Sports are the backbone that hold high schools together.
You want to set the tone for a rewarding school year? Try having a good football season. It can lift a school’s collective feeling of pride higher than anything imaginable.
Continue that momentum with good basketball and soccer seasons, followed by success on the baseball or softball diamond, sprinkle in some championship swimming or track, and you’ve got the recipe for a high-spirited high school.
Strong athletic programs start at the top. Principals don’t run, pass, dribble or shoot, but they do the behind-the-scenes stuff necessary to ensure their school’s backbone is strong.
Good athletic programs need capable athletic directors and solid coaches. They also need administrative support and money. Again, it all starts at the top.
But for it to start at the top, it helps to have an actual sports fan running the show. Somebody who knows what they want and can determine whether they’re getting it.
The names on the list below are those types of people.
1. Judith “Judi” North, South Hills: It’s going to take something unforeseen for North to get ousted from the top spot.
My first encounter with North came at a South Hills football game, when I came across who I thought was the team mom. Only through conversation with somebody else on the sideline did I come to know that the woman urging her team on while following the line of scrimmage was none other than the school principal. Wow!
You get the feeling that North is given printouts of the San Antonio League standings alongside her daily reports about other things such as school budgets and test scores.
You see, what North understands is something that many of her peers just don’t get – it’s one thing to say “Sports are very important to our school” but it’s another thing entirely to prove it.
North has equipped South Hills with top coaches in each of the big three sports – baseball, basketball and football. There is rarely coaching turnover in any of these sports.
Because of this, South Hills has its share of high-profile programs and does it while having the smallest enrollment in the San Antonio League.
2. William F. “Rob” Roberts III, Los Altos: It was the second half of Los Altos’ nonleague football showdown against Damien this past fall when one of the school’s light fixtures went out, thus delaying the game at a critical juncture.
The look on Roberts’ face and his subsequent furor was similar to that of a couch potato’s wrath when the DirecTV signal goes out at 10:10 a.m. on a Sunday morning in the fall. Get the picture?
Roberts is a sports fan who just happens to run a school.
Like North, Roberts makes his school’s athletic programs a top priority. Also like North, Roberts is also a very vocal sideline observer at games.
The fact that sports are of major importance at Los Altos comes directly from Roberts, who is a former football coach.
The Conquerors own one of the best across-the- board athletic programs around. It’s not by accident.
3. Kathleen “Kathie” Wiard, Charter Oak: Her father is legendary former Arcadia football coach Dick Salter. Her brothers Tim and Tom are varsity head football coaches outside of the Valley.
As if those bloodlines weren’t enough, Wiard is married to Bishop Amat girls basketball coach Richard Wiard. You think she’s into athletics?
With family like that, it’s easy to see what the bottom line is – Charter Oak absolutely scored when it landed Wiard as principal.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Charter Oak as Wiard will likely oversee the retirement and subsequent replacement of legendary football coach Lou Farrar.
That saga could make for some interesting days around Charger Country, but there’s no doubt Wiard is well-equipped to handle it.
4. Fr. Patrick Travers, Damien: Unlike North or Roberts, you won’t find Travers rooting on the sideline at football games. That’s because he’ll be in the press box working the game clock.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Damien appears poised to become an athletic powerhouse over the next few years and much of that is due to Travers.
Although Travers has been around for five decades, it’s what he’s done lately that has set the stage for Damien to become the go-to spot for area boys athletes for decades to come.
Proof of this is already on display with the boys basketball team. They have a new gym, new attitude and presumably the best season in school history.
The football and soccer teams could be playing on a new FieldTurf surface sometime in the near future.
Damien’s minor sports programs have traditionally ranked among the area’s best, but Travers has set the stage for a mainstream sports explosion via top-notch facilities and a collection of coaching prodigies.
5. Dr. Merritt Hemenway, Bishop Amat: This might be the most controversial of the selections due to Amat’s floundering football program, which is still the school’s flagship sport. However, Hemenway’s school is home to the area’s most successful overall program – Amat’s girls basketball team.
Hemenway, a former basketball referee, displayed the boldness of a riverboat gambler by hiring football coach Mark Verti to run the school’s tradition rich football program.
Being at Amat, Hemenway must deal with the fact that most alumni view the football team’s record as a barometer for how the entire athletic program is doing. But once fans get past football, they’ll see that Hemenway’s shrewd hiring of Andy Nieto as baseball coach was also very impressive.
It should also be noted that Amat’s new gym and sports complex was erected under Hemenway’s watch.
Let the debate begin ….