By Maurice Patton
After narrowing down the field of potential replacements for Chris Marczak as director of Maury County Public Schools to three, the finalists – Mickey Hall, Michael Hickman and Aimee Wyatt – each recently visited Columbia.
While in town, they each took part in a question-and-answer session with members of the community, facilitated by the Maury County Education Association, at Columbia Central.
Southern Middle Tennessee Sports was on hand to discuss their athletic backgrounds and their views on the importance of athletics to the overall educational experience, particularly as it relates to high schools.
With the MCPS board meeting Monday and expected to possibly announce a decision, here are the comments from the three candidates.
Mickey Hall (deputy director/chief financial officer, Wilson County Schools): “(Athletics) not just in high school are very important. Athletics keeps kids in school; band keeps kids in school; arts keep kids in school. I grew up playing sports, I’ve been a coach, in baseball and AAU (basketball). My son and daughter have experienced the state tournament. … Those extracurricular activities keep a lot of kids in school.
“(Regarding county equity) That’s a two-headed sword. You can do a self-audit, at the district level. At the district level, they’ll appraise each of your schools. But you’ve got to be willing to live with the consequences. I’ve been through two (Office of Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education) investigations in our district. When they come in, they do not care who you are; they care that … the female athletes have the same opportunities as the male athletes, that they have the same number of locker rooms for both male and female. If you’ve got a weight room that’s labeled ‘football’, you’re in violation of OCR right now. If it’s a weight room and it’s scheduled for all athletes, you’re OK. They’re going to look at how you advertise your program, if there’s as many female pictures as male pictures. A self-audit can be done, but you have to be willing to live with the consequences and either take away or add to.”
Michael Hickman (principal, Mt. Juliet Elementary School): “Obviously I played sports. … I coached basketball and baseball at the middle school level. ‘The importance of sports’ – you gotta be careful. I’m going to talk about sports, activities; all of these are very important. There are some students that, they’re coming to school for sports. That ‘mentor’ is their coach. It keeps them pushing in school. For some kids, that’s their only outlet. But it goes to the clubs, some of the other after-school programs. Kids need to belong to something. I’ve told many parents in my career, ‘make sure your kids joins a club, a sport, something after school’. They want to belong. If they can’t find something, they’re going to find something on their own and it’s probably not going to be something you’d want them to be a part of. It’s integral – the different leaderships, all the qualities it can lead to. You don’t want to leave out or make clubs and all these other things we do any less (than athletics), because it’s all the same for what it can give to kids. The extra education, the extra mentors, it’s huge.”
Aimee Wyatt (director of state and district partnerships, Southern Regional Education Board): “Athletics and extracurricular activities are important to me. We’ve been a part of a research study where we put all the students’ (grade-point averages) down, we put down how many activities they were involved in, and there’s almost an exact correlation between the GPA of the student and the number of clubs, organizations, athletics that they’re in. Arts, athletics, anything you do outside of school is experiential learning. It helps with socialization, it helps with being a better citizen, and that all goes into making you a well-rounded student. … You also want to make sure we have something for everybody at some school. We’ve got to make sure we find as many things to float their boat. My one son wasn’t an athlete, but he was in chess club. My other son was a baseball player.
“(Regarding gender equity) So there’s a short-term plan and a long-term plan. You have to devise what the ideal situation looks like and map out how we get there, and in the meantime you have to look at alternatives, scheduling, play, so that they still get the same services. It’s not OK that they don’t have the same quality. So how does that look? What facilities can we look at or share or maneuver schedules so that can happen until we can get the adequate facility that is equal to the other facilities around?”
Columbia Central football coach Jason Hoath, who was in the audience for each of the three forums, expressed optimism regarding the candidates and the support he’d expect from them.
“I think if you ask any coach, we’d always want more,” Hoath said. “But you notice all three of the candidates said something along the same lines: Athletics, as well as clubs, different things students are involved with are important and encouraged.
“I guess the hope is that we can be able to compete with the counties around us as far as facilities and things of that nature – what’s going to entice people living in Middle Tennessee, what’s going to make us stand out from other counties. In the coaching world, that’s always going to be facilities. Wins and losses play in that, too. If you’re going to place a child in a school system, academics are going to be No. 1, but if they’re involved in athletics or other activities, what does this school have to offer, as opposed to one county over? Those are things I would look at – what’s the program like, what are the facilities like?
“Hopefully we’ll have that support and as we enter this new era, it’ll be good on all ends.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.