Reaching the summit: Athletic directors, students flock to Phoenix for leadership training

April 2, 2024 by Jose Garcia, AZPreps365

Xavier Prep hosted Monday's annual Athletic Director and Student Leadership Advisory Committee Summits the Arizona Interscholastic Association organizes. (Seth Polansky photo design.)

High school athletic directors and student leaders travelled to Phoenix Monday for their annual summits.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association organized the one-day events, filled with speakers and activities, at Xavier Prep. More than 400 students and a performing arts center nearly packed with athletic directors were in attendance.

“As you (athletic directors) go through this summit we hope you pick up some information today that will continue to help you be a big deal in the eyes of your student athletes,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines at the start of one of the AIA’s biggest leadership trainings.

The Student Leadership Advisory Committee also is a big deal for the AIA.

Members of the Arizona Interscholastic Association's Student Leadership Advisory Committee helped kick off Monday's annual AIA SLAC and Athletic Director Summits. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

Started by former AIA Assistant Executive Director Joe Paddock, SLAC is one of the strongest advocates for the state’s high school student athletes.

Some of SLAC’s gifted members, including Boulder Creek’s Addison Han, helped kick off Monday’s gathering.

“It’s a great opportunity to become a role model for your team and the entire student body, which is building, ultimately, a united community on your campus,” said Han about launching a leadership committee on her campus. “You feel so supported and loved knowing there are other student leaders that you can relate to and find that friendship and community aspect with the student leadership committee. In the end, you are raising school spirit, fellowship, friendship, and a bond with one another. You are building each other up.”

One of Monday’s keynote speakers was a former AIA coach turned basketball principal, Matt King of Position Sports.

One of the highly successful events King runs is Section 7, the offseason mega high school basketball tournaments at State Farm Stadium. King’s presentation to athletic directors centered on how programs can expand their promotional efforts so they can have a greater impact in their communities.

“It all starts with a coach,” he stated. “There is nothing more valuable to help promote an event.”

How programs present their message is also important.

The key is doing it clearly and loudly. 

“If you confuse,” he said, “you lose.”

More than 60,000 fans attended Section 7, which attracts some of the nation’s best high school basketball teams and is attended by numerous college coaches, last year.

Narrowing the marketing to specific groups can also help with engagement. The social media channels of schools that were invited to Section 7 did a tremendous job of spreading the word about the event, King said.

One specific group administrators should target to help attract more fans to games are student athletes, the sports influencers of campuses, King added. While attending a presentation at Nike’s Oregon campus, King relayed to the AIA’s athletic directors something valuable he learned about promotion: the four A’s.

Analyze what you do and don’t do well.

Anchor. Focus your marketing energy on 3-4 anchor events that happen on your campus every year.

Activate around the event. Besides a game, what else can you do around it, like tailgating, to help boost attendance.

Amplifying. Create as much engagement as possible.

“My hope is that as we move forward, we would continue to provide and think about how to be creative and innovative about the ways in which we can drive people into our buildings and where ever your student athletes participate,” King said. “Because there’s nothing that’s more affordable and more collaborative in bringing a community together and more enjoyable than being part of high school events.”

AIA Executive Director David Hines (left), Position Sports' Matt King (middle) and AIA Associate Executive Director Dr. Jim Dean shared some great advice Monday during the annual AD Summit. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

Building each other up

One of the breakout sessions for the SLAC Summit used noodles, which led to oodles of fun.

Westwood High’s Unified Sports community and SLAC members participated in a field hockey-type game with pool foam noodles. But Unified Sports used the noodles to help convey a bigger message.

Westwood’s Unified coach Heidi Dorn and her program were recognized as one of the best by Special Olympics. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365) “The role today for us is to express what Unified is about, so more schools can get on board and be excited about it,” Westwood’s Unified coach Heidi Dorn said. “So it’s explaining what Unified is, and it’s explaining that we can build relationships through sports with our students with and without intellectual disabilities. And this is all about inclusion and including everybody on your campus.”

Westwood High Unified athlete Edwin Partida celebrates during one of Monday's special moments in the AD and SLAC Summits. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

One of the SLAC students attending Monday’s Unified session was the reigning Arizona Gatorade Girls Volleyball Player of the Year, Horizon’s Teraya Sigler.

“It’s really fun to see all these players that you see on the court, to see them on a normal person basis, if that makes sense,” Sigler said. “Getting to do all these fun things, and especially playing games with a few people, I’ve created new friendships. I’ve had lots of fun. It’s a new perspective of new lifestyles.”

Horizon High's Teraya Sigler (with blue noodle) had a blast while participating in the annual Student Leadership Advisory Committee Summit Monday at Xavier Prep. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

Thank you Joni

After 30-plus years, Joni Pabst is stepping down as the Executive Director of the Arizona Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

The trailblazer is showing incoming executive director Renee Regoli the ropes before she officially steps down on Dec. 31.

“First of all, I want to thank David Hines and the AIA and your staff for always supporting not only me but the AIAAA,” Pabst said. “There are a lot of state associations and AD associations that don’t work well together, and we work well together, because our clientele is our students, and we want the best for them. So it has truly been an honor to serve you. Renee has been shadowing me, and she is going to do an amazing job.”

Pabst and Regoli announced Monday that the AIAAA will be hosting the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s annual conference in 2026, nine years after hosting the big annual event for the first time.

This year’s AIAAA meetings will be held on Sept. 7-10 in Prescott.

Regoli announced that an Arizona high school AD group for women is forming and will have one of its first meetings on April 23.

“This isn’t about women wanting to be separate,” she said. “This is an opportunity to develop a community where we can support each other through the lens of a female AD.

“We just want to provide a place where we can work together to be better professionals and better serve our students.”

AIA Cheer and Dance Coordinator Emily Stephens loves what she hears from a fellow administrator during her presentation Monday. (Jose Garcia/azpreps365)

Hardship tips

AIA Associate Executive Director Dr. Jim Dean, AIA Assistant Executive Director Erin Coy and AIA Board President Jennifer Burks gave a presentation on hardship appeals during an AD session.

This is what is needed to file a hardship:

  • Completion of 550 form.
  • A hardship packet completed by both the receiving and sending school.
  • An updated student transcript.
  • Documentation supporting the hardship such as court custody papers, domicile documents, job transfer documentation, financial records.

Determining if it’s a hardship, providing proper documentation and submitting by deadline (send as one complete file) are very important when filing an appeal, Coy said.

These are some of the issues why hardships are consistently denied: athletically motivated, transportation issues, mental health, which is becoming a recurring topic, bullying/harassment unless there is a strong case, choice.

A frank discussion with AIA officials and coaches capped Monday's Athletic Director Summit. “Remember that what you (athletic directors) do is an incredible responsibility, and remember that what you do impacts your kids’ lives on your campus for the rest of their lives," said AIA Associate Executive Director Dr. Jim Dean. "If we can help in any way whatsoever, don’t ever hesitate to ask."