Q&A with Gary Hice

Petoskey (Mich.) High School

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.5, August/September 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1405/qahice.htm

Although Gary Hice works in the northernmost section of Michigan’s lower peninsula, he is considered a central player in the state. A veteran of various Michigan High School Athletic Association committees and active in the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, Hice was a 2002 winner of the Allen W. Bush Award, one of the MHSAA’s highest honors.

A 1974 graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Hice started his career as a study-hall monitor and coach at Charlevoix High School. One year after getting a teaching job, he became the Director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Petoskey, while also serving as a high school coach and official. In 1984, he became Athletic Director at Petoskey High School.

Today, Hice guides a 21-sport program that has won several state titles and is in the process of moving into the largest of Michigan’s four classifications. In this interview, he talks about how his job has changed, serving on state association committees, and finding good coaches.

AM: What in your tenure are you most proud of so far?

Hice: From a physical plant standpoint, we’re completing construction of a new indoor athletic facility including a gym, wrestling room, and weight room. The gym will seat 2,700 people and it has kind of a unique design. The seating is on three sides and the fans are close to the action. It’s based on many ideas we got from different places. People enter from the top level, where there is a running track, and walk down to the seats. So people are off the floor, but close to the action.

We had been playing in a gym many people didn’t want to leave. It was an old “Hoosiers”-type thing built in 1927. But it had half the seating capacity and had been showing its age. So we were happy to move into the new place, but we wanted to capture the charm of the old facility.

How has your job changed since you started in 1984?

We have grown. We have added sports and within those sports we’ve expanded the offerings. We now offer j.v. teams, freshman teams, and middle school teams.
I also think it’s become more difficult for coaches. They have a tough job and they seem to get a lot of unwelcome help from outside sources.

What kinds of things do you do to support your coaches?

I always try to be accessible and listen to their concerns. I try to be a big supporter of the coaches because they put a lot of time and effort into their jobs. I’ve been very fortunate to have some continuity within the department. Our coaches have been here for a long time and they’ve earned the respect of most people.

I also try to provide them with the opportunity to succeed. We get them to the clinics they want to go to and give them as many opportunities as possible to interact with their colleagues. We also provide them the good, clean, safe equipment that they need, and we’re upgrading our facilities. And I support them in what I say, both privately and publicly.

How did your involvement with the MHSAA committees come about?

The MHSAA sends out a listing with all the committee openings they have. You put your name down for the ones you’re interested in and sometimes you’re selected. I’ve been selected several times and have been happy to do it. And sometimes they invite you to serve on ad hoc committees.

What does being on these committees entail?

Usually it’s a few morning meetings a year that last until early or mid-afternoon. You’re involved with a cross section of people from around the state in terms of geography and job titles. The MHSAA is the governing body but it’s really our association—they try to make it possible for us to make decisions as a group through a democratic process.

What have you gotten out of being on these committees?

The biggest thing is the networking that comes from it. You get to know people from different parts of the state and that serves you well down the road. We try to expose our kids to different parts of the state both as a cultural and competitive experience, so it’s nice to be able to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, Joe. Would like to play in whatever? We’ll come down there and you can come here the next year?” It’s just nice to have a face with the name.

Where do you find the time to serve on the committees?

Some people will say I don’t have the time. But you just find the time. A bigger challenge has been balancing work with family and personal responsibilities. You always feel guilty when you’re at work that you should be home. And when you’re at home, you feel guilty that you should be at work. I just try to do my job in both spots and it’s for others to judge if I’ve been successful. But I hope I’ve been more successful at home.

How do you avoid burnout and pushing yourself too hard?

You try to find some enjoyment and relaxation outside the work world. For example, I’ve been involved in Kiwanis and other groups. I also have a real passion for golf, and that helps.

Although the committees and conference activities are a part of my job, they also serve as a stress reliever. I’ve often told people one of the most enjoyable parts of the job is when I can get in the car and travel.

Watching our kids compete is also enjoyable. We compete quite well in all sports and it’s great to watch the kids improve that reputation.

How do you maintain that quality across the board?

One word: coaching. I think that is the key aspect. We try to hire the best people we can. Ideally, they’ll be a teacher in our building, but that’s not always the case.

I also try to create an atmosphere of support. I want our coaches to, both in public and private, support their colleagues, either with their physical presence, by encouraging them in other ways, or by sharing information.

How do you find those qualities when you’re looking for coaches?

Sometimes you’ve had an opportunity to observe them. Other times it’s through the interview process. Many times, you check them out by talking to people who aren’t necessarily on their resume as a reference, and that’s when the networking can pay off. And a lot of it is gut instinct—how you feel about them when you’re talking with them.

What kind of impact do you think the move from Class B to Class A will have on your department?

It will have a huge impact on volleyball and boys’ and girls’ basketball. Not so much in our league because we play in a primarily Class A league, but the distance and competition will be different if we advance beyond the district. Then we’re talking about a whole new world and going to the Flint area or the Grand Rapids area, and that’s a big jump.

How are you helping the coaches and athletes prepare for that?

I think they’re prepared now. They could see it coming. We’ve been close to being an “A” school for many years and we knew it was just a matter of time. We’ve tried to beef up our schedules and play some downstate schools whenever we can.

What are your feelings on the Title IX lawsuit regarding when various sports are played in Michigan?

I’m not threatened if the change is moving boys’ and girls’ basketball to the same season and girls’ volleyball to the fall, but the current plan doesn’t involve switching those sports, it involves golf, tennis, and swimming. And if we end up with boys’ and girls’ tennis or golf in the same season it would be difficult for us from a facilities and coaching standpoint.

Why is it so important to schools in Michigan to keep girls’ basketball in the fall and volleyball in the winter?

Tradition is one reason, but facilities is the biggest thing, I think, particularly for smaller schools. We’re fortunate that we have several gyms and we would be able to adjust the schedules for everybody to get practice times. But some schools have only one gym and they have to schedule varsity, j.v., freshman, and sometimes middle school teams in the same gym. If you have boys and girls playing in the same season, it will be a real hardship, so I understand why they’re fighting to maintain the status quo.

Coaching is another reason. Many coaches coach both boys’ and girls’ teams in a lot of sports.

And the fourth big reason is officiating. Although the numbers are up this year, in the past they have not been, and the state association and all of us ADs are concerned whether we will be able to get enough officials.

How has being an official helped you as an athletic director?

It helps me to be able to see both sides of the issue. I think everybody in athletics should do at least one year of coaching and one year of officiating. I think it’s a great learning experience for anybody. You develop an empathy and understanding that you can’t get unless you’ve done it.

The Indian nickname has become an issue for many schools around the country. Is that something you’ve dealt with?

Our team name is the Northmen and that conjured up many different images for different people. About 12 years ago when this came up, we met with our local American Indian representatives and they worked with us on developing our logo, which is an Indian head. And we haven’t had any complaints since.

What lessons do you wish you could have learned sooner than you did?

I think I’m still learning, and I hope I always will be. I would like to be better in dealing with personnel issues—that’s the most important area where you need continual improvement. With all the different teams and all the different personalities of coaches, parents, teachers, students, and staff, there’s a lot of dealing with people and that’s always a challenge.

What kinds of things are you doing to improve in that area?

A few years ago I became a Certified Athletic Administrator. I’m active in the MIAAA, and the MHSAA committee work helps with networking. Those outlets allow me to share ideas, problems, and complaints with my colleagues. I don’t know that we’re creative enough to come up with a lot of new ideas ourselves, but we can sure steal them from each other—and I often do.