4 QUESTIONS—A CONVERSATION WITH…LEON MACK
Leon Mack served his country proudly in the United States Army before becoming a teacher, then assistant principal and athletic director. A native of Manning, S.C., and a graduate of Fayetteville State University, Leon worked at Lee County and then at E.E. Smith High School in Fayetteville before serving in his present role as director of student activities for the Cumberland County schools.
He served a term on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors and is a well-respected athletic administrator. He is also serving as tournament director of the NCHSAA Eastern Regional basketball tournament in Fayetteville this week.
You are a system athletic director, so you are directly involved with working with a number of high schools. What are the biggest challenges you believe high school athletic programs face today?
Probably the two most significant challenges that many high school administrators face today are funding and club sports. Funding directly impacts our ability to support and manage our athletic programs effectively. The cost of purchasing equipment that has a high safety rating is constantly increasing. Funding affects our ability to hire highly qualified teacher/coaches and nationally certified athletic trainers. The cost of game security, officials, etc. is increasing yet our funding is decreasing. We, like most school systems in the state, are working diligently to do more with less.
Club sports for some is seen as a threat to high school athletics, but I see it as a challenge to coaches and athletic administrators to educate parents and athletes on the pros and cons of club sports versus high school athletics. I do not believe that a young athlete should specialize in one sport during their middle school and early high school years. However, I, like many others must embrace the fact that club sports are here to stay. We must seek ways to co-exist, and where possible, work together for the mutual benefit of our young athletes.
You completed a four-year term on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors. How would you describe your experiences as a member of the Board of Directors?
Being a member of the NCHSAA Board of Directors was a tremendous honor. It will be one of the cherished memories of my many athletic experiences. I had the opportunity to not only see, but be a part of the governing body that developed guidelines, rules, regulations and policies for high school athletics in the state. As a board member, I quickly came to understand that the decisions I am making will have an impact on thousands of young student-athletes and their parents, coaches, officials, and high school communities throughout the state. I came to appreciate much more the hard work and the challenges that our NCHSAA commissioner and his staff face daily in carrying out the day-to-day operations of the Association. What a rewarding four years it has been serving as member of such a great Board!
What is your best memory of high school athletics personally, from your own involvement in them?
Working as an athletic administrator for the past 16 years has presented me with so many great memories. But, without a doubt, the best memories are those associated with my three sons. To have the privilege, as a father, to be the athletic director of your son’s high school created some unbelievable moments that we will share for a lifetime. My sons were above average athletes who credit their talents to their mother. She was quite an accomplished high school athlete. Believe me, that always led to some very interesting conversations in our household. They were all-conference in football, basketball, baseball and competed in cross country, track & field and one was quite successful in the marching band. I could probably write a book about all of the memorable moments we shared during their high school careers.
In your limited spare time, what are some of the activities you are involved in away from athletics?
When I am not keeping my grandchildren or visiting with my sons, I am traveling. My military career afforded me the opportunity to travel to so many countries around the world. I enjoy meeting people and experiencing their culture. ‘That bug’ is still with me, so when I have the opportunity, I go on road trips to different places. I once heard someone say “what fun is it going on vacation if you are always going to the same place.” I love to travel through small towns and rural communities. It’s just great! When I am not traveling, I spend quite a bit of time in South Carolina on the family land, visiting with my mother and siblings.