On Thursday afternoon, district school board members met for a workshop at the district office in North Brooksville to decide on a handful of agenda items. One of these decisions was on a proposal for a full-time district athletic director. While Shannon Rodriguez was not able to be present, the rest of the board members gave consensus for a “trial run” for a district athletic director. This approval allows for 30 days of pay, as proposed by Susan Duval, over the school year and the first part of next summer. Depending on the results, the board will then reassess whether it is necessary to increase the district athletic director’s schedule to the full 249 days or something in between. At the school board meeting held later that evening, the members voted 5-0 on the adoption of the consent agenda, which included the approval of the job description of the district athletic director.
Superintendent of Schools John Stratton opened the discussion by noting the challenges faced by the district’s various athletic directors and the ultimate goal they wish to achieve by allocating millage funds for one that is full-time.
“This has actually been something we have been considering for quite a few years now,” Superintendent Stratton said. “Mr. Crognale joining… has served as our countywide athletic director through a supplement. If you talk to any of our athletic directors, in particular our high school athletic directors, they will tell you that in and of itself is a full-time job, and they are often teaching alongside doing those responsibilities. In an effort to make sure we are providing quality athletic programs, we also want to make sure we are doing everything we can to offer a safe athletic program.”
There are 12 schools in the county with athletic programs, consisting of five high schools and seven middle schools. Across these schools, there are five tracks, nine middle school sports, 12 gymnasiums, 12 athletic directors, 16 high school sports, 34 fields, 268 teams, 359 coaching positions, and over 3,900 student-athletes. Steve Crognale and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Gina Michalika, the individuals who were proposing this idea, pointed out that serving as the county athletic director saw him acting as “a liaison” between athletic directors and the district. He insisted that with the rather unwieldy number of people and places to try to get on the same page, it can be especially difficult without a dedicated full-time position to coordinate them.
Other potential duties for this position that were suggested to the board members were crowd control, scheduling of events, being the face of the community, and risk management. Having someone whose job it is to handle these responsibilities would enable schools to avoid legal risks. With a high volume of paperwork required for each student-athlete, schools can easily find themselves in hot water with the law without another individual to help them manage these situations. Crognale shared an anecdote of a school that found itself in a predicament when a student did not have all the proper paperwork.
“It happened, unfortunately, in Hillsborough County, when a student-athlete went from middle school to high school,” Crognale said. “The coaches allowed that young man to practice in the summertime, and they had a serious health issue, which I think is still going on today.”
Crognale feels that if Hernando County had a full-time athletic director like Pasco, Citrus, and Lake County, they would be able to help the schools avoid such pitfalls. The two reasoned to the board that this would be an instructional position that would come into the job on a teacher’s salary. If the candidate is already employed elsewhere as an athletic director, however, the hire would then be paid their current salary.
Whatever form the final iteration of the position takes, from payment to total days, the board appears to have the best interest of the student-athletes in mind. The county will look to benefit from these decisions over the next calendar year and beyond.