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4 Questions: A Conversation with…Rodney Shotwell

4 QUESTIONS: A CONVERSATION WITH…RODNEY SHOTWELL

                  Rodney Shotwell is currently the superintendent of the Rockingham County schools and a member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association who has an excellent background in athletics.

                  During his time as a teacher and coach, he coached basketball and baseball at Walter Williams High in Burlington and also coached soccer at Southern Alamance. He had a stint at Orange High before becoming principal at Lexington.  He served as superintendent of the Macon County schools from 2001 to 2006 before taking over to head the school system in Rockingham. Rodney has actually had a rare two stints as a Board member and has also served the NCHSAA in a variety of important capacities, such as on the realignment committee.

 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in high school athletics during your time in education?

One of the biggest changes I have noticed in my career is the attention to our student-athletes’ safety.  Every year, there is more research coming forth to educate our coaches, trainers, athletes, and parents on ways we all can work together to promote a safe and competitive athletic contest.  The Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act is a prime example of how a problem we have encountered for many years now is in the forefront of our safety plans for our athletic competitions and practices.  Due to this new legislation, we are preventing student-athletes from incurring more damage after the initial concussion.  Considering the evolution in our athletic equipment over time, we are providing our athletes with a safer means to prevent injuries.

Another change has been the shift from having a majority of the coaching staff on the faculty at a high school.  When I started coaching, all the teams were coached by someone on staff. By no means does this mean our lay coaches are not doing a great job.  However, the advantages of having a coach on staff are numerous.  One example would be the ability of having daily direct access to the classroom teachers to check grades, attendance, and behavior.  Quite often, the teacher would alert me immediately if we had athletes who were not behaving or performing to the best of their abilities.  As a coach, I would use the feedback to communicate with the athlete either during my planning period or after school.  I wanted my players to know I care about their academics and classroom behavior just as much as the effort I expected them to display on the court or field.  We as coaches need to remember that our student-athletes represent the school and community.

 

You’ve had two stints on the NCHSAA Board of Directors. How would you describe your experience as a member of the Board?

Serving on the Board of Directors for NCHSAA has been an honor and privilege as we serve our 400-plus high school coaches and student athletes.  The experience of serving as a board member has shown me the incredible responsibility one has being on the board.  As board members, we are confronted with a variety of issues which have a direct impact on our coaches and student-athletes all across North Carolina.  Dealing with sport-specific concerns all the way to our realignment plan, I know every decision we make as a board will affect our athletic programs statewide.  The big difference I see being a member of the Board of Directors is the relevance and timeliness of our decisions.  Unlike many other boards, our decisions go in place within the next year and we witness how our board votes in May will affect our student -thletes the following year. 

We address concerns, welcome suggestions, and grapple with many issues, but we do it as a unified Board of Directors.  All eight regions of the state are equally represented and the camaraderie I have personally witnessed serving on this board is outstanding.   The deliberation and problem-solving amongst board members during our meetings takes in all perspectives and in the end, we vote on what we feel is in the best interest of our student athletes. 

 

You’ve been a staunch advocate of high school athletics during your career. What role do you believe athletics can play in the overall atmosphere of a high school and in the community?

High school athletics play a vital role in our high schools, just as they did when I was participating as a student-athlete.  The sense of community and pride rides on the success of our athletic programs in all our high schools.  Every Friday night during football season, I witness the community represented by many generations come together to cheer on the team to victory.  The reason is simple–our grandparents, parents, and community know it is a place to gather and see old classmates and meet new members of the community.  However, when it is kickoff time, we root for the team as one.  Our high schools reflect our community and high school athletics brings people together. 

It is my strong belief that our high school athletic programs are one of the best ways we keep our young men and women in school.  Coming from a single parent home, I found my coaches to be like another parent to ensure my success with my academics.   The last thing I ever wanted to do was to disappoint my coaches on the field and off.  As a coach and principal, I have witnessed the importance of having academic standards in order for students to participate in athletics.  It has kept many young men and women in school because there was accountability on their part.  Becoming a member of a team gives our high school students a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and high school athletics provides that opportunity.

More importantly, I find that those students participating in sports are leaders within the school’s student body and the community.  The reason is straightforward, we coach our young men and women to work hard, play hard, support their teammates, maintain their classroom grades, and most importantly, we teach them leadership skills.  Those leadership skills are laying the foundation for their future in post secondary educational opportunities and in their life. It is not surprising to find that those students who participate in high school athletics have better grades and attendance than those students who do not.  High school athletics offer students the opportunity to push themselves to be better and succeed.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing high schools and school systems today?

There are many challenges facing our high schools.  Providing adequate resources for our athletic programs have become increasingly more difficult as we see our financial resources shrink over time.  Keeping up our athletic facilities have become a point of concern for many programs.  School districts are faced with dwindling resources and unfortunately athletic projects are being pushed to the “back burner” in order to deal with health and safety capital issues, such as replacing roofs and HVAC systems. The cost to host athletic events are increasing and putting more pressure on individual school athletic budgets to the point that if a game with the potential for big gate receipts is hampered by a rainy night, the impact is felt in other nonrevenue sports.  Even with the support of the athletic booster clubs, the financial resources are limited in many of our high schools throughout North Carolina. 

My biggest fear is implementing “pay to play” system in place as a result of the financial hardships in many of our school districts.  North Carolina has been proactive in preventing this from occurring by using a variety of revenue items such as the interest earned on the Endowment Fund to send back to our schools to cover catastrophic insurance and other obligations.  A “pay to play” system would prevent many of our student-athletes from participating in high school sports for lack of money at home.  One of the things I am so proud of the NCHSAA for is the fact students can participate in our athletic programs regardless of family income.  Everyone is given the opportunity to succeed… and that is the spirit of high school athletics.