Note: First of a two-part series about Gary Musselman, outgoing Executive Director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Of the multitude changes that have transpired over the past 30 years for the Kansas State High School Activities Association, the soon-to-be retired Executive Director Gary Musselman took a trip back down memory lane to put things in perspective. Musselman will retire at the end of June after 40 years of working in education, all in Kansas.

For the past three decades, including the last 22 years as executive director, Musselman has seen the organization that governs high school sports and activities in Kansas change and evolve -- sometimes more slowly and sometimes not at all much to the chagrin of many people around the state.

In a wide-ranging telephone interview with Musselman on May 30, just a few days after the 2017-18 school calendar year for sports/activities came to an end, the Ness City native reflected on many topics related to what he and, more importantly, the organization sees as its main responsibility.

“We oversee the athletics and activities components of our schools across the state,” Musselman said, “but the primary emphasis I remind people is that first and foremost is the education of our students. It’s the academics first. The athletics and activities are supplemental components to what we do.”

When Musselman arrived at the KSHSAA office in 1988, the No. 1 emphasis for athletics was safety issues and the well-being of kids.

“We’ve adopted policies that focus on how many hours of practice can be held during the week,” Musselman said. “We have looked at the best medical practices, talked to people in the medical field and gotten a lot of input from the experts on what is best for the student-athletes.”

Included in that is a window of days in which practice time is limited and also where there is no contact, tackling drills for football.

“We’ve considered how the heat and humidity affects the athletes, and we have moved to be in compliance with the most safety measures possible,” Musselman said. “We’ve implemented the concussion protocol, and we’ve addressed the weight-loss issues in wrestling.”

In many ways, Musselman credits KSHSAA with formulating its own policy on safety issues that resulted in the Kansas legislature adopting that policy.

“They made it statutory, which helps us in the implementation and enforcement aspect of the safety issues,” Musselman said. “We were already doing it well.”

An early goal of Musselman’s was achieved a few years ago when the organization hired an assistant director who had sports medicine knowledge. With that individual hired, KSHSAA formed a sports medicine committee, comprised of more than a dozen medical doctors, nurses, athletic trainers and sports and physical therapists.

“I think we’ve recognized the reality of life in rural and urban areas, and there’s simply not been enough medical services in the state for our schools and their student-athletes,” Musselman said. “If we could wave a magic wand, we’d have an athletic trainer at every school and event. But that’s not realistic.”

But the addition of Brent Unruh has allowed the organization to become better at working with its member schools and providing medical staff on site at all of its postseason championship sites.

“He’s been a resource who is credible, and he helps us with contracting personnel at the state tournaments,” Musselman said of Unruh, who also handles much of the office daily operation.

Sports expansion

Musselman has seen the expansion of the number of sports and activities that are now part of the fabric of school life.

“Girls soccer was started and we now have about 90 programs across the state,” Musselman said. “We’ve gone to three classes for the state (boys) tournament.”

In the fall of 2017, KSHSAA launched its first Spirit Gameday Showcase, for cheer squads and dance teams. More than 1,000 students from approximately 90 schools competed in the one-day event.

“There’s the additional component of doing more than just cheering at games,” Musselman said of the new competition. “These kids put in countless hours, too, to support their athletic teams and this is a great way to recognize their efforts and contributions to the school experience.”

Musselman said that activities, such as debate and scholar’s bowl, also have grown over the past two decades.

“We’re into our 21st year of having a student advisory team that serves as a sounding board for what the students think is important,” Musselman said. “This group has conducted various surveys, and the most recent one involved feedback from about 10- to 15,000 student responses. Questions such as ‘Why don’t you participate?’ are asked.

It gives us a chance to get a reading on what the kids are thinking because we’ve found that the more kids are engaged in school activities, the more they feel like they belong. It’s a healthier climate for them in their lives so they don’t feel isolated.”

Another sport in which Musselman is happy to have seen explode has been bowling.

“It’s a whole different population of students, who in many cases it’s typical that they are not involved in other sports,” Musselman said. “It says to the parents of those students, ‘My child matters,’ and it engages kids in school.”

The long-term effect on participation is something that Musselman firmly believes in to make young people more successful after high school.

“All the research, all the surveys will tell you that students who are more involved with athletics and activities are more likely to graduate, they are better students, they become better citizens,” Musselman said. “It’s because they have a feeling of belonging to something, and you connect with others and it gives meaning in their lives.”

Musselman said that each sport or activity is an opportunity to teach and to learn.

“Our job is to attract as many kids who can learn life lessons from these activities,” Musselman said. “Most of these activities occur after school, so there is less idle time for the kids. And there’s that saying, ‘Idle time is the devil’s playground.’ I firmly believe that kids who are in activities are less likely to get in trouble.”

Part 2: A look at how the sports landscape has changed since the late 1980s.