Q&A with Rich Cathcart

Bret Harte High School

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.4, June/July 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1504/qacathcart.htm

When you work at one school for 31 years, you get to know the place. When you grew up in the community and went to the school yourself, you know it even better. Just ask Rich Cathcart, Athletic Director at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp, Calif.

Cathcart began teaching at Bret Harte immediately after he graduated from Sacramento State in 1972. He coached boys’ basketball for 25 years, winning 399 games, including a sectional championship and second-place Northern California finish in 1985. He was also an assistant football coach for 19 years, and head football coach for four.

He became athletic director eight years ago and continues to coach both boys’ and girls’ golf at the Division 4 school of 850 students. This past spring, Cathcart was named Athletic Director of the Year in the Sac-Joaquin Section of the California Interscholastic Federation.
In this interview, Cathcart talks about his fund-raising efforts, proposed drug testing of athletes, training new coaches, and the rewards and challenges of working in a sparsely populated region in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

CM: Do you have a special role because of your longevity at the school?

Cathcart: I’ve been here for so long that when our young people come back and apply for jobs, I not only know the kid, I likely know his or her parents. I probably taught or coached both of them. So they know pretty much what we expect here and what is expected from the community. But we also have a lot of people who want to move here because it’s a nice area and we have such a great school.

What is the coaching certification program you’re working on?

California has the American Sports Education Program [ASEP], in which athletic directors are trained and certified to teach their coaches. It covers coaching philosophy, sport psychology, sport pedagogy, sport physiology, and sport management. It’s a good program. The coaches’ training takes a full day. We look at videos and discuss them. One of our coaches and PE teachers who’s also certified, Heath Lane, and I do it as a team presentation.

Finding a time to get the coaches together is the difficult thing. We only do it a couple times a year, because the more coaches who are there, the better dialogue you have. The whole point of it is the interaction of all the coaches, because they all have different ideas about how things should be done. It’s especially important for our off-campus coaches because they usually don’t have any training in dealing with kids or any of the background teachers gain in college while getting their degrees.

Are most of your coaches also teachers?

We have a lot of on-campus coaches, and I think that’s because the administration really feels that the athletic program is important, and that our teachers should be involved. When we advertise our teaching positions, we also advertise coaching positions and I often sit in on the interviews. We may advertise an ‘English teacher/wrestling coach’ opening, for example, so if there are some coaches looking for teaching positions, we can get those as well.

Other schools have a lot of off-campus coaches, but it’s really hard to make contact with those people. Even if you tell them, “I need to see you at least once a week,” it’s still hard to make that happen. It’s always e-mail or phone calls, and that’s just not the same. They don’t know what’s happening on the campus, as our teachers do.

How does you administration emphasize teacher involvement?

Our superintendent and all the principals I’ve worked with have felt that athletics is very important to the school, and that the teachers should be involved, if not directly as coaches, at least in going to contests to see the kids. A lot of times kids will ask them: “Are you going to be at our game tonight?”

Your school draws from a large area between Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. How does geography figure into running the athletic department?

We draw from the Highway 4 Corridor, which goes all the way up to Mount Reba, a ski resort about 50 miles away. We’re probably at 1,400 feet in altitude, but that route goes up to 3,000 or 4,000 feet. The majority of our kids are bused to school and for many it’s a long trip. When we get home after a contest, some of them have a 20- or 30-minute drive home. So we may lose some kids who don’t want to put that extra time in.

How do you accommodate those distances?

Parents have to do more. Certainly with the younger kids, parents do a lot of the carpooling because they have to come down and get their kids. As golf coach, I have a cell phone in the van, and 20 or 30 minutes before we get back to school, kids start calling so their parents can meet them.

How do you handle team travel?

Our competition is pretty spread out. If we take a bus it’s around $2.25 a mile. If we take vans, it’s 30 cents a mile. So we try to take vans as often as we can. We don’t use the 15-passenger vans. We have five 10-passenger vans, which are legal for us, and we can fit nine kids and the coach. They have seat belts, and they’re California Highway Patrol-inspected. They’re also used for ag, drama, and music events. Our director of transportation and I are constantly talking about what vans we’re taking and where we’re going.

