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Challenges for Minority Leaders in Athletic Administration

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on May 10, 2021 hst Print

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Shon Hardy, CAA, director of athletics, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, Texas, and Jason Corley, CMAA, athletic administrator, Long Branch (New Jersey) High School, regarding minority leadership in high school athletic administration.

Question: What are some of the hurdles, difficulties and/or challenges that minority athletic administrators might encounter when entering the field and how can they be overcome?

Hardy: One hurdle for a new minority administrator in a school where the community is predominantly not one of color is getting support from your community. This is especially challenging if you are one of the first administrators of color at the school. It helps when your community meets with the candidates and provides feedback, which helps with the buy-in. While there is no instant resolution, or switch to flip for this support, one must treat it as a continuing work in progress. Focus on doing good work and building relationships with stakeholders in the community.

The next difficulty is feeling the need to be almost perfect with every decision or situation, because you may not be given the same benefit of the doubt in some circles as other administrators who are not people of color. To deal with this, keep open lines of communication with the school’s leadership and colleagues, continue to build relationships in the community and put in solid programming.

Another challenge is to get buy-in from a coaching staff which may be predominantly white and working through any pushback you may receive. You have to determine if any hesitation or resistance is because of your philosophy, leadership style or, unfortunately, because of your skin color. These are all real factors when entering the field. It is vital to set up meetings, have open communication and work to build relationships for both parties to create familiarity and appreciation.

Corley: The most common challenge for minorities is the under-representation of athletic administrators globally, from the collegiate level down to high school and even to those in middle schools. The field tends to take for granted those in positions of formal authority, which are usually white people, often men, as the standard referent.

Minority leaders commonly face significant challenges in the educational realm, which include the perception of others and the constraints from colleagues and subordinates due to power inequities. A minority leader’s passion may be seen and misinterpreted as aggression, which tends to be one of the most difficult and distinct hurdles leaders of color still face. It is important to understand that things are going to be different.

To overcome the reality of being under-represented or marginalized, districts need to optimize the talents of minority leaders. By providing consistency and clarity throughout the process, change is possible if all leaders work to include and guide all stakeholders.

Question: How do you get more minority individuals to consider the field of athletic administration on the secondary level and to share that it is a rewarding profession?

Hardy: As one of four black male athletic directors out of the 18 schools in our conference, which represents good diversity, I have had the opportunity to share my journey with a number of individuals. Also, I ask them what their goals and aspirations are and often I share my truths about being an athletic director. It is a wonderful opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of so many and there are challenges and responsibilities that come with the position. If a person has solid qualities, such as good communication skills, personable interaction with people, a teaching and caring approach to working with students and fellow coaches, and generally exhibits good professionalism, I encourage them to consider a career in athletic administration.

In addition, I got started by taking courses through the NIAAA. It is also critically important to continually learn and to attend local and national athletic administrator conferences. The reason people should get into this profession is because they love the kids and want to help coaches. The reward of seeing young people and coaches grow and develop through education-based athletics is what makes this profession worthwhile.

Corley: Exposing young minorities, which would include student- athletes, novice teachers or coaches, to athletic administration as a potential career option is the first step. By seeing me as their athletic director, I can serve as an example and let them know that this, and much more, is possible for them if they apply themselves.

Being relatable is the other key component and I am also an alumnus of the district. Serving in my position becomes an educational and community initiative. One of the first programs I established when I got the job was the PRIDE Group consisting of young minority male athletes. In meetings, we discussed everything from their classes, to their home lives, and their goals and aspirations after high school.

Since I am from the same town as the students, I understand their mindset and struggles because I was in their place. Additionally, you need to be able to access the students and their families, and using multiple social media platforms to disseminate information works the best for student and community connections.

Question: What activities, approaches or steps would you recommend that an individual takes in order to prepare for a position in athletic administration?

Hardy: Ask a current athletic administrator what steps this person took to enter the field. Spend time with this professional and ask as many questions as you can, and watch and learn in order to understand more about the role of an athletic director. An individual can volunteer within the athletic department and take on as many leadership opportunities as possible.

Corley: An individual should try to build honest and authentic relationships with all stakeholders. By creating a vision with a plan and a purpose, you should be able to inspire others. An athletic administrative position is a continual journey which does not end. There is always something more to learn and the best leaders are always looking to improve for the benefit of the student-athletes.

Question: Does networking play a role in attracting more minority candidates and how would one get started with this effort?

Hardy: It appears that networking remains a consistent and reliable vehicle to attract minority candidates. Even though it is playing an increased role in attracting more individuals of color for schools that are predominantly white, there is still plenty of room for growth. Meeting and building relationships with as many athletic administrators as possible in the state and beyond is critical.

Additionally, encourage anyone interested to sit down with his or her principal to share the desire to at some point move into athletic administration. This administrator can be a huge advocate and supportive resource in the future.

Corley: Cultivating a sense of community is key to ensure that diversity thrives. As a minority leader, I tried to developed healing connections across society, inviting all races to help a society evolve.

As already mentioned, leading by example is important to establish interest and to show that it is possible to become an athletic director. Being visible on social media, receiving awards, attending events at school or in the community are powerful ways to attract more minorities to aspire to become a leader in athletics.

Question: Are there any support groups or organizations that can help minority individuals to adjust and transition to a position in athletic administration on the high school level?

Hardy: While the NIAAA does a good job of providing support to all athletic administrators, there is one group focused specifically on supporting minorities in this profession. This is the National Organization of Minority Athletic Directors, or NOMAD. This group was created in 2020 and spearheaded, in part, by Anthony Thomas, athletic administrator at the Francis Parker School in San Diego.

Corley: While I am not aware of any support groups or organizations, I have attended workshops and conferences that covered the challenges of the urban athletic directors. These sessions did elaborate on young minorities, their struggles and methods to help them overcome hurdles to ensure a brighter future.

Recently, I was named the chair of the diversity committee for our athletic conference to help educate administrators, colleagues, staff members, parents, officials and, most importantly, student-athletes to provide assistance in supporting minorities.

Question: Is there any advice you could offer to any minority individual thinking about taking the step of becoming an athletic administrator?

Hardy: I would recommend that the person take time to better understand the role of an athletic administrator before committing to the profession. Create a plan to develop the necessary competencies and qualities to be a worthy and desirable candidate. Start building relationships and networking now! Do not be discouraged with setbacks and keep pressing forward. Finally, remember that putting the kids first in all efforts and decision-making means that the future athletic administrator will rarely, if ever, go wrong.

Corley: It is possible that you will encounter some challenges and roadblocks along the way. Look at every challenge as an opportunity to grow and learn, in order to become a better, more effective leader. Try to make an impact, influence others and above all, stay humble.