CINCINNATI -- Brandon Spaeth was prepared for the reality of 80-hour work weeks, long nights, shrinking budgets, discovering new revenue streams and any other uphill climb working within a high school athletic department.
But, Spaeth, a 2011 Roger Bacon graduate and now Assistant Athletic Director at the school, didn’t just hope he would be ready. He knew all along.
Spaeth, 24, gained a solid foundation for his career through the University of Cincinnati Sport Administration program -- with learning experiences in and outside of the classroom.
“Our class projects were great because we always had many options on what to do with our projects like with sponsorships and fundraising at the high school, collegiate or professional levels,” said Spaeth.
“(UC’s sport administration program) always offered and made us all aware of all the internships available from their connections. In the sport industry, connections from internships can get you into a great job better than a 4.0 grade-point average with no experience.”
As July approaches, many area high school athletic directors receive a respite (albeit brief) over the next few weeks from the daily routine that often becomes overwhelming in the fall and winter months.
The demands are plenty. The recognition rarely coincides with the volume of work.
That’s certainly important for the profession given the fact that an estimated 150 new high school athletic directors enter the Ohio High School Athletic Association membership each year.
Some of those athletic administrators might only be at a school for a year or two. The OHSAA has seen an increase in turnover.
The OHSAA, which had 822 member high schools in 2016-17, uses an estimate based upon the registrations at the annual New Administrator Workshop in Columbus in early August.
“Part of my job is to work with new athletic directors, and I can tell you what a challenging task it is,” OHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass said. “We have the real challenge too that we tend to communicate and educate to the person that has been in athletic administration for several years. Sometimes we fail to realize that with so many new each year it is quite a challenge to make sure we communicate to those that have little, if any, background with our regulations.”
While the challenges inherent to the profession are ever-present, UC Assistant Professor David Kelley sees an opportunity for his students wanting to pursue the path of athletic administration.
Kelle said one of the biggest challenges is having the people and money to lead a successful athletic program. That's why the curriculum focuses on teaching students about the financial obstacles and working with partners.
Kelley is one of eight full-time faculty members in addition to adjunct instructors. The majority of the adjunct instructors are sport industry practitioners.
The sport administration field includes career opportunities in marketing, sales, facility and event management, student-athlete services, development, relationship management, interscholastic and intercollegiate athletic administration, athletic compliance, public relations and other areas of interest.
Sport administration is a multi-billion dollar industry, Kelley said.
"Given the economic magnitude and pervasive nature of sport in society, the need has never been greater for educated/trained sport managers," Kelley said. "Competition for entry-level positions within sport administration is fierce. Those with the best education, paired with industry experience gained through practicum and internship opportunities, have the best opportunity to obtain a position and be successful."
The UC program goes beyond instruction in the classroom. In fact, it requires students to receive real-world training.
“I just left my 18-year career working in athletics (college and high school) and the one thing I have found that young professionals lack is the ability to solve problems and our real-world experiences give students an opportunity to try and solve problems with guidance so when they do get out there in the real world they have confidence and experience,” said Patty Raube Keller, who is in her first year as UC sport administration assistant professor.
Kelley and his colleagues have worked to make direct connections with a number of high school athletic directors in Southwest Ohio over the past several years.
“With the continued high turnover rate that we see in our field I think it is critical that students are getting proper instruction in the field of high school athletic administration,” Sycamore Athletic Director Phil Poggi said. “The demands of the job are ever changing, so UC's program has allowed students to have a better grasp on the state of high school athletics and is preparing them with the knowledge and background that they will need to succeed in this field.”
Poggi, a 1998 Miami University graduate, has had many UC students serve as interns at the Greater Miami Conference school and his former school, Kings.
Middletown Athletic Director Aaron Zupka said a 20-hour project, called a practicum, and a 400-hour project, called a capstone, give students a competitive advantage in the job market.
The program also emphasizes that athletic directors have to wear many hats over the course of a school year. The days of the athletic director also being the football coach or basketball coach are mostly gone especially at larger schools, Zupka said.
“I think this program is helpful for high schools since it provides young professionals in the field that are getting quality training and education while being pushed out into the industry at a young age,” Zupka said. “High school budgets have been cut drastically over the years and finding quality help with a limited budget is a challenge. It’s a win-win for both parties as the student and organization can benefit from the partnership.”
At nearby Hughes STEM High School, Athletic Director Jolinda Miller is on the Board for the UC program. She has enjoyed speaking to the class and also receiving interns from the program.
UC SPAD student intern Andrew Mueller, a Cleveland-area native, learned to balance a budget, order buses and manage a staff at the Cincinnati Public Schools high school program this past school year.
Miller said she doesn’t want interns to complete menial tasks.
“I think it’s very important for (the interns) to learn about the long hours and night," Miller said. "And that we as (athletic directors) wear a lot of hats. Sometimes you are a guidance counselor or help with social services. There are more layers at a Cincinnati Public School.”
Spaeth graduated from UC with his bachelor's degree in sport administration and a minor in business administration. He will pursue his master’s degree online this fall.
The connection between Roger Bacon and UC continues this fall. Roger Bacon will have a graduate assistant from the program this upcoming school year.
The most significant benefit to Roger Bacon might have been the school’s recent $300,000 renovation for the Thomas J. Fogarty Center. Spaeth wanted to think outside the box when it came to attracting sponsorships.
Traditionally, the Roger Bacon athletic department relied on game-program advertisements. But, that practice in has become dated.
A video wall in the gymnasium became an excellent source of revenue potential for the school. It would be a much better way for a company to advertise than a half-page program ad.
So Spaeth remembered a class taught by Kelley called sport finance and development. He eventually found the notes and files on his laptop for a corporate sponsorship proposal he used in class. It turned out to be a find that resulted in thousands of dollars in sponsorships for Roger Bacon.
“In that class project, I had to create different sponsorship tiers/levels and explain what the company was getting in return for their investment,” Spaeth said. “That was exactly what was needed to be done for our video wall advertising. We were required to use graphics in the class project to give the company a visual aid on what they were getting in return for their sponsorship dollars – which is exactly what I did within our own packages at Roger Bacon.”