Q&A: Marshall Hamilton Leesville Road High School, N.C.

Athletic Management, 16.2, February/March 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1602/hamilton.htm


In 1993, after 26 years in high school athletics, 11 of which he served as both athletic director and head basketball coach, Marshall Hamilton decided to take on a new challenge. He moved from one of the oldest schools in North Carolina, Broughton High School, to another school in Raleigh that was just opening its doors. One of the state's top boys' basketball coaches, Hamilton hung up his whistle to serve full time as athletic director at Leesville Road High School.

Under his direction, Leesville has won North Carolina's Wachovia Cup, an award based on state tournament finishes, three times in its 11-year history. Named North Carolina 4A Athletic Director of the Year in 2001, Hamilton has also seen his school's coaches and student-athletes honored for their sportsmanship by the NCHSAA for the past two years.

In this interview, Hamilton discusses what makes a successful booster club, scheduling boys' and girls' basketball, and how to work with problem parents.

How did you make the decision to leave an established program at Broughton and take on the challenge of managing an athletic department that was just starting out?

At the time, I had been serving as both basketball coach and athletic director for 11 years. Over the years, particularly with the growth of girls' sports, being an athletic director has become a full-time job. It's tough to do it in a dual capacity, and I felt like I could do a better job as an athletic administrator if I wasn't coaching. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to be an administrator full time, and it was a great time in my career to try something new.

Broughton is the oldest school in the county--it opened in 1928. To go from a school with a 50-plus-year tradition and come here and start from scratch has been really neat. I also knew the principal--he's a former coach and athletic director--and I felt like he'd be a really good person to work for, which has certainly turned out to be true. It's been great to see what we've been able to carve out in 11 years--we've had good kids and we were fortunate to open hire some quality coaches who came to us with really good track records.

What do you look for when you're hiring a coach?

We like to hire coaches who are on our teaching staff, so the first thing we look for is whether the candidate can fit into our faculty. I think it's a handicap to have a non-faculty coach, both for the coach and the kids. If you have a coach who comes in after school, he's just missed the biggest part of the student-athletes' day.

Beyond that, we look for someone who is going to be dedicated, because it takes a lot of time to do a good job coaching. An assistant superintendent told me years ago that he had a line of people outside his office wanting to coach. You look out there now, and the line is gone. Coaching has become more and more involved, and sports are now year-round endeavors. So we really look for someone with the commitment to do a good job.

Your booster club funds many of the athletic department's large projects. What are the keys to its success?

Funding is the biggest challenge facing high school athletics right now. Without the booster club, we certainly couldn't offer what we offer, because our county does not fund athletics they way some other places do. They pay our coaches' supplements and they pay the electric bill and give us about $900 a year. So we rely heavily on gate receipts and the booster club.

The key has been keeping booster club members involved and keeping their interest up, whether we're winning or losing. I believe we've been successful because we started out with very clear ground rules: The booster club funds major projects, and they are non-sports-specific. That really got us off on the right foot as it got more people involved. We don't end up alienating groups or having people lose interest since, sooner or later, each sport is able to acquire something because of the booster club.

Every year, my principal and I generate an athletic wish list and give it to the booster club. We work together to prioritize it, and they go from there. They try to knock one thing off at a time, and over time, they've accomplished a lot of major things. They buy all our vehicles, and they've purchased scoreboards and public address systems for the stadium and the baseball and softball fields, and irrigation equipment for all of our practice fields.

The booster club has a monthly meeting that I attend, but truthfully, I go and just kind of listen. If they need some guidance or a push in one direction or another, I try to do that. But they pretty much control the meeting. We have a board and we try to get team reps from each sport to be at each meeting.

What fund-raising efforts have been most successful?

The booster club sells family season passes, which get the whole family into all of our regular season home events. They keep 40 percent of that money, and 60 percent goes directly into the athletic department budget. They also run all of our athletic concessions stands, and they sell advertising to local businesses that appears on the boards at our stadium, at the baseball field, and in our gymnasium.

For the past six years, the booster club has also been very involved with running our summer camps. We run camps for boys' and girls' basketball, football, baseball, softball, and soccer, and they do all the administrative work: the brochures, the paperwork, the rental forms to use the facilities. They order all the T-shirts, and they have a parent there the first day to register all the kids who haven't pre-registered. All our coaches have to do is hire staff and show up and coach. The coaches and the booster club split the proceeds 50/50, and that has been a marvelous fund-raiser for us.

