With the dawning of the new academic year at the Elk Grove Unified School District came a change in leadership in the District’s athletic and facilities management department.
Retiring is Jim Smrekar, a former coach and teacher at Florin and Valley High Schools who has been EGUSD’s athletic director the past 12 years. And, entering the second-floor office at the Trigg Building is Rod Edmiston, who since 2008 has been Valley’s athletic director, wrestling coach and special education teacher.
Edmiston moved to Elk Grove in 2007 after teaching 25 years in his native Pennsylvania. A graduate of the University of Pittsburg, he brings a long teaching and coaching background into the District’s A.D. job, a position that, at times, can be very volatile and difficult.
|Jim Smrekar (left) retiring athletic director with Rod Edmiston, new
He’s the guy who has to police the school district sports programs for compliance with CIF rules and regulations, control the part of the budget that pays for athletics and also oversees the use of the schools’ facilities.
On Tuesday, I sat down with both Edmiston and Smrekar, together in the superintendent’s conference room. Edmiston started on the job Aug. 4 and Smrekar’s last day is today. They talked about their transition period while Edmiston shared his vision for managing sports throughout EGUSD and Smrekar reflected on his long career and plans for retirement.
EGUSD Director of Communications Elizabeth Graswich joined us in our discussion.
Citizen: Now that you are replacing Mr. Smrekar, do you have any goals for the job? Why did you apply for the job?
Edmiston: I applied for the job because athletics has been very good to me my whole life. Without athletics I probably wouldn’t be where I am at. This position came open and obviously in your career you want to advance.
The athletic director at Elk Grove (school district) is about as high as you can get in athletics, so I applied for the position and was fortunate enough to get it.
What I want to do is maintain what Jim has done as these years. Replacing Jim is like replacing John Wooden or Bear Bryant. Jim has been the A.D. since the inception of the position, so I’m following in the legend’s footsteps, so to speak.
I want to keep Elk Grove athletics in the position Jim has had them in all these years and keep the district strong in athletics and build from what Jim has built in all these years.
Citizen: Do you think that under Jim’s leadership Elk Grove (USD) athletics has become, well, the model that other school district’s follow in their athletics?
Edmiston: I think what Jim has done here is a model for other school districts and schools. Our neighboring and competitor school districts always look to us for what we’re doing and how we’re doing it; the level of the bar we’re setting, the policies we have. I think Jim has built Elk Grove (school district) as the program others look to and how to build their programs after.
Citizen: Under Jim’s tenure, you have weathered budget cutbacks and storms and now have seen some of that restored in the past few weeks. So, what do you think the future looks like in the funding of sports in Elk Grove?
Edmiston: I think in the next few years it will be more stable than what it has been. We went through some dire, down times the past few years.
|Rod Edmiston, former Valley A.D.
Citizen: Will you be pursuing some marketing or involving more corporate sponsorships might help in funding the increased costs of running an athletic program?
(Edmiston asked Smrekar to answer)
Smrekar: We’ve already had revenue generated, corporate revenue by companies running ads in programs, A-frames on Friday nights on the (football) fields, signs on outfield fences. That has been a part of our school-site revenue.
Graswich: We have always been fairly reluctant to go down that path in general with our district. Because of the way California law has been set up, what we can and cannot say “no” to is very limited, we’ve believed our schools are here to communicate about schools and education, our district and our programs, so while we have allowed some limited advertising with our sports in some areas we haven’t had any discussions about whether this is an area that we want to expand.
Citizen: Will the school district consider adding lacrosse or rugby as a school-sanctioned sport?
Smrekar: We have not. There is no push towards that. Rugby is not a CIF (sanctioned) sport. Lacrosse is.
Citizen: CIF has demanded each school and school district be self-policing, self-reporting, to insure everyone is eligible to play sports. But, we look at recent sanctions locally and ask, will you be committed to do the kind of investigations necessary to make sure all of the schools are compliant?
Edmiston: Absolutely. I think it is important to be a honorable person and to come from an honorable district to make certain everyone is compliant and following the rules. Our coaches are supposed to be the role models for our athletes. They are looked up to by not just the players, but by the parents of the community. So, it is their job to do and follow the rules. It is my job to make sure our coaches are following the rules correctly.
You have to be honorable, have those pieces in place and follow the rules, that’s why they are there.
Citizen: I know that monthly Jim met with the athletic directors and at the top of his agenda was transfers and asking the question, “why?” Has the school district strengthened those rules so that, say, if you live in Valley’s attendance area that’s where you are going to school and try to limit transferring?
Edmiston: We just went through a process recently that Jim implemented that would strengthen proof of residency, tightening up the proving of where you live so it helps with the transfers.
