Gary Blackman budgets, counsels, promotes, coaches and most of all tries to keep everyone happy in his program. And yet, "I think the job of the athletic director goes somewhat unrecognized," said Blackman, athletic director at Sidwell Friends School.
In his third year as athletic director and football coach at the Interstate Athletic Conference school in upper Northwest, Blackman points out his position brings little frustration since financial strains are minimal in the IAC.
"Our administration, like most of the IAC schools, has been very supportive," Blackman said. "Finances have never been the major problem. That is one way, along with our academic standards, I guess, we separate ourselves from the Metro and Interhigh.
"We don't have the athletes of those conferences overall, but we'll always have a few on that athletic level. I think the main problem with athletics at Sidwell is lack of participation. Many times, our teams are undermanned. Last season when we scrimmaged Wilson (of the Interhigh), we suited up 25 players, they suited up 75."
The IAC athletic directors face few problems compared to their public school counterparts in the Interhigh, where money is scarce. In the Interhigh, revenue to pay for most football equipment, which is about $300 per player, comes mainly from games. But ticket sales often are hurt when spectators ignore the gates and enter for free through holes in many field fences.
McKinley Armstrong, McKinley Tech's athletic director, said, "My job? It's a tough task. Money is tight."
"It's a headache," said Dunbar's athletic director, Clarence Bell.
"Sometimes I ask myself, 'What the hell am I doing this on a volunteer basis for?' " said Cardozo's athletic director, Frazier O'Leary.
"You see," Armstrong said, "everyone talks the same talk."
That talk is how the high school athletic director's role must be better recognized, appreciated and supported. Interhigh athletic directors make next to nothing in salary for the long hours they log.
"The Interhigh schools are not funded as well as they should be," said Maus Collins. "I don't think the top brass gives them the credit that they deserve."
Since 1962, Collins has been athletic director and football coach at Carroll of the Metro Conference. During his tenure, Carroll has built a track inside a football stadium and remodeled the gymnasium. The football team perennially ranks in the area's top 10. The basketball, wrestling and tennis teams remain competitive.
"You have to try to treat each sport fairly without favoring one over the other," Collins said.
He says he still enjoys his job and he'll continue "as long as the Lord let's me and the administration still wants me."
He keeps coaching because not only does he enjoy it, but also he feels it is necessary as an athletic director to keep in touch with his athletes. Collins fears many athletic directors become "paper directors," who involve themselves too much with paperwork and not the kids.
"What looks good on paper isn't always what's good for the kids," Collins said. "The athletic director must play a larger role now. He must keep in touch with the kids. He has to keep the coaches up to date as well as the buildings and equipment up to date for safety standards.
"In the Metro, every athletic director can speak for his team. We are in a big position of responsibility. We can pretty much do as much as we want within the rules of the league. We're really in charge of our own league."
In their own league, the Interhigh athletic directors seek more respect. They struggle, yet they like their jobs because of the challenge. They refuse to succumb to the setbacks of little money, scheduling disorders and problems of player eligibility.
"I love my job and working within the system," said Armstrong, who has been affiliated with McKinley 19 years. "It's a big, massive operation and it's hard to cover it all." However, he said, "If you lose your optimism and perception, you're doomed. I have faith something is going to happen. We have good people in the Interhigh."
O'Leary is one of those people starting to make things happen. He has coached football, basketball and baseball at Cardozo. Now, starting his second year as the school's athletic director, O'Leary is proud to say, "The kids have started coming back to Cardozo."
Not only are athletes returning, but they also are staying once they get there.
In O'Leary's first year, college scholarships for Cardozo's senior athletes rose from five for the 1984 class (all in swimming) to 22 for 1985, including 12 in football, three in basketball, and one in track for Boris Goins, Cardozo's all-America, to Auburn.
"I want to get our athletes into college," O'Leary said. "That's how as an athletic director, I want to direct our athletes. That's recruiting for Cardozo, too. The kids will say, 'Wow, all of Cardozo's athletes went to college this year'.
"I hadn't really envisioned what the job would be like. There is a lot of counseling and talking to the students. We just try to explain to them how their bodies can be away into college."
Working with Principal Dr. James Williams, O'Leary has stabilized the school's athletic program. The basketball team will play all home games at Lincoln Junior High School this year, no longer having to move from place to place to supplement Cardozo's inadequate gymnasium. Also, Robert Richards returns as Cardozo's football coach, the first time in five years a coach has gone past his first year.
To raise revenue, the school is selling season tickets to this year's home football games, which will be played on a newly sodded field. "Many people think we have the best field in the city," O'Leary said.
With all these improvements, O'Leary believes that many more junior high students in Cardozo's area will stay in the neighborhood. In the District, students can choose to attend any high school. Many students in the past rejected Cardozo's athletic program.
"The school has settled down," O'Leary said. "I'd like to see the recruiting stopped. I don't want to see the players going out of their areas. There are many athletes who went to other schools and I could throw a baseball from Cardozo to their houses. Let the kid stay in his own neighborhood."
Said Armstrong, "The development of players' raw talent is the greatest thing a coach can do. Raise your own. Don't try to take other developed ball players from other schools. That's like cattle rustling."
Some Interhigh athletic directors feel their positions are threatened unless their roles are increased. Unlike the Metro and IAC, area superintendents and school principals have the most input in filling coaching vacancies. Interhigh athletic directors no longer want to accept administrators' coaching and scheduling decisions without their own consultation.
"The athletic director should become an administrator himself, like an assistant principal in a sense," Bell said. "We should have more selection and say so in what's going on. The athletic director must always be totally aware. If they (superintendents) don't upgrade the job, it will become obselete."
Metro Commissioner Dallas Shirley says the athletic director must learn to adjust and negotiate even more because as athletics expand, the job's frustrations increase.
"The A.D. has to become more tolerant," said Shirley, an athletic director at Eastern High School in the 1940s. "He must become more democratic and reasonable. My definition of democracy is that you have your opinions listened to and respected, but you always win some and lose some."
Athletic directors know losing comes with the job. But, they want to win more -- for the kids and schools, not really for themselves. O'Leary and Collins exemplify that improvements can happen. They'll keep pushing.
"Many people have been in the game as long as I have," Armstrong said. "We know how to cope."
"There're many obstacles, but I'm going to try not to let them bother me," O'Leary said. "That's life.
"We've come a long way. And we're on our way. We want to be the best high school in the city. That's our goal. I honestly think we will be."
The athletic director simply wants resources for a solid program, one that reflects himself and his school.
"It all comes down to the visitors to your school and your program," Collins said. "When people leave, you want them to feel they have just left a nice place."