s prep historian, an invaluable resource whom Slemmer recognized as such when he brought him on to maintain the association’s Web site, records and publicity.
Here’s a look at each of these individuals:
Position: AIA Executive Director
Education: Wilson High (West Lawn, Pa., 1970), ASU (1975)
Previous positions: Assistant football, wrestling and track coach and assistant principal, McClintock (1977-85); athletic director, McClintock (1985-88); assistant principal, Marcos de Niza (1988-89); assistant principal, Mountain Pointe (1989-90); principal, Mountain Pointe (1990-99); AIA executive director (1999-present).
Resume highlights: Played leading role in abolishing the 600 form which previously allowed student-athletes to transfer to another school and maintain eligibility. Student-athletes must now prove hardship before transferring and participating in athletics at a new school; spearheaded the AIA’s "pursuing victory with honor" program to teach ethics in student athletics; forged new corporate sponsorship contracts to help fund athletics; increased prep athletics’ TV exposure; created several additional subcommittees within the association to alleviate the workload on the executive board
Quotable: "One thing you can say about old Harold: He sure does his homework." — Karl Kiefer, Mountain Pointe football coach
Position: AIA executive board president, Tempe Union High School District athletic director
Education: Tempe (1962), ASU (1967)
Previous positions: Head swimming and cross country and assistant basketball coach, McClintock (1967-71); head boys basketball coach, P.E. chair, Marcos de Niza (1971-81); Tempe district AD (1981-present)
Resume highlights: Played key role in shifting Valley’s girls basketball and softball seasons to accommodate studentathletes; implemented 5A football power points system while serving as board advisor to state football coaches to make sure the best 16 teams make the state playoffs; instrumental in ensuring fair region alignments.
Quotable: "It’s important for all of us to remember that we’re an educational-based program, first. That clashes, sometimes, with other things that people want to do, but you can’t put too many games or tournaments in front of kids. It’s got to be education, first." — Don Wilkinson
Position: Mesa Public Schools district athletic director
Education: McClintock (1977), ASU (1981)
Previous positions: Assistant basketball, baseball coach, Dobson (1982-83); J.V. basketball coach, head cross country, assistant track coach, Mesa High (1983-88); head basketball, golf coach, Red Mountain (1988-92); athletic director, Red Mountain (1992-99); Mesa district athletic director (1999 to present).
Resume highlights: Driving force behind the current basketball power points system used to determine the field and seeding of teams for the 5A state tournament; facilitated the creation of an athletic Web site for Mesa schools detailing team and individual accomplishments along with schools’ athletic histories; proponent of splitting Class 4A and 5A into three (4A, 5A, 6A) conferences rather than creating divisions within 4A and 5A conferences; helped clarify AIA legislation that prevents student-athletes from participating in club sports and high school sports in the same season, once the high school season has begun. Quotable: "Just look at all the little things Steve does behind the scenes for Mesa Public Schools. You can’t do that if you’re just working 8 to 5." — Barry Sollenberger
Position: AIA sports information director
Education: Arcadia (1964), ASU (1970)
Previous positions: This is Sollenberger’s first official position within the Arizona education system.
Resume highlights: Founder and author Barry Sollenberger’s Phoenix Metro Football yearbook; updated all of AIA’s records, establishing comprehensive histories of each member school within the association’s database; created a model Web site for other state interscholastic associations; co-founder of the Arizona High School Football, City of Scottsdale and City of Mesa halls of fame.
Quotable: "I always told Barry if his apartment burned down, half the high school records in the country would go with it. People call him from all over the country to get information. They even get his opinion on hockey and I have no idea what he knows about hockey!" — Ron Cosner, good friend and Marcos de Niza softball coach
Position: Tucson Unified School District athletic director
Education: Tucson Catalina (1967), Arizona (1972)
Previous positions: Head girls basketball, softball, badminton, assistant volleyball coach, San Manuel (1973-81); associate principal/athletic director, San Manuel (1981-85); Tucson district athletic director (1985-present).
Resume highlights: The key figure in making Tucson the first district to switch the girls basketball and softball seasons to accommodate the needs of its student-athletes; outspoken proponent of gender equity in athletic department spending, facilities and opportunities (won AIA’s 1997 Women in Sports Leadership award); vocal and influential representative of the Tucson district and all southern Arizona schools, which often get overshadowed and outvoted by the Valley’s more numerous schools on issues such as hosting state tournaments.
Quotable: "It’s always a challenge being a woman in an area where there are mostly men, but when I first got the job I think it was a bigger adjustment for the men than it was for me because I was used to dealing with them." — Sheila Baize
Other major players
John Carlson, district AD, Chandler Unified School District: The AIA executive board member is a champion for lesspublicized sports such as wrestling.
Mark Cisterna, district AD, Gilbert Public Schools: An up-and-comer who is universally liked within the high school sports ranks.
Gary Ernst, boys basketball coach, Mountain View: Active and highly ethical. Ernst may have taken mantle of state’s most respected coach from the retired Sam Duane.
Pat Farrell, football coach, St. Mary’s: Farrell’s return to coaching after a three-year hiatus drew cheers from his peers.
Steve Harris, athletic director, Desert Mountain: Scottsdale’s one 5A voice is savvy and capable
Rick Johnson, district AD, Peoria Unified School District: A key delegate for the West side’s needs.
Tom Joseph, football coach, Mtn. View: Vocal and well-respected figure on the football coaches association, has coached in both small and big school atmospheres.
Tim McBurney, football coach, Basha: Understated president of football coaches association and longtime coach at Tempe holds sway over many of
Dick McConnell, boys basketball coach, Tucson Sahuaro: The Gary Ernst of southern Arizona.
Glen Treadaway, AIA associate executive director: Slemmer’s able righthand man is a critical link to the past and oversees some of the association’s most important functions.
Doug Clapp, football coach, Peoria: The longtime Panthers coach has many disciples working around the Valley today