BROOKSVILLE — School Board member Pat Fagan and the school district's athletic directors agree on one thing: The district could use a sports director at the central office level.
Until Tuesday, school services director Sonya Jackson fulfilled that role, but it was one of her many hats. It will likely be the same for her as the district's new assistant superintendent.
Fagan thinks there would be a couple of benefits to having one person dedicated to the job of district athletic director.
First, he said, the person could help foster a friendlier kind of rivalry among the county's high schools.
Also, he believes having one district director — with assistance provided by coaches at the school level — could eliminate the need for individual athletic directors at each of the four high schools, four middle schools and three K-8 schools.
That's where opinions diverge.
"That's ridiculous," said Bob Levija, the athletic director at Springstead High for the last nine years. "I can never see it happening. That's like saying the superintendent should be head of all the schools and we don't need principals."
So far, Fagan has only mentioned the idea, and there have been no formal discussions among the board members. He remains committed to looking into the idea.
"I feel comfortable it would work," Fagan said.
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The directors at the four high schools currently handle all sports, junior varsity and varsity. Tasks range from making sure athletes take care of their medical forms to lining up referees for games.
With hundreds of athletes at each school, it's too much for one person to handle, said Travis Lamle, director at Nature Coast Technical High School.
"Not if you want it done correctly," Lamle said when asked if the job could be done districtwide by one person. "You come to school with a list of things to get done. If there are eight things, you may get to four, and three or four others pop up."
Jackson agreed that the district needs a dedicated person to help provide directors and coaches with the services "they really need," such as training and acting as a liaison with the Florida High School Athletic Association.
She says she did her best to do that, but could only go so far.
"That would make things a little more cohesive," she said.
Covering eight schools without the help of school-level directors would be tough even for two people, Jackson said.
"Even if you had one director and an assistant director, I still see that being difficult because those people on the site know what's going on at the site, and you really can't spend a lot of time running around from school to school," she said.
The school services director position has been eliminated, and those duties will be handled by the assistant superintendent. Jackson was tapped for that position Tuesday by superintendent Wayne Alexander.
With an even longer list of duties, Jackson expects it will be even more difficult to give the athletic directors the support they need.
In the Tampa Bay area, athletic director duties vary somewhat by district, but Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties all have directors at both the district and school levels. In Pinellas and Pasco, the district-level directors have other duties, too. Hillsborough's is dedicated solely to athletics.
Athletic directors at Hernando schools are paid a supplement to their teaching salaries. At the high school level, it is $3,718 per year, or $14,872 for the four positions. Middle school directors receive a supplement of $1,090 per year, or $7,630 for seven positions.
The grand total for all 11 positions: $22,502 per year.
That would still be less than a district-level staffer would be paid, Alexander said.
"At this time, I would not entertain making any additions to a budget that I'm already extremely concerned about," he said.
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But while the budget is on the top of everyone's minds in these tight times, saving money isn't the primary motivator for Fagan. Diplomacy is.
He brought up the issue at a workshop in early June, alluding to revelations that 19 students who lived beyond Hernando's borders had been admitted to Nature Coast in the last four years, despite a policy forbidding out-of-county students from attending the magnet school.
District officials and then-principal Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles said it was an oversight, and parents said they were unaware of the policy. Three students who will be seniors this year will be allowed to stay, but the district is investigating the situation at the request of School Board Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield.
Few of the students played sports, but the news only fueled rumblings that Nature Coast fished for athletes beyond Hernando's borders.
A countywide athletic director could go a long way in toning down not just the bad feelings of other schools about Nature Coast, but also help improve relationships between all the high school teams, Fagan said.
"It's getting out of hand," he said. "They all want to be champions, which is fine. But there's a lot of negative feelings out there among the schools, and we don't need that anymore."
Lamle declined to comment when asked whether the position would help clear the air in the county.
Jeff Spivey, Hernando High's athletic director, said that may have already begun.
"I think we're at a turning point," Spivey said, "where hopefully we will begin to have more positive competition and less of the animosity."
Levija shared the optimism that the negative feelings the three other schools feel toward Nature Coast would ease now that the issue of ineligible students has been addressed and there will be oversight at the district level. But he said the district-level athletic director could help head off more problems.
"If there's a county AD in charge and somebody you could go to and get an answer, I'd be all for that," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.