An athletic director’s job is more than coordinating sporting events, overseeing the budget, and providing guidance for coaches. Athletic directors also work with the local community to foster goodwill, encourage support for sports programs, and provide outreach in the form of community service. In return, the community fills the stands with cheering fans and feels a sense pride for their hometown teams.
Among their many responsibilities, athletic directors build and maintain relationships with the local public. In doing so, they work as the public relations managers, sales professionals, and cheerleaders for their programs. These skills and others are important as athletic directors move forward in their careers, particularly if they plan on pursuing a graduate education in athletic administration.
David Rozumek, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association assistant director, said the relationship between the school and the community is invaluable: “We like to consider our relationship with the community as family, and we take care of each other. If we can bring a smile to someone’s face, make someone realize they are cared for, or help someone attain a dream, then as student-athletes we have already won prior to stepping on the game fields, courts, or ice rinks.”
In doing their jobs, many athletic directors are required to maintain a relationship with the community and engage the local residents. Even without the requirement, building community bonds is a win-win, Rozumek and others said in the article, “Student-athletes and Community Service: A Win-Win Strategy.”
Engagement And Supporting Local Communities
In many ways, interscholastic sports teams and events are the backbone of a community. Most Friday nights, whole communities gather to watch football teams at local high schools. Countless weekends are spent supporting the players in charity fundraisers. In turn, student-athletes give back through service projects.
The collaboration between schools and the community help student-athletes mature and develop. Some of the ways school sports programs have engaged and supported local communities are through community services, including the following:
Running sports clinics for elementary-aged students
Many middle and high schools host sports and enrichment camps and clinics with a focus on age-appropriate activities and skills. In some cases, middle and high-school students act as mentors to the younger students.
Providing outreach to athletes with disabilities
In 2017 alone, the Special Olympics designated more than 35 middle and high schools nationwide as National Banner Unified Champion schools. The designation indicates the schools demonstrated a commitment to inclusive sports.
Helping individual and families in need after devastating losses
Across the country, there are shining examples of student-athletes coming together to help those in need. High school student-athletes in California entertained children at an evacuation shelter during the 2017 wildfires. In South Carolina, high school football players took area children on a holiday shopping spree. In Florida, high school track and cross-country teams collected donations for Hurricane Irma victims.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) said student-athletes participating in community service benefits everyone involved and fulfills the mission of the school system.
Indeed, student-athletes also see the benefits connected to outreach. In some school districts, community service hours are a requirement for high school graduation. Bob Gardner, the NFHS Executive Director, believes even when not required, many athletes also take home new lessons and values from the experiences. High school athletes also develop good work ethics and self-discipline skills that reach into adulthood, he said.
At the same time, the school-community relationship is reciprocal. The community gives back to the school. Most frequently, community support comes in the form of booster clubs that coordinate fundraisers, volunteer time, and donate money and services to encourage and support teams.
Ways To Build Community Engagement
In building community engagement, athletic directors also look to fill the bleachers with cheering fans. Finding the best ways to reach those fans can sometimes be difficult. David Hoch, a former Maryland athletic director and past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, said growing engagement through the community requires athletic directors to use their marketing and public relations skills. Hoch and others had several suggestions:
- Educate the community about the value of the school’s athletics programs, including the benefits to students and the community.
- Share your vision for the future of the program and ask the community leaders for help.
- Use newsletters, websites, social media, and printed materials to get the word out.
- Look for ways to put teams in a positive light, including highlighting the players’ and coaches’ accomplishments.
- Connect with the local media to promote “good news” stories.
- Use social media—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat—to drive community involvement.
- Engage student leaders in the process and have them spread the word about the good work of the teams.
To effectively grow community engagement, athletic directors need a solid background in athletic administration and business. Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration (MAA) program prepares athletic professionals to build bonds in the community with specialized coursework in sports marketing, management, and leadership.
Learn More About Ohio University’s Master Of Athletic Administration (MAA) Program
Ohio University’s MAA program is designed for interscholastic athletic professionals and others (including athletic administrators and coaches) to develop their skills as interscholastic athletic directors to run successful athletic departments.
A leader in sports education, Ohio University created the nation’s first academic program in the field of sports administration. The MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification.