FORT WALTON BEACH — If a woman wanted to become the athletic director at an Okaloosa County high school, she would first need to become the head football coach — something that hasn’t happened yet.
The job description for a high school athletic director in the Okaloosa County School District lists “serves as head football coach” as the first essential duty and responsibility.
According to Rodney Walker, who has been on the School Board since 1994, the requirement has been in place for more than 20 years and has been appealed in the past. He was chairman of the board when the job description was created.
“Many years ago when we didn’t have any language whatsoever about who could be the athletic director ... at the high schools, we all met,” Walker said. “We were kind of in a down slope with some of our football programs at the time.”
To attract the best coaches from all over the country, the School Board decided to combine the AD and head coach positions, which raised their salary and took away the requirement to teach classes.
LIST: Coaching salaries in Okaloosa County >>
The position was discussed at a public hearing with the school board in 1998. The sole woman on the board agreed change was in order, but the rest of the male-dominated board opposed.
“When we did this, our attorney tried to say ... you have to be careful because you may exclude women,” Walker said. “I said absolutely not, because ... if there’s a female somewhere that has good credentials and can win coaching football, I’d love to hire them.”
No women have applied for the job as far as Walker knows, but he said he wouldn’t lose any sleep if the School District decided to change the job description.
Diane Kelley, longtime educator who was recently elected to the School Board, believes change is possible.
“I think that everything is evolving, and we might see a time in the future where it might (have) more females involved in the coaching in football and soccer and other previously predominately male (sports),” Kelley said. “I know in our culture, in the last several decades that I’m familiar with, it’s been dominated by male athletic directors and male football coaches.
“But we have had some females play, and I think that’s where it starts," she added. "We’re taking small baby steps.”
The closest the School District has gotten to having a female AD was from 1993-2003, when Melody Jackson served as the associate athletic director over girls sports at Choctawhatchee High School.
Jackson saw a need at Choctaw to split the responsibilities between two people, and volunteered for the new position. Although the district’s job description still required the athletic director to be the head football coach at that time, then-principal Richard Bounds and then-football coach and AD Lionel Fayard decided to “just do it.”
Having the athletic director and head football coach position linked is seemingly exclusive to Northwest Florida, according to Kyle Niblett with the Florida High School Athletics Association.
“I am personally unfamiliar with any similar situation (in Florida),” said Niblett, whose organization helps provide equal opportunities for high school students to participate in athletic programs.
Cheryl Etters, the deputy director of communications with the Florida Department of Education, said she believes the School District is aware of the issue and plans to remove the rule. Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson would not respond to repeated inquiries about the job requirement.
According to public records provided by the School District, the athletic directors at Okaloosa’s five high schools make a combined $481,727. The ADs at Baker School and Choctaw make the highest at $103,040 with Crestview following at $101,940.
Fort Walton Beach’s athletic director makes $91,119 and Niceville’s makes $82,588. The salaries account for their duties as both AD and head football coach.
Each school also has several assistant coaches who receive supplemental pay added to their teaching salaries. Okaloosa County pays a total of $274,395.46 for the 57 assistant football coaches.
Athletic directors in Okaloosa County must hold a master’s degree, an educator’s certificate and have three years of coaching experience, according to the job description. They report to the school’s principal and serve 12-month terms.
Laurel Hill is the only school with grades 9-12 without an AD.
Okaloosa’s requirements for athletic directors differ from neighboring counties, as well as many other counties in Florida.
In Walton County, the AD is only required to be the head coach of a sport, not specifically football. They are required to hold a bachelor’s degree along with a valid teaching certificate and three years of experience.
It just so happens that the athletic directors at all three of Walton’s high schools are also football coaches. Superintendent of Schools Russell Hughes did not respond to questions about Walton County's policy.
In Santa Rosa County, the AD is required to have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. Head coaching experience is only “preferred” — not a requirement.
All the athletic directors in Santa Rosa were once coaches in various sports, but now only have one job title.
"Management operations (are) best determined by local school officials to meet the needs of each community," Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said of why the athletic directors don't also coach.