Q&A with Donna Blumer

Athletic Director, Dixie Hollins High School

By Staff

Athletic Management, 12.6, Oct/Nov 2000, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1206/qablumer.htm

As Athletic Director at Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., for over 10 years, Donna Blumer, CAA, has dedicated herself both to the student-athletes and her colleagues in the state. A long-time member of the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (FIAAA), Blumer was the first female to be elected president of the group, filling the post for the 1997-98 academic year. In 1999-2000 she was honored as FIAAA Athletic Administrator of the Year, and she has continued on the board as an at-large representative.
In this interview, Blumer discusses her involvement with Florida state associations, the challenges her program faced in meeting gender-equity requirements, and dealing with today’s parents.

AM: When did you first get involved in the FIAAA?
Blumer: Back in 1989, I received information about a conference of athletic administrators called the FIAAA and thought, “I’d really like to go to this.” The first two years, I was just a member of the FIAAA, and then the gentleman on the board for our area was looking to leave. Our assistant county director at the time encouraged me to get involved, so I said I’d be interested in helping. I was curious to see how an association like that really functions. That year, I was voted into the position, and since then I’ve been on the board in some capacity.
In 1997-98, I was also asked to be on the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) Public Liaison Advisory Committee. I sat on that committee for two years and was voted in as the chair last October.

What does being involved in these associations provide you?
Even though I’m not new to high school athletic administration, there’s never a year when everything is consistently the same. So it’s a job where you’re constantly learning—learning new rules, new policies, and new by-laws. Being on these committees is enjoyable, but it has also helped me stay current with the changes in my job.
In the FHSAA, for instance, concerns and issues are faxed to our committee, and then our committee discusses them and takes them to the board. Being on that committee forces me to go through my rule book when I get it instead of waiting for an issue to come up, and that benefits me as an AD. Plus, I end up having a better understanding of how the rulings have come about, rather than just having them show up on my office desk.
Being on these committees has also given me a network of resources. When I have a problem, I feel I can call anybody in that FHSAA building, say I’m really confused by something, and they are just wonderful to work with.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on through the FHSAA and the FIAAA?
One of the things that the FIAAA worked on while I was president and past-president was getting the wording changed in our eligibility regulations. Previously, eligibility was based on a cumulative g.p.a., and if a ninth grader had a hard time their first year in high school, it was possible for them to be ineligible for the remainder of their high school careers—one bad semester could bring down their cumulative average over subsequent semesters.
We got the requirement changed so that now ninth and 10th graders must have a 2.0 semester g.p.a. in order to be eligible the following semester. However, by 11th grade, the old rule still applies: they must have a cumulative 2.0 g.p.a.
Another really neat thing I got to do this past year was be on the committee to choose students for the all-state academic awards. I had a couple weeks to go through over 300 applicants, and it was really nice to see how many outstanding student-athletes there are in the state of Florida. I also went to the banquet for the award recipients. They presented one-page essays on what they would tell an incoming athlete, and I kept thinking, “Look at all these kids, they are so awesome.”

What is your overall philosophy on running a successful high school athletic program?
Our goal is to try to create as equitable an athletic program as possible so every student has an opportunity to participate. And I believe that goes hand-in-hand with the educational system, because for a lot of kids who get involved in athletics, athletics gets those kids coming to school and it’s what keeps them there.
Lately, we’ve been trying to increase female participation. In 1999, many of us in Pinellas County were told our programs were in jeopardy because our female participation numbers were too low. That really makes you panic. You think to yourself, “What do you mean? I’ve got a lot of girls out there.” So we’re working harder to get more girls to participate. First we added flag football, then we started j.v. volleyball last year. This year, we’re starting j.v. girls’ soccer. And those are county-wide additions.
But the big challenge isn’t just creating opportunities, it’s convincing girls to get involved. I can’t drag girls out of the hall and say, “Here, put on a uniform.” You can’t make people participate. Some of it comes down to where they live and the involvement they had in middle school. We’ve got kids who have never been involved in a middle school sports program. Then they reach high school and have all these opportunities and they think, “Well I don’t want to do that. That’s scary.” We also have a lot of kids who get to high school and their priority is working and making money. And many of the kids in our school are working to help pay the bills at home because they come from single-parent families. So we have to work harder to get the females out there.

