LIMA — Among the numerous occupations within the school system, positions such as teachers and principals may be the first that come to mind. However, another important contributor to a student’s experience in school is the athletic director.
This position might be a full-time position, but in more school districts, the athletic director position is a supplemental contract and that person may also teach.
As one might expect, the athletic director position is full-time in larger school districts like Lima and Wapakoneta.
John Zell: Full-time athletic director for Lima schools
John Zell has been the Lima schools athletic director for the past six years.
“I was a volleyball coach for 13 years. I also coached varsity assistant baseball for three years and I did middle school basketball for three years, and then I was the assistant athletic director for four or five years. Fortunately, we have a superintendent who is open to new ideas, so I am the athletic director K-12. What we’ve done two or three years ago, we decided to take over our youth program. It had been going through the parks and recreation, but under the parks and recreation, they did not really associate with being a Spartan. Shawnee has Little Indians, Bath has Little Wildcats and so forth and so on. So we decided we needed to take control of our youth and have them understand what it means to be a Spartan. So we hired an assistant athletic director who oversees youth athletics all of the way up to eighth grade, but then I’m in charge of the whole program, K through 12,” said Zell. “This year, we’re piloting a program where I will be working with the P.E. [physical education] and health teachers here at the high school [as a supervisor].”
In the 2017-18 school year, Zell made $88,612.16, the highest in Allen, Auglaize and Putnam counties. The Lima schools’ athletic budget was around $275,000.
“No day is the same. The one constant that there is, you have to be able to adapt to change because it’s always changing and there’s always something that comes up. So you try to plan for what your day is going to be but you just never know,” said Zell.
Revenue, mainly from football and basketball, provide the biggest chunk of the entire athletic department budget.
“Our finances are based on ticket sales. When football and boys basketball is doing good, your accounts are doing good. They basically fund the majority of our athletic department, and we also go through fundraisers. We’re lucky to have an outstanding relationship with Kewpee and we do the Kewpee coupons every fall, so that raises a pretty large sum of money,” said Zell.
Organizing people to handle duties at a sporting event falls on the athletic director’s shoulders.
“There is a lot of stuff going on as far as contacting the visiting team, getting all of that information, rosters, directions for their fans and everything, pre-sale tickets. We have four ticket sellers. We have people managing each of our stands. We have a reserved seating area which is managed by people to make sure people are not sitting where they are not supposed to. I think we have six [police] officers available [for security]. There’s a lot of moving parts going on,” said Zell.
Wapakoneta’s Brad Rex, also a full-time athletic director.
Brad Rex is Zell’s counterpart at Wapakoneta schools.
His official title is athletic administrator. This is his 11th year in the job.
“My main position is athletic administration. However, being in the office, I do have a principal’s license so if things come across like student discipline or something like that, it’s a small part of my job,” said Rex.
Rex made $85,514.92 in the 2017-18 school year.
“The job is very big and it’s gotten bigger over the years with new requirements for not only our students to make sure they have all of their paperwork in, but also our coaches. The state legislature and the Ohio High School Athletic Association has added certain steps, all of which are good, for our coaches to be certified in different things, but it adds another layer of checks and balances, if you will. We have 23 varsity sports, over 800 events a year from [grades] seven through 12. I don’t know how I would do it if I had to do a lot of other duties in addition to this,” said Rex.
Athletic directors at smaller school districts often seek the assistance of Rex.
“We try new things over the years,” he said. “I was in a meeting and one guy was asking me about what we were doing [with online ticket purchases]. It’s not our only option, but it’s one of our options and involves scanning so we had a better idea of how many people come in. In the past, when we had reserved seats, they have a card and we just look at them. We know how many [tickets] we have sold of those because it’s pre[sale], but do we have a true number of actually how many people were at the game? We wouldn’t. So now with the new cards and scanners, we can tell. Not a lot of people are doing that, so this other school said, ‘I want to know how it goes because we’re looking to try to do that. I want to know how many people are there.’ That happens quite a bit, and it’s not only smaller schools, it’s me asking other schools, ‘Hey, what are you doing with this?’ The athletic director position is a very close-knit group of people. We’re not out there on an island. There are a lot of people just like us going through the same things.”
Rex acknowledges the most challenging part of the job is scheduling.
“There are just so many events and so many kids involved in those. I spend a good portion of my time each week checking and double checking, emailing future opponents, emailing officials and making sure that we’re not having a team show up somewhere and there’s no game. Checking and rechecking and making sure the officials are here is a major portion of my job because, to be quite honest, if an official doesn’t show up, the people in the stands only think one person’s responsible for that, regardless of what happened. In an effort to keep myself organized and make sure nothing else goes wrong, I’m going to check and double check and make sure everything’s set and everybody knows where they’re supposed to be at what time,” said Rex.
Columbus Grove’s Terry Schnipke wears a lot of hats
Terry Schnipke is the athletic director at Columbus Grove schools. He’s just starting his 11th year in that role. His salary for that job is only $8,760.
Before you start to feel sorry for him, his overall salary for 2017-18 was $85,486.55. He earned $67,676.31 as a teacher, $5,516.09 as a cross country coach, $2,398.30 as a junior high basketball coach, $955.85 as a senior class advisor and $180 as a tournament event worker.
Juggling all of these jobs can be difficult, but he does the best he can.
“That can be a real challenge. It’s much more difficult because we have so many sports and athletes participating in the fall and I’m also coaching in the fall, so I do get some help from some of our other teachers who would cover games for me so I can coach. Then in the winter and spring, it’s pretty much all me, covering events and all that. My wife’s very understanding,” said Schnipke.
So what is his favorite thing about being an athletic director?
“I love watching our athletes compete and succeed, and I also really love working with our coaches — when a coach comes in and tells me about a great victory or a great performance by one of our athletes and you can tell they’re excited or they’re excited about an upcoming season. On the flip side of that, of course, you deal with [coaches] when there’s a difficult loss or a season that didn’t go as planned. You have to help work them through that as well and make sure they want to stay on staff for the next year so you don’t have to go into the process of hiring another coach,” said Schnipke.
Schnipke says other athletic directors have helped him along the way.
“When I started, the other athletic directors were always very welcoming of the new AD. I think because they’ve been doing it long enough, they know the challenges you’re going to face. I’m now the senior AD in the Northwest Conference just because there’s just so much turnover. People are going to be asking me questions. It’s a pretty good fraternity of athletic directors because we all understand what each other’s going through with the day-to-day struggles and challenges that we face, so we’re pretty good about communicating and asking each other for advice,” said Schnipke.
Schnipke says people are surprised when they found out how much he has to do for his salary.
“I believe there are one or two who are just athletic directors and don’t teach, but it is rare. That’s one thing community members are often shocked to find out is that I also teach classes or that I’m not an administrator. Athletic directors get that mantra of, ‘You’re an administrator because you do so much administrative work,’ which is true. There’s a lot of administrative work to this job, but I’m not an administrator and I’m not paid as an administrator. It’s just an extracurricular supplemental [salary], the athletic director part,” said Schnipke.
Schnipke isn’t even sure if he would want to be a full-time athletic director.
“I’ve been asked by other teachers and administrators about the possibility of [being a] full-time AD — not that they’re actually ever going to do it, but just my thoughts on it,” he said. “I went into education because I loved teaching and I love kids, so I still like to teach, and I don’t mind teaching three periods a day. Some days it does get difficult. Some days I think, ‘Man, if I had all day, I could get a lot more work done and it wouldn’t be quite as stressful,’ but at the same time, I feel if I weren’t teaching, I wouldn’t have that connection with our kids.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.