Smrekar: It was something approved by the school board Aug. 19.
Citizen: Can you give us some specifics on what you’ve done?
Smrekar: What we’re trying to do, as Rod said, is to try to tighten it up. Our experience has shown that certain documents are easily manipulated.
For years we’ve used the SMUD/PG&E bill as the entre when registering a student. We know these were being manipulated. So in an effort to try to stop that manipulation, you’re going to have to present two documents and we’ve put them into two categories.
One is basic housing. You’re either a home owner or you’re buying or leasing a home. That’s a form of proof of residence.
The other is bills – mortgage statements, tax receipts or two consecutive months of either SMUD or PG&E. These show some sort of pattern of continually living at the same site so it’s not being changed one day and being changed back the next day.
It will be used for K(indergarten through) 12 (grade) so it’s consistent throughout the district.
Graswich: We are in the process of rolling this out to our schools during the month of September.
Citizen: Over the years we have talked about people who live, say, near Valley, but are playing football for Pleasant Grove, claiming to live by Pleasant Grove, but still living near Valley. Will these new regulations really prevent people from lying about where they actually live?
Smrekar: That’s our goal.
Citizen: What brought this new rule on?
Smrekar: The rumors, the innuendos have been there for years. ‘How did this kid get there?’ Other kids saying, ‘he still lives down the street from me.’
|Jim Smrekar, retiring EGUSD A.D.
So, we’ve been examining our process, looking at how we’ve been doing things.
It did take something major – the Sheldon (basketball) situation – exposed some of our loopholes in those requirements that were exploited by those kids, two in particular that were declared ineligible their entire senior year. Shortly after that we had the (Cosumnes Oaks) basketball player.
So we had to look at our documentation and ask the question when someone walks in the door,” Are they living where they say they are living?”
This is an effort to validate the process.
Graswich: And, we have to do this for other academic programs, it’s not just for athletics. And it is K-12, not just high school.
Citizen: Open enrollment can be a positive, particularly for a student interested in a particular academy or a program offered at just one or two of the schools. But, there where the imbalances come is when the athletes use it because they think they are going to get better looks (by colleges) if they play for one specific school.
Is it possible to regulate open enrollment for athletics?
Edmiston: We can do only what the CIF allows us to do and those rules are in place to allow a student who has done all the protocol and paperwork to transfer schools to participate in any school activity offered by the school.
Citizen: Let’s talk money, booster clubs. Jim, you’ve always stressed we are the Elk Grove “Unified” School District (emphasis on Unified). But there are some booster clubs that raise tens of thousands of dollars and that money is spent in dugouts, extra sets of helmets, new blocking dummies and the like. But, some booster clubs you just don’t see where that money is going. Do you have any future plans to make these booster clubs more accountable?
Edmiston: The booster clubs have rules they have to follow with the school site’s controller. There are regulations on that.
What I’d like to see as far as fund raising goes is something that Jim started a few years ago when there were bleak times. Our VAC (Voluntary Athletic Contribution) program is something I am going to try to keep going. We used it a few months ago to supplement our entire athletic program. Now I think we can use it to use it as a district-wide fundraiser for each school site so they won’t have to go out and prepare dinners or sell candy.
If we strive hard to keep the VAC in place and each site uses that as an athletic fundraiser for the year, I think the outlook will be that we won’t completely eliminate all booster clubs, but make them less important on each site.
If I’m a parent and I have one, two or three athletes rather than wondering how many hoagies did I sell, I instead had someone come up to me and tell me just pay $125 or $150 for the entire year – that’s your contribution to the athletic department for the whole year – I think I’m going to write the check rather than try to keep my sanity over all the different fund raisers.
I think it could raise additional funds at each school site. If the athletic director and coaches would get out there and get behind the VAC I think it will raise lots of funds for each site.
Citizen: Jim, you are in your final week at Elk Grove Unified. Anything you want to say as you head into retirement?
Smrekar: It was an honor to serve the school district, the three superintendents I worked with in that span of time, the associate superintendents I worked with, the principals and most importantly, the athletic directors because they are the people I’ve worked the most closely with.
At the end of our August meeting I told them it’s been a really collegial and collaborate group of people. They come from nine different schools with nine unique idiosyncrasies. For nine people to come together on a regular basis and work together for the common good.
Citizen: What are you going to miss the most?
Smrekar: The people, the relationships, that’s what I’ll miss the most.
Citizen: What are you going to do in retirement?
Smrekar: I don’t have any huge plans. I will be working on my golf game. It’s been sporadic over my years of work. My wife and I will be doing some traveling we’ve been put off and I have a handful of household projects either not done or not finished from other iterations.
I plan on staying busy and still will serve on the CIF Advisory Committee.