Have you had to implement any special strategies to get those who aren’t competing interested?
Our main strategy is having our coaches constantly talk to kids in the halls and in the cafeteria. My football coach, softball coach, and I all teach phys. ed., so we’re constantly encouraging the kids. We’ll have a girl walk in and we’ll say, “Goodness, you look like you should be playing sports! Here, let’s walk down to the volleyball and basketball rooms. You really need to get involved, it really makes for a great high school experience.”
And the administrator I work with is very helpful. He’ll see kids in the hall, too, and he’ll ask, “Why aren’t you playing volleyball?” Or we’ll be doing cafeteria duty together and we’ll conspire. We’ll look at each other and say, “Who is that girl? I don’t know, I’ve never seen her. Let’s go find out what she does.” And we’ll go right up to kids and ask, “What are you doing? Aren’t you playing a sport?” Sometimes they look at us like we’re crazy.

Many of today’s athletic directors encounter difficulties with the parents of student-athletes. Is that something you face?
We do. We deal with it all the time. But I’ve found that if your parents are well informed about what’s going on, and they know the policies and understand what’s expected of their son or daughter, then you don’t have those problems. We hold a meeting before school begins where we do physicals, the insurance administrator is here, and we complete the paperwork and go through all the rules and policies with the parents.
And if a parent calls with questions, we explain everything to them, because some of them can’t get to the information meeting. If we have to go through everything and explain it 100 times with 100 different parents, we do it.

As somebody who has written and spoken on sportsmanship issues, what is the key to teaching good sportsmanship?
The coaches staying on the kids about it. You have to talk to the kids in class, talk to them in the hallway, and correct their behavior when you see it go bad. Our coaches interject and say, “You’re not going to do that on the field. And if you do that on the field, you’re going to be kicked off. You’re representing yourself and your family. Is that how you want to be portrayed?”
Also, the expectation is announced at games and there are posters in the halls and locker rooms. When they see it enough, they start to believe it.
We also try to get them to understand the importance of leadership—that there’s more to it than just going out there and playing well. We explain that being a leader on your team means staying positive when somebody on the side is behaving inappropriately—and telling that person they can’t do that.
Just as important is praising good sportsmanship. For example, after our Football Classic earlier this year, the head of transportation called our school to let my principal know that our team was the best group of students he had ever transported to and from a football game. I told my coach he needed to let his kids know about that. It’s evidence that their behavior reflects upon them, and the school.

Your husband is athletic director at a different area school, Countryside High School. Has that ever posed difficulties?
No. Not at all. It helps, actually. By both of us doing the same job, we understand the amount of hours that you put in and the commitment to your programs. Sometimes we feel like we never see each other, and on a Monday morning we’ll say, “See you Saturday!” But it’s never really posed a conflict for us.

As a female in a male field, have there been any hurdles you’ve had to overcome?
A few little ones, but nothing major. I remember one of the first years I was teaching at Dixie Hollins, I answered the phone, “Athletics, this is Donna Blumer.” And the guy said, “I’d like to speak to your athletic director.” When I responded, “This is she,” he said, “A woman, why?” And I asked, “Why not?”
It was challenging for the first couple years when I was working with coaches who I wasn’t familiar with. But I think they understood I was there for the same reason they were. I never adopted the perspective of, “Oh I’m a female in a man’s world.” My attitude was, “I’m an equal to everyone else. Our goals are the same whether you’re a man or a woman.” But I’ve been very blessed with having very good people to work with who are supportive–good principals and good administrative staff.