Do a lot of boys’ and girls’ teams travel together?

We started doing that at least 10 years ago with boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball. They travel together as do baseball and softball. We try to do as much of that as we can to cut down on transportation costs. Right now, my transportation costs are roughly $25,000 a year, and because these teams travel together, it’s probably less than for some of the schools down in the Valley.

We have a league meeting once a month for the athletic directors and the principals. If a school is having transportation problems, everybody else pitches in to help and will schedule boys’ and girls’ games together if they can. This was something that we agreed upon as a league to help us all financially.

What kind of adjustments are you making to cope with the current fiscal situation in the state?

We’re watching what we spend, we’re telling coaches to take vans instead of the buses whenever they can. Plus, most of our coaches raise some of their own money. We used to have a snack shack on our campus; the coaches would work at that to make money for their teams. Whatever profit was made would help pay for awards. Now we have a food service, and we don’t have that opportunity for the coaches to make money. So they do all types of things: selling programs, putting up advertising signs at baseball games, selling candy, selling license plate covers, holding car washes. We also sell fireworks in the summer. Most of California has safe and sane fireworks—sparklers and Piccolo Petes, and those types of things. That makes a lot of money for our program.

We also conduct one big fund-raiser called the Century Club. That brings in as much as $15,000 a year.

How did the Century Club get started?

When I was the head boys’ basketball coach and an assistant football coach, another assistant football coach and I wanted to outfit a weight room mainly for football. So we came up with the idea of having a Century Club. We sold 100 tickets at $100 a piece, and buyers got dinner and a chance to win a truck. A local auto dealer gave us a vehicle at cost or close to it.

Because it worked so well, we made it an annual fund-raising event. In the late ’80s we went to 200 tickets at $150. We would take in $25,000 to $30,000 and, after paying for the truck, we had anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000 that we made off the night.

Now, the money goes into our general athletic fund, and we make a little bit more because we don’t give away a truck anymore. We give $10,000 as the grand prize and have a lot of smaller prizes donated by the community. And we have a big barbecue. People who purchase a ticket get two passes to all home Bret Harte athletic events, a dinner for two at the barbecue, and a hat.

It’s worked well. Five of us sell the tickets [Cathcart, the head football coach, a school board member, a coach’s spouse, and a parent]. We have our clientele, I guess you’d say, and go out and get the buyers.

What kind of drug-testing program are you developing?

We feel that we have a problem with marijuana use and we want to give our athletes reasons to say no when offered. Our policy now is if they are caught, they are off the teams immediately. We’re looking at changing that somewhat so that if they test positive they can get some help. They would go to drug counseling or alcohol counseling and be on suspension, but could have an opportunity after 20 or 30 days to show that they’re clean. Then they could participate again.

We would start with a random test of athletes participating during a given season. We don’t have testing right now but I’ve been talking to schools in other sections that are doing it and they feel it’s been very successful and beneficial for their programs. All of our coaches are in favor of it, and our board supports it. Now we’re working on getting a task force together to get it going.

How has coaching changed during your career?

I remember when I first started coaching I was fiery and, though I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been much of a yeller, I was pretty into wanting to win everything. I’ve learned over the years that the athletes are first and the winning is second. That’s one of the things that I’ve really tried to pass on to our coaches.

But I remember how I was when I was first coaching—you think you determine your worth as a coach by how many games you win. Now I tell my coaches that you want the kids to enjoy the season, so that when they look back on it after they’ve finished school, they say, “I really enjoyed playing baseball” or “I really enjoyed playing basketball” and were not worried about the winning and losing. I also tell them, “I’ve had my share of wins over the years so maybe it’s easy for me to say that.”

Does being a coach and administrator ever get to be too much?

With coaching, teaching classes [four, in physical education], and dealing with the athletic director’s job, I’m thinking maybe I should give up something. But there are good parts about all of them. I like coaching. I enjoy the relationships with the kids. I think you have a closer relationship in athletics than you do in the classroom.