New athletic directors had to juggle pandemic stresses

Ryan Cremeans has always been a sports guy.

He played college baseball at Central Michigan, and he was pumped up when he became Trinity Lutheran High School’s new athletic director Sept. 15, 2020, in addition to development director.

There were clues that life might be unusual and somewhat rocky since he was assuming the role in the middle of a pandemic as the coronavirus ravaged the planet, but he had no idea he also was going to feel as if he was taking graduate credits in medical studies.

Ryan Cremeans’ one year as Trinity Lutheran athletic director coincided with the pressures of constant rescheduling during the coronavirus pandemic.  Lew Freedman
Ryan Cremeans’ one year as Trinity Lutheran athletic director coincided with the pressures of constant rescheduling during the coronavirus pandemic. Lew Freedman

If ever asked to fill in as a doctor somewhere, Cremeans said he could reply, “’I don’t have a medical degree, but I’ve been an athletic director for a year.’ I never imagined the amount of medical knowledge I would need.”

Three of the five Jackson County high schools, Trinity, Medora and Crothersville, coped with the coronavirus crisis affecting their sports schedules with new athletic directors at the helm.

It was a challenging school year for students, athletes, teachers and administrators, including veteran athletic directors at Brownstown Central and Seymour, as well as sports officials all over Indiana.

But it has been a year of living under stress through what will almost definitely be the most uncertain school athletic calendar year an AD will face during a career for Cremeans, Jacob Dunn at Crothersville and Kara Hunt at Medora.

“We thought we had schedules written in pen,” Cremeans said. “It ended up being written in pencil with an eraser.”

That is a summary of the seasons for all high school athletic directors around the state who spent countless hours telephoning, emailing and texting counterparts and coaches because outbreaks of the virus appeared suddenly with almost no notice.

Those developments required game cancellations, postponements and rescheduling, sometimes nonstop, affecting teams in multiple sports, in the fall sometimes football and volleyball, all winter girls and boys basketball, wrestling and more.

Complicating matters were long-term quarantines, a week to two weeks in length, not just one-game-at-a-time problems. The sweeping nature of the virus, nothing of the like which had been experienced across the United States in a century since the Spanish flu epidemic, meant school districts, county health departments and athletic directors cooperated to determine if teams could compete and the size of crowds at events.

In some instances, not even parents were allowed into venues to watch their kids play on their teams. Crothersville’s volleyball team played almost its entire fall schedule without fans in attendance. Everywhere, social distancing was required between seats, rows and sections wherever games were played.

Dunn, who always wanted to be an athletic director, thought he was well-prepared for the role, but then he inherited a year like no other in his first time as boss.

“There’s a rulebook for being an athletic director,” he said. “But there is no rulebook for being an athletic director during a pandemic.”

Dunn started his job Aug. 15, 2020.

“It has been a whirlwind since,” Dunn said.

Jacob Dunn coped with the challenge of being a first-year athletic director at Crothersville during a global pandemic.  Lew Freedman | the tribune
Jacob Dunn coped with the challenge of being a first-year athletic director at Crothersville during a global pandemic. Lew Freedman | the tribune

He said it was a tough call to keep fans out of the gym for volleyball, but the disease spread was so swift, he felt it was the safest course. Dunn said his No. 1 goal was to keep the athletes safe and healthy and to do the best he could to ensure they could complete competition seasons.

Dunn said telephoning was the preferred method of communication trying to reach other athletic directors, just to be sure they really received messages. Game shopping for fill-in contests was a constant. One Crothersville team had no games for three weeks. Then trying to cram the replacement games into fewer days became a balancing act.

“Then you had to send updates to parents and officials,” Dunn said.

Medora has fewer teams than other Jackson County schools (one example being having a single-person golf team in the spring when others have softball, baseball, track and tennis), so Hunt’s life wasn’t quite as hectic, although she has two jobs like Cremeans. Hunt, who also is dean of students, took over as AD in October.

“The toughest thing was to decide what to do with fans for the parents and the kids,” she said. “If we could only have parents or guardians, it was hard on the families. I was the bearer of bad news. It was a little bit of flying by the seat of our pants.”

Kara Hunt doubles as Medora athletic director and dean of students.  Lew Freedman
Kara Hunt doubles as Medora athletic director and dean of students. Lew Freedman

One angle that made things quirky for all Jackson County teams was traveling to play games in other counties that had different restrictions in place.

In the course of a normal school year, the period of most uncertainty with schedules is springtime because of the potential for rainouts. The pandemic, Hunt said, “made those winter sports like spring. It was at its worst in December.”

While winter can bring snowstorms, the amount of snow in southern Indiana halting high school sports is often limited. Snow doesn’t usually arrive with blizzard-like conditions, nor does it always stick around for days or weeks at a time.

This winter was an exception. Of all winters, with sports subject to change on a daily basis because of the virus, winter arrived in fierce fashion, causing postponements and driving hazards on icy roads.

“The snow came Feb. 8,” Dunn said. “We were out (of school) all week.”

Basketball teams were unable to practice, yet the boys had games scheduled just when things cleared up. That was not ideal for preparation.

“Then we got snow again,” he said. “Two weeks of no practice.”

Four boys hoops games were in jeopardy, which was especially aggravating because senior Cable Spall was closing in on the career 1,000-point mark. Dunn wanted Spall to reach the milestone or at the very least have the chance to do so.

“I thought, ‘Now snow?’” Dunn said. “I was worried whether we would get those games in.”

Somehow, due to the magic of multiple forms of communication, the Tigers rescheduled the games and Spall passed the 1,000-point barrier.

For sure, scheduling changes represented a dizzying few months.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dunn said. “What makes the spring a different beast is the rainouts and there is an umpire shortage (in baseball). You get fields flooded. We had the long jump pit soaked.”

Cremeans likely experienced one all-time week of athletic director madness. It began with both girls and boys basketball teams on the road in different communities but by Saturday saw Trinity host boys and girls junior varsity and varsity doubleheaders against schools they ordinarily don’t play.

“We would find out in mid-morning or late morning, someone would call and say, ‘We won’t be able to play tonight. We can’t field a team,’” Cremeans said.

It didn’t matter that Trinity was Class A, the Cougars took on 3A or 4A teams if necessary.

“We just found who we could play. It was anyone who needed a game. That was wild,” Cremeans said.

Like Dunn and Hunt, Cremeans said he worried if he was doing the right thing keeping fans out of the gym for games over a period of time.

Despite the havoc and the headaches, Cremeans enjoyed being Trinity’s athletic director. Since June 1, though, his work has been full time as development director.

The next — and future Trinity, and Crothersville and Medora athletic directors — will almost definitely not face the huge obstacles the recent new administrators faced in their debut seasons.

“I hope not,” Cremeans said. “For everyone’s sake, I hope not. It was a year with plenty of challenges and a lot of moving targets.”