Note: This is the third and final of a series about retiring Kansas State High School Activities Association Executive Director Gary Musselman.
If Gary Musselman’s assessment of what is too much, or what is too little, is accurate, then the balancing act between the two likely will never be completely resolved to the satisfaction of all.
That characterization was made by Musselman, who will be retiring June 30 after serving the Kansas State High School Activities Association for 30 years, the last 22 as its executive director, in a lengthy telephone interview the week after the final high school sports event of the 2017-18 school year had been completed.
Finding a balance
“You’re never going to satisfy everybody, so we’ve tried to find the right balance, as best we can,” Musselman said in reference to criticism that there are too many restrictions on the number of games played during the school year, the starting times of athletic events or activities, as well as how much or how little there can be during the summer time frame of June and July.
“When you look at high school sports in the big picture frame, the overwhelming majority of kids will not play past their senior year,” Musselman said. “The number of kids who earn college scholarships is quite small. So we look at the fact that most kids are playing simply because they play for the joy of the activity.”
Musselman’s beliefs are grounded from being raised in the small western Kansas community of Ness City, where sports and activities provided a strong social connection for much of the townspeople.
“For much of our rural communities, athletics and activities bring people together to show support for the young people in their school,” Musselman said.
Musselman, who has spent his entire career in education, received his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in 1974 and then earned a master’s of science degree from Wichita State University.
His teaching/coaching career began at Halstead, a small central Kansas town located about halfway between Hutchinson and Newton. He also has taught and coached at a middle school in Independence, and at Andover and Beloit. He has coached multiple sports before moving into the administrative duties of KSHSAA over the past three decades.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to provide more resources for the media,” Musselman said, citing an expanded website with histories of multiple sports. “We’ve worked harder at credentialing to make sure we make coverage of our state tournaments easier for the media who work in the industry every day.”
Musselman said he was proud of the additional information online for the KSHSAA Hall of Fame.
But in his waning days, there is no escaping the day-to-day work of sorting through three decades of information.
“It’s as big a project as I’ve got left to finish,” Musselman said of scouring through piles of paper work, meetings, etc. “There hasn’t been much down time with upcoming board meetings. The reality is that I won’t get everything done that I want to before the end of the month.”
Trying to get a handle on all of the last-minute details has kept Musselman busy.
“I’ve had a 3:41 a.m. wake-up and making notes on a pad next to the bed,” Musselman said with a laugh. “I’ve been in the work mode for so long, working 12 months a year. The big misconception is that we have a down time in the summer ... and the reality is that we don’t. We have camps, clinics, summer workouts for sports to monitor. There really is no slow period. But I’ve been blessed with a great staff who have done so much for our schools and our kids through the years.”
The next director
On July 1, Musselman will turn the leadership role over to Bill Faflick, who previously had been in athletic administration for the Wichita USD 259.
“I didn’t participate in the process to select my replacement,” Musselman said. “I had been hired through an open search, the first time that had occurred, and I told the board that I thought it best to do the same thing again. And I believe they found a person who has the qualities that make for a successful director.”
What makes a good director in Musselman’s assessment?
“One who has a passion for students and the schools,” he said. “Experience in Kansas schools is helpful and Bill has that. You have to keep in perspective that we’re not wagging the dog. We have the best at-risk program for kids. And we have to remember that we’re not bigger than the schools themselves. You’ve got to have common sense.”
Musselman cited past leadership as critical to keeping the goals and objectives of KSHSAA at the core of its activity.
Brice Durbin, Nelson Hartman, Kaye Pearce were predecessors to Musselman, and all served both KSHSAA and the National Federation of State High Schools, an organization in which Musselman recently served a term as president.
Relaxing some of the restrictive rules for non-school participation has also occurred during the Musselman time frame.
“I think we’ve done our best to make intelligent reasonable accommodations for kids,” Musselman said. “We’ve certainly relaxed some of our rules. But I also believe you can be too lax in what you allow.”
What has become a busy June and most of July schedule in recent years will see a change in the summer of 2019, when KSHSAA will impose another moratorium on athletics. During the week of July 4, depending on the day it falls, there will be a seven-day shutdown of all sports activities -- practices, open gym, weights. That decision was adopted by the KSHSAA Board and Executive Committee at its April meeting.
“It gives coaches, kids a week off and it gives families an opportunity schedule vacations or just down time,” Musselman said. “There comes a point where kids need to take a break and give their bodies a rest. Quite simply, it’s just an opportunity for kids to be kids. I think a lot of the summer schedule is causing kids to leave playing athletics.”
Musselman says that many outside organizations that deal with multiple sports have unduly influenced high school participation.
“Clubs have impacted many of our sports,” Musselman said. “Volleyball is the worst as they’ve siphoned off kids to just play (club) volleyball in the winter and spring. I think to some extent, too, there are many girls who don’t like the physicality of basketball while in volleyball there’s not as much body contact. It’s a whole different game.”
Sports as investment
Musselman said that he believes if parents put money into a 529 Investment Fund when their children are young enough to begin participating, that by the time they graduate from high school, they would have quite the college investment fund.
“You’d have a pretty good college savings account,” Musselman said. “It seems to be that we have a vicious cycle because not everyone will make the high school team. What many kids are missing today is simply being part of the team, regardless of whether you’re a starter, playing some, or sitting on the bench. Everybody has a role for the team.”
Musselman cringes at the concept of sports specialization. He cited a study by the University of Wisconsin that said kids who specialize in one sport are twice as likely to have serious injuries, especially lower leg injuries.
“Specializing is a causation that is injurious to the medical health of our kids,” Musselman stated. “Studies show that when younger kids get serious injuries, they are more likely to hobble around when older. There is a higher frequency of medical visits. Those injuries can present a financial burden for life and I think when we can keep kids healthy, it becomes a public health issue.”
Musselman said he and his wife, Nancy, will, for the foreseeable future, remain living in nearby Silver Lake, just a few miles from Topeka and the KSHSAA headquarters.
They have two sons -- Paul, who is the head boys basketball coach at Baldwin, and Matt, a restaurant manager in Phoenix.
“Certainly I’m going to have to develop something different,” Musselman said of his immediate plans. “Nancy retired from teaching a few years ago and she does lot of volunteer work. I’m sure I’ll find things to do, but just not exactly what retirement will look like.”
KSHSAA has scheduled a retirement open house for Musselman and assistant executive director David Cherry, who is stepping down after 20-plus years with the organization. That will occur on June 14 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the KSHSAA headquarters in Topeka.
It will likely be one more emotional moment for Musselman, who has given his entire 43-year career to the education of young people in Kansas.
“The biggest thing I hope we’ve done during my time here is to provide as much variety of athletics and activities for our young people,” Musselman said. “If we’ve done our job correctly, they will have a much better chance of succeeding in life, and I think that’s the best thing you can do for the youth of our state.”