AIA shuffles the deck to find replacement for Schmidt


The hire of David Hines to become the new associate executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) marks the most significant personnel change in the last 15 years for the organization that governs high school sports in the state.

And it also signals a probable change in the way the AIA will do business going forward.  A change that coaches and school officials generally agree will be for the better.

In political terms, they are expecting Hines to do a better job of reaching across the aisle to establish an improved working relationship between the AIA and its member schools.

The decision to elevate Hines from his position as the organization’s tournament coordinator to take over the job vacated with the resignation of Chuck Schmidt in February brings to a close a rocky period that began in January.

That was when Executive Director Harold Slemmer announced his plans to retire when his contract runs out in 2017.  At the same time, the 62-year-old former principal at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix recommended Schmidt as the man to replace him.  The two had been together almost their entire time working at the AIA; Slemmer began in 1999 and Schmidt signed on in 2000 as the organization’s community relations and marketing coordinator.

The AIA’s executive board unanimously approved the move, but soon had to back-pedal on its decision when school and district officials disagreed, pointing out that the position should have been opened and made available to other candidates.  The board reversed its decision about Schmidt’s hire at its March meeting.

By early April, Schmidt had tendered his resignation, upset that he no longer had the board’s support.

His decision to leave was understandable.  He had given the organization 15 years of his career, working his way into the assistant executive director position in 2002, and then being named chief operating officer four years later. It was easy to understand his assumption that the executive director’s chair would be his next step.

But the AIA’s relationship with its member schools, their coaches and athletics directors, has been strained in recent years.  A lack of accountability and communication has been at the root of much of the problem.   And Schmidt was on the front lines during most of those thorny issues.

Most recently, it was the firestorm that erupted over a new realignment for the various divisions in each sport, which resulted in many schools being re-assigned.  The AIA uses a complicated computer formula to place schools into divisions, using a program that factors in enrollment, past success, and the per cent of students on free and reduced lunch programs.

Perhaps there should have been more input from the membership before the realignments were announced because there were more than a few schools voicing their unhappiness over the results. As the Arizona Republic pointed out in a recent article, there were 835 team sports appeals in just the first six weeks or so after the release of the new alignments.

And about this time last year, the AIA surprised its member schools with a smorgasbord of fee increases that hit without warning in mid-June after many budgets for the coming school year were already finalized, leaving administrators to scramble to make eleventh-hour adjustments.

That cash grab was the AIA’s solution to helping cure a budget shortfall of their own amounting to $519,000 in the 2012-13 school year, which itself raised complaints of a lack of transparency and accountability.

It’s a big job, riding herd on an organization that governs high school athletics in a state that has 267 member high schools and sets the agenda for nearly 100,000 students in sports from badminton to football.  It’s origins go back to 1913.

And it appears that tapping David Hines to help it move forward in a more positive direction is a good choice. Hines, who was the athletic director at Mountain View High School in Mesa before signing on with the AIA in July of 2008, has spent 30 years of his career in education and certainly understands how the system works, and how to best work with its coaches and administrators.

He got his education in Arizona, another point in his favor.  Hines attended Tempe High School and Mesa Community College before graduating from Arizona State University.

His current title of tournament coordinator can be deceiving.  In that role, he also was involved with bylaw interpretations, was the AIA liaison to several of the conferences, and coordinated the athlete evaluation program.

That will all help as he now steps into a role that will be significantly more challenging.  The executive board is expected to formally approve his hire at its August meeting.

But Hines doesn’t have to make great strides right away.  Just build some new lines of communication with the organization’s member schools and instill a new spirit of cooperation.

That would be a really good start.