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COLUMN: Sports speak loudly about a school

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New school chief should understand their importance

By John Herndon

When Kim Shaw announced his retirement as superintendent of Anderson County schools last month, there was one certain local sports editor who was more than just a little bit sad.

While I can't be certain, I believe I was the first member of the local media to conduct an in-depth interview with Mr. Shaw. I also believe I was the last to sit down for an extended chat with his predecessor, Sonny Fentress.

Why? Both were former basketball coaches and both saw athletic programs as important to the mission of a school system. I have not always agreed with them, but they have always treated me with class.

Mr. Fentress had a long tenure in which he oversaw a school system trying to keep up with the community's rapid change. Mr. Shaw continued building on that and has left his own mark on the school system. He admirably filled the big shoes left him.

But not long after the interview I did with Mr. Shaw ran, I got some feedback, asking why so many administrators were former coaches.

Easy. Coaching basketball, then coaching people.

Both jobs demand setting a standard for success. Both demand adaptability and require dealing with many different types of people.

It also underscores the connection between sports and education. Sports teach so much about life that can rarely be learned in the class room.

A kid playing sports with success learns the value of hard work, discipline, commitment, working as a team, following instructions, adaptability and doing one's best in all circumstances.

And, in my 25 years at the keyboard, I have also learned how a school system treats athletics says a lot about how successful it is in other areas and about its community. While that is not universal, it is amazing how often I see first class facilities, beautiful trophy cases and successful teams on a campus that boasts high academic achievement.

That brings us full circle to the search for a local superintendent of schools. While I have noted that coaches often move on to successful administrative careers, there are just as many non-coaches doing just as good.

But the non-coach understands the coaching principles that carry over into leading a school system, a business or an organization: Understand the big picture. Expect success. Work as a team and do not accept failure.

From experience, I have observed schools with great hires climbing to higher levels of success. A bad hire can do immeasurable damage.

With that in mind, I would look for a superintendent with some form of administrative experience in all levels of education: Elementary, middle school, high school and central office. The kids of Anderson County deserve someone with impeccable credentials.

I would not close the door on anyone, in or out of the system. I am not privy to who has applied, but would venture to say there are many good applications. In my years of writing sports, I have found that Anderson County schools have an outstanding reputation. Yes, there are problems, like all counties, but the reputation is very good.

Hopefully the school board will consider all, because a  great leader could come from within, such as Sonny Fentress, or from another system, like Kim Shaw.

And from this corner, I hope that the new superintendent will be athletic-friendly. That does not necessarily mean a coach, but someone that understands that while academics are at the top of the totem pole, the educational process includes much more than work in the classroom.

The Anderson County Board of Education has a huge task in front of it. Its decision will affect the county for many years to come.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.