In this interview, Wagner discusses life as a modern AD, how she balances the job-family dynamic and gives advice on how to handle the rigors of the role.
Jenny Wagner is the Activities Director for Centennial Public Schools, with 250 students enrolled in grades 7-12. Centennial is a Class C-2 school located in Utica, Nebraska. They offer 11 sports and four additional activities.
What are the goals for your department?
“The number one goal is to offer opportunities for every kid within our building to be able to participate in something that meets their interests and needs and helps them find success. Another goal is to continually offer our kids new and varied opportunities. In the last five years, we’ve offered baseball, girls’ wrestling, e-sports and unified bowling. So I think that just finding opportunities that might meet kids we weren’t already meeting is great because we want to get kids involved.”
“And ultimately, the goal is to help kids learn life lessons. I think you learn a lot from the extracurricular activities that you participate in and that’s our goal as coaches, sponsors, athletic directors is to help our kids learn life lessons to be successful in their future and learn from failure and success.”
“I also, as the athletic director, would say that my goal is to help my coaches. Yes, we’re here ultimately for the kids–that’s why every single one of us is here–however, it’s also my job to be there for my coaches and sponsors and help make their jobs easier.”
On top of all your awesome work as an AD, you’re also a super mom. How do you balance all of that and still find efficiencies as an athletic director?
“My number one job is to be a mom. That’s my top job. However, I also want to be a very successful AD and I really strive to push myself to be a leader in this role…I’m constantly battling within myself to balance both of those things.”
“But I know the nice thing is that I have a very supportive district and other supportive administrators on my team with me. We’re all parents and so we try to help each other out and whether that’s balancing things out so we all don’t have to go to the same activities and things like that. And my kids are part of it."
"I was the kid of an AD, so I grew up in the gym and went everywhere with my dad, and I think that’s helped me fall in love with this role. I saw the impact that he made on kids and in the community and I wanted to give back and have that same impact, and I like that my kids get to see me do that.”
“I think it’s also huge as a female and as a mom that people can see you be both. You can be a good mom and be good at your job. Just because you’re a female doesn’t mean you have to choose between being good at your job or being a mom. I have three boys…and them getting to walk that path with me and be at games and be involved, I just want them to see that and be proud of me.”
“I joke that my ten-year-old is my assistant AD. He gets the water for the officials, he gets me the Snickers bars, he gives them their checks, he’s my greeter and he takes the teams to the locker room. Granted, I’m right there through it all, but just finding ways for them to be involved with what I do is important.”
During this time of year especially, what is life like as an AD? What are some of the things that are top of mind or that are on your radar?
“It’s busy. With the number of sports that we have, from August to March, I’d say it’s solidly busy because we often have four to five or six sports going on at one time. Making sure that I balance things is really important. Making sure that I’m seen…making sure that everyone knows that they’re equally important. You’re also checking the weather, seeing if you have to move games, rearrange games, reschedule, and even preemptively do things if a storm is going to hit.”
“We’re also at the time of year where you’re not only planning for what’s going on right now and the spring is coming up, but you’re also planning for next year. You’re contacting officials and solidifying schedules…essentially by the end of each season, you’ve already got your next season ready to go. It’s a lot of tedious task work and behind-the-scenes work that not everybody sees. This is also the time of year that you’re evaluating how programs are being built. How are your coaches doing? How are your kids doing? Are there things that we need to bring in to help our program and kids improve?"
“We’re especially in the era where everything is social media driven. So if you don’t have a social media presence as a school, you have a problem…and I think that role has fallen on athletic directors and it’s just another thing that you have to take on. I work really hard to make sure that our kids are seen on social media and are celebrated so everyone can see their great success.”
Does this time of year, coupled with the busy athletic calendar, present any added stressors for athletic directors? If so, how do you manage those stressors?
“Number one, and I think it’s gotten easier the longer I’ve been doing this, is knowing that it’s OK to delegate things to other people. Some people have secretaries, some people have assistant ADs, some have student assistants…I think that if you can delegate some things off, that’s been a huge stress reliever for me.”
“Another really important thing to make sure you’re getting everything done is a checklist. It can be digital or on paper, but having that checklist can help you figure out what needs to be done today, tomorrow and down the road.”
“The other huge thing for me is making sure that when I’m with my family, that I’m present. Just knowing that all the stressors are still going to be there the next day. So when I go home, it might still be six or seven o’clock on a Wednesday night, but when I go home I leave my computer and I don’t check my email unless it’s a necessity. Just making sure you’re present when you’re home is huge. Do what you can while you’re at school and be present at home. That’s helped alleviate a lot of stress that I used to have.”
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