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Carlsbad’s Waters helps spearhead national high school athletic directors research group during pandemic

Social media has come under its fair share of fire in the first half of 2020 whether for allegedly contributing to the dispersal of political misinformation, fomenting social unrest or various other less than exemplary practices.

But with the recent individual distancing policies resulting from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the medium provided a wide range of much-needed options for business and personal communication. There can be no debating the fact that networks like Face Time, Zoom, Skype and others have helped bridge the social gaps created by lengthy, widespread state and local government-instituted quarantines.

A realm they have proven extremely useful has been high school sports. Among the many constructive developments is one that stemmed from an online relationship between a pair of bi-coastal athletic directors —Ira Childress of Gulliver Prep in Miami (FL) and Carlsbad High School’s Amanda Waters. Their connection led to the formation of the National Athletic Directors Resource Network (NADRN), a rapidly-formed organization that has provided a welcome island of sanity for prep sports leaders from all corners of the U.S. whose worlds had been turned upside down by COVID-19.

Carlsbad High School Athletic Director Amanda Waters




Carlsbad High School Athletic Director Amanda Waters
(Courtesy)

Childress, who is just completing a wild, one-of-a-kind first year at 27-sport Gulliver after six exceptional years as athletic director at Michigan’s Okemos High School, and Waters, a six-year veteran at San Diego section power Carlsbad, have still actually never met in person but shared an ongoing professional association on LinkedIn.

When the true enormity of COVID-19 began to emerge in the U.S. in mid-winter, Childress found himself fielding increasingly numerous contacts from colleagues searching out opinions, advice or just a sounding board. Trying to determine an efficient way to way to respond to the growing numbers led to a broad, “NADRN-like” concept.

One of his first steps was to put in a call to Waters on the opposite coast to solicit her thoughts and see if she was interested in being part of it. Turned out she was going through a similar experience and, according to Childress, it took the effervescent Waters about two- seconds to say, ‘I’m in.’

Things took off quickly from there. “We decided to initiate a Zoom meeting space and develop a resource where we could share best practices, where high school athletic directors (ADs) could ask questions and where we could just dialogue with colleagues during these unprecedented times,” said Waters. “I would say the three major themes of what we’re trying to address are what we can do to stay involved in terms of keeping a department ‘active’ during the quarantine, what can we do to help our kids and coaches and, finally, what can we do to keep things positive.”

The cornerstone of NADRN has been the hour-long Wednesday morning Zoom meetings, open to all ADs, administrators and coaches. An agenda is sent out the preceding evening and Childress and Waters serve as moderators. Typically, an agenda will include a few hot topics (ie—college recruiting checklists, effective use of technology, re-opening strategies, relevant podcasts, etc.) as well as a guest speaker.

Tweets were sent out, primarily in Florida and California, to promote the new program. In March, the first meeting drew 46 participants, a total that more than doubled the second week. The figures have continued to climb and heading into mid-June, more than a dozen group discussions are in the books.

One of the most popular aspects has been the impressive list of high-caliber guests Childress and Waters have been able to attract to the online meetings. That roster includes Notre Dame Head Football Coach Brian Kelly, former Heisman Trophy winner and ESPN sports analyst Desmond Howard, NCAA Division I athletic directors Ross Bjork (Texas A&M) and Jim Phillips (Northwestern), and Michigan Sports Psychologist Dr. Eric Goldstein.

The group hosts a website, nationaladresource.com, and everything is free, including a video archive of the meetings, once members sign up. Most of the videos have had more than 1,000 views.

“It’s been great,” said Childress. “We’ve tried to give ADs a road to help them navigate through the COVID-19 situation and based on the feedback we’ve received I think we’ve been able to accomplish that. I feel it’s been helpful to so many people throughout the country.”

One person who agrees with that assessment is La Costa Canyon Athletic Director Kari DiGiulio. DiGiulio has been able to sit in on several NADRN sessions and gives them glowing reviews.

“I think what Amanda and Ira have done is pretty incredible,” said DiGiulio. “To have access to this kind of insight has been a creative way to stay engaged during this time.

“It’s always cool to learn what people across the country are doing. Being part of one of the calls is what prompted us to do our “Light Up the Night” event that honored senior athletes, particularly those that missed their 2020 seasons.”

As the extraordinary 2019-20 school year nears completion, NADRN is focused on both next year and beyond.

“We’ve heard from institutions everywhere that are working very hard to prepare for ‘re-opening’ programs and events—that shared information has been invaluable,” said Waters. “Here locally, our North County Conference has created a plan that covers what we think it will take for each individual sport to be ready competitively and safety-wise as we move back to normalcy. It’s been sent to the principals for review and questions—hopefully, it will ultimately get to the districts for approval. The fall season is not that far away.”

And what of NADRN? Childress and Waters are both enthusiastic about keeping the momentum flowing.

“We want to keep it going and so do the ADs who have been involved,” said Childress. “One of the aspects that I really appreciate about it is that it’s free and we’ve kept it ‘pure.’ We’ve been offered money for sponsorship and advertising but we’ve turned it down.”

“Continue?…absolutely,” added Waters. “For me, the dialogue with these ADs has been inspirational and made me better.

“It showed me how much all of these people care and I find myself taking things from everywhere. I don’t think there’s any place else that’s purely a resource like this.”


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