Spend an hour or so talking sports and academics with Don Heizer and you’ll walk away convinced the selection committee made the right choice last spring when they named him Payson High School Athletic Director.
In talking with Heizer, it quickly becomes obvious that one of his goals as AD is to change the culture of co-curricular activities from one of a loose-knit, financially strapped, interscholastic program without much direction, to one that is cohesive and focused.
Also, Heizer’s goal is for everyone involved in the program — coaches, parents and players — to understand their roles well.
The new AD is firmly convinced when everyone is on the same page, student athletes have a better chance to succeed both on the playing field and in the classroom.
His first step in changing the culture was to put together an Athletic Department Parent Handbook that he obviously hopes will help eliminate some of the parental problems that have plagued PHS coaches over the years.
Also, Heizer says the culture change will eventually include eliminating the need to pull coaches’ salaries from Credit for Kids and pay-to-play fees.
That suspect funding practice created a huge conflict last year when at least four PHS coaches vehemently protested after they apparently were told by then principal Kathe Ketchem they must direct their players to raise funds to pay salaries.
At the time, coaches were miffed, saying asking players to earn money for salaries went against their grain.
They also complained that not taking their salaries from the regular M&O budget, where teachers’ paychecks are derived, was a slap in the face and devalued their worth in the high school setting.
Heizer says he understands the coaches’ feelings, “We must find a way to reduce the burden on coaches for fund-raising.”
Heizer is also well aware that PHS coaches are underpaid, by as much as $1,000 per coach each season when compared to schools such as Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Show Low.
One of the new AD’s goals is to increase pay, which in turn will make recruitment of highly qualified coach-teachers much easier.
Another of Heizer’s culture changes is for PHS to host more tournaments, invitationals and state qualifiers. “We want to have each sport host at least one tournament during the season or summer.”
Doing so, he says, will save the school district travel costs and generate income for the school through admissions, entry fees and concession stand earnings.
Also, he adds, hosting more athletic events will boost the town’s economy by attracting parents and fans to town.
“It will also showcase our town to some visitors who might never have been here before,” he said.
As for the parent handbook Heizer has adopted, it contains statements of athletic philosophy, goals, objectives, polices and expectations.
Particularly notable is a list of topics that are officially off limits in parents’ and coaches’ discussions.
Playing time, coaching strategy and other athletes cannot be discussed, according to the handbook rules.
Playing time is almost always at the center of debate when disgruntled parents take their concerns to coaches arguing their son or daughter should be in the lineup more often.
Heizer contends playing time and coaching strategy, for that matter, are the responsibility of coaches and are not up for debate.
Also, he says, discussions of other athletes, outside the coaching staff, are unprofessional.
Heizer’s culture change also involves a unique emissary type program in which selected students become members of the “PHS Ambassadors.”
Their duties include meeting officials and referees when they arrive at PHS to escort them to dressing rooms and the playing sites they’ll be working.
Recently, the ambassadors joined forces with the school’s culinary program to offer snacks, sandwiches and drinks to officials either before or after games.
“I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on what we do,” said Heizer.
The Ambassadors’ duties also include greeting visiting sports teams and showing them their way to locker rooms and other facilities.
A group of Ambassadors opted to become part of a student security program in which they escort students who have been assigned noon detention to the detention room from their final class before lunch hour.
“That eliminates us from having to reassign detention,” Heizer said. “Students can’t say, ‘I didn’t know I had detention.’”
To become an Ambassador, students must apply and meet certain criteria. They are then trained and must live up to the same academic and behavioral standards as student athletes.
While Heizer, who is in his first year as an AD after spending years as a teacher, counselor and coach, admits there have been challenges in implementing culture changes, he remains convinced they will succeed. “We are on the right path; we will get there.”