How do you handle scheduling for boys' and girls' basketball?

We've tried just about everything that you can think of over the years. Before we had j.v. girls' basketball, we played triple-headers. We'd play j.v. boys, varsity girls, and varsity boys, in that order, generally on Tuesdays and Fridays. When we started a j.v. girls' team, we initially scheduled the j.v. girls and the wrestling team for the same nights. That didn't work at all. It wasn't fair to the j.v. girls--they didn't feel a part of a program.

So the next thing we tried was putting the j.v. teams together. We played j.v. girls and j.v. boys on the same night, and varsity girls and varsity boys on the same night, with the girls playing first.

Last year, we split the genders. We played j.v. girls prior to the varsity girls and j.v. boys prior to the varsity boys on different nights. There was some opposition to that, so this year, we have gone back to having j.v. teams together and varsity teams together. For our varsity teams, on Tuesday nights, the girls are going to play the last game. On Friday nights, the boys are going to play the last game.

The j.v. teams also play Tuesday and Friday nights, with the boys playing the last game on Tuesday night and the first game on Friday nights. That way, we're hoping our j.v. coaches can get to the second half of the varsity games and help out on the bench once a week.

What were the objections to splitting the genders?

The girls didn't think it was fair. They didn't think they'd get the crowds if they didn't play the same night as the varsity boys. My opinion is that if you split the genders and do it long enough, sooner or later the girls are going to have their own crowd. But we have not been able to sell that in this area up to now. I do think that is probably going to be the way that everybody goes eventually.

How did your service on the board of the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association help shape your career? The first time I went to an annual meeting was 1976, so I've been involved with them for a long time. I was on the board for four years before leaving in 1992. I had a great time--there are a lot of good people involved with the association, and being around people from different areas of our state gave me some insight into what other athletic directors are doing.

What strategies have you developed for working with problem parents?

Parents are certainly more involved now than they were in the past, and they have more questions. You're a lot more likely to hear, 'Why do you do it this way?'

At Leesville, we tell all of the parents that if they have a problem, their first contact needs to be with their child's coach. If they're not satisfied, then their next step would be to set up an appointment with me. We also give them guidance on how and when to approach a coach if they have a problem. We particularly tell them that coaches are not to be approached after contests--it's too volatile of a time.

When they do come in, we set very clear guidelines for what topics we will and will not discuss. We don't talk about playing time with parents at all. That is an issue that they often want to talk about, but that is not something we negotiate. My coaches know they do not have to talk about it and I am not going to talk about it. And we're not going to talk about another child's behavior, skills, or playing time with them, either. I'm not going to, the coaches aren't going to, and neither will the principal.

Prior to our seasons, we have parent meetings. Our coaches set up a date and invite the parents in and go over all of these guidelines. Each coach handles their own meeting. It's worked very well for us.

Your school has received a sportsmanship award from the NCHSAA the past two years. How do you as an athletic director foster good sportsmanship?

You can't win every game, but you certainly can exhibit good sportsmanship at every game, and we try to stress that here. We talk about it at our initial meeting at the beginning of the year. We also make sure our coaches attend the state association's rules interpretation meetings every year, and sportsmanship is stressed there.

When did you decide to hire an athletic trainer and how is that position funded?

The county has funded that position since the early 1980s. In my opinion, my athletic trainer is the most important person on our staff. She's nationally certified and she also teaches health and physical education. She teaches a class in sports medicine as part of her teaching load and she has 15 student aides.

We also have an assistant athletic trainer who is nationally certified and he is able to give her some time off. They cover all practices, all home games, and all football games both home and away.

You recently ran a seminar for parents of college-bound student-athletes. What did that entail?

We opened it up to parents of ninth through 12th graders, and we brought in a compliance officer from NC State, a personal trainer, and a former NC State baseball player who is now playing professional baseball. His father, who is one of our assistant baseball coaches, also spoke. It was the first year we've tried it and it drew 30 parents. I think if we continue the effort, it will really grow, because it offered quite a bit of information.

A lot of parents have an interest in their child receiving a scholarship, and we really want to give them information about how the process works. So many times, a child gets a letter from a college and the parents think that's a scholarship offer. The parents don't understand how the process works and there are a lot of misunderstandings out there.