Living life in the land of eternal sports
Park City athletic director Jamie Sheetz talks about what it takes to build meaningful experiences
October 24, 2017
Jamie Sheetz, Park City High School's athletic director, is involved in a small argument on the sideline of Dozier Field.
The ball boys don't want to be ball boys anymore.
"We've done it every game this season," one says.
"This is the last game, finish it out," Sheetz says.
After considering their options, the boys get back to work. The incident is one small piece of a long, intricate day for Sheetz. He started his morning dropping off forms at the school district transportation office behind Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, then went to a region meeting, then to the state cross country meet at Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City where PCHS was competing. After watching the girls team take eighth, he came back and started preparing Dozier field for the senior night football game against Ridgeline High School.
Now, in the third quarter of the game, with the ball boy strike successfully broken, he was finally able to relax and watch the Miners play, which is what a lot of people think his job is about.
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He has been an athletic director since 2013 working, by his account, 50- to 70-hour weeks every week to make sure Miner athletics is running smoothly.
Park City High was his first job as athletic director. He took it after a friend sent him a strange article in the mail – a newspaper clipping that detailed the untimely death of Park City High School's would-be athletic director, Aaron Alford, who suffered a lethal heart attack while climbing the administration office's steps to turn in his final paperwork after accepting the job.
At the time, Sheetz was a coach in Morehead City, North Carolina coaching baseball in the Coastal Plain League. But he was raised in Salt Lake, and ready for a change, so he interviewed for the position and came to Park City.
Being a coach was a lot like being an athletic director, Sheetz said. And though he never thought he would be an athletic director, he did have an affinity for the administrative work that most of his friends in coaching loathed.
The key to being successful as a director, he said, was adopting a long-term view. He is, for example, always in season, and the best thing to do is consider how events average out. Good days, hard days, victories and losses all get put on the year-round balance sheet.
When he talks about keeping kids interested in sports, he shows a sense of pathos for the students.
"I don't want them to feel like it's a prison, as some of them do," he said. "Especially because they spend so much time here. They are at the school more than they are at home. They are with their teachers and coaches, more than they are with their parents and families. … That's why I love extracurriculars so much, because for a lot of them that's their reason for getting up in the morning to go to school. They go to school thinking 'At the end of the day, at least I have that (sport or activity).' Which is probably true for a lot of people."
He sees his job, ostensibly about managing sports and activities, as a mission to create a meaningful experience for the students, he said. After all, it's not the homework, the essays or the tests aced or flunked, that will ultimately stick in students' minds as they graduate into the world. It's the moments they spend with the people around them, including in sports and clubs, that make the most powerful memories.
But he also has to deal with parents, some of whom have "challenging personalities."
"You just have to remove all your emotion, look at the problem logically, and try and remember what it's like to be a parent," he said. "You have to try to be rational, yet sensitive, in dealing with someone that at times can become irrational out of love for their child."
The flip side is, he said, when he's recognized by a student. When someone — invariably a very involved student who spends as much time at the school as Sheetz does — notices that Sheetz is also there all the time. He said it's the rare "thank you" that makes his day.
Recently he was recognized by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association as a Certified Master Athletic Administrator — one of about 10 other athletic directors in the state and 180 in the country to earn the distinction from a pool of 10,000 members.
When he found out, he didn't go out and celebrate.
"I think we had a soccer game that night," he said.
Back on the clock
As time ticked down at Dozier Field, Sheetz ran through his lengthy post-game checklist.
First he would collect the pylons, pillars, ropes and barriers from around the field, then help with general clean up, shut down the press box and make the sure sound system and all electronics are turned off. Once that was done, he would make sure the concession booth is shut down, turn off the field lights and lock the facility. Then he would head to the high school for a final sweep of the building, make sure all equipment and gear has been returned, ensure the tickets and concession money is secured and take care of some post-game paperwork. Finally, if necessary, he would assist anyone who lost items during the game or needs help.
He expected to be done by 10 or 11 p.m., so he could get home and start all over again, bright and early, in another new day of the never-ending season.
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