BISBEE — A brief conversation between a Bisbee Unified School District board member and the Herald/Review sports editor about coverage of school sports led to a long conversation during Tuesday’s board meeting about the 2022-23 contract for Athletic Director Tom Heck.
In a chance meeting at a sporting event, board President Carol Loy asked H/R Sports Editor Bruce Whetten why there was not more coverage of Bisbee sports. The answer she got pinpointed the problem — coaches were not responding to his requests for game information.
In an interview Wednesday, Whetten said there were times coaches were not available to talk with him about the games he was unable to cover.
“It’s frustrating,” said Whetten, who covers county schools and Cochise College sports. "Some coaches are good, some are not.”
It led to a discussion on Heck’s lack of experience as an athletic director.
“Maybe it was a misunderstanding, but we were operating on the premise that he had been an athletic director,” Loy said to fellow board members Erin Rhodes, Ann Littrell, Brain Ott and Chris Vertrees.
BUSD Superintendent Tom Woody said he did not say Heck had experience as an athletic director.
Heck said he did not state he had experience as an athletic director, only that he had 30 years of experience in athletics.
“I do what I’m paid to do and that’s supervise,” he told the board, adding it would be helpful if they told him what they expected from him.
The job description lays out 26 duties as the athletic director and requires a valid teaching certificate, a valid Arizona fingerprint card, proof of immunization against the measles, three years’ coaching experience, one year as a head coach and educational experience in the classroom. There is not a requirement that an applicant must have experience as an athletic director.
His resume shows he served many years as an assistant coach at schools, colleges and universities as well as head coach positions. He also taught special education classes, health education, cardio conditioning and weight training while coaching basketball, soccer and tennis.
Heck said he was present at as many Bisbee games as physically possible and there was no way he could be at all of them. While at games, he took tickets, walked field officials into the ballpark and made sure the visiting teams were kept safe after the games and helped load their buses. There were times he was the scorekeeper and announcer for games.
“Although I’ve never been an athletic director, I have been in athletics for 30 years,” said Heck. “And everything is done differently at each district.”
In preparation of Heck’s second contract with Bisbee High, Woody said he sent a survey to the coaches and seven out of nine responded, indicating there were areas in which Heck could improve.
One coach called Heck “unresponsive” and another called him “ineffective.” Even so, Woody and Bisbee High School principal Darin Giltner recommended the board approve a contract for the 2022-23 school year. Heck would continue as athletic director and as a teacher to cover a couple of class periods of the time.
“He’s worked hard this year,” added Woody.
Loy said she would like to know what he brought to the program in his first year with the district.
“The survey shows he’s a nice guy, but … ,” said Loy.
Ott agreed with Loy that some of the survey questions asked about Heck’s strengths, “but not his weaknesses. I thought that was interesting. I read the comments that some of the coaches had written. To my thinking, I’m speaking to a group of educators and if a compliment isn’t specific, it’s really meaningless.
“Why did they think he was doing a nice job? I agree that one of things that came out of that survey was ‘Mr. Heck’s a nice guy.’ That’s important, but competency and the promotion of Bisbee athletics is more important.”
Ott said he, parents and students were disappointed the programs for games were not available, making it difficult to know who was playing what position.
“I’d assume that is pretty much an athletic director’s job description,” he said. “There were a lot of frustrated parents in those bleachers. Perhaps there is a better way to inform the media of Bisbee’s successes. I think we were all under the assumption that Mr. Heck had experience as an athletic director, that he would know what to do, not learn the first year.”
Since there was only seven responses, Ott was curious about the two who did not respond and wanted to know why.
“To me, we could have had a more effective athletic director,” he added.
Littrell said what she got out of the survey was there was a learning curve to the job.
“Districts do operate differently,” she said.
Vertrees said he watched Heck trying to help kids when they were ineligible and dealt with parents on the phone. He looked over the survey and found it “very superficial.”
Woody said he did not ask in-depth questions that could take longer to complete and cause people to lose interest.
Littrell said, “I think he’s got some pretty big shoes to fill.”
She was speaking of retired athletic director Mike Frosco who served the district for 50 years. She thought the relationships with the coaches and the media would improve as time goes on.
Heck said he had daily interactions with the students and keeps up with student grades to let the coaches know if a student was ineligible.
He said he spoke with Whetten on a daily basis and was “very happy to speak with him. If he needed something, I got it to him. We get more exposure in the local newspaper than any other 2A school I’ve worked for in the state of Arizona. I try to make sure he was aware of every update. I don’t know what more, really, I could have done. I would have to differ with you on getting teams in the paper.”
During a recent ceremony in Phoenix at which the Arizona Interscholastic Association presented the Bisbee softball team the Sportsmanship Award, Heck said he went to the event and provided Whetten with the information. If there were game cancellations, he always connected with Whetten. Heck also said he was aware with the problems of connecting with some coaches, but pointed out coaches have limited time as they have other employment.
When the vote was taken to renew Heck’s contract for another year, Ott voted in opposition, Loy abstained and Vertrees, Rhodes and Littrell voted yes.