Driving into Hillsboro on Ash Street, you are greeted by a gigantic welcome sign. It is full of add ons boasting high school athletic accomplishments throughout the years, and it is full. Any more additions and the sign posts will have to be extended to provide more room. It is clear from the time you enter the town how much the high school means, and how proud the citizens are of the kids they have raised, and they kids they will continue to raise.
It is not an uncommon sight across the state, in communities both big and small. Hometown accomplishment is dear to everyone. But another thing Hillsboro has in common with much of the state is mounting pressure on the extracurricular activities that help define schools and bolster well rounded educations as budgets are being cut.
With money becoming increasingly more unavailable, Hillsboro has to make some decisions about what is going to be cut from the district. Athletic director Robert Rempel’s position was removed, sending him into a teaching job in Hesston while the job in Hillsboro was absorbed by middle school principal Greg Brown.
“We’re manufacturing people, and trying to develop well roundedness,” said Brown. “And we’re working with targets that are on the move. It’s not the same kind of spending considerations. So everybody suffers when there is less support to work with. Eventually you have to begin to look at what do you not do anymore because there is just not the money to do it. Those talks are always there, and it bothers me that we have had to have those kinds of talks as often as we have had over the last 10, 15 years. But it is what it is.”
Last fall the administration at Hillsboro was informed of the inevitable as cuts continued to come. Over the last six years, payrolls have shrunk. Counselors and secretaries started to go away. Positions were left unfilled after retirements, and the same amount of work started to fall on fewer people.
“Quite frankly it’s a sign of how the political decision makers in Topeka have decided to support or reduce support, funding, for schools,” said Brown. “We are doing with significantly less money per student than we were 10 or 15 years ago even.”
As the amount of money starts to disappear, tough conversations begin to take place about what is important for the students and in need of adjustments to keep, and what will go away with the reduction of people and time. And with a reduction of man-hours it becomes harder and harder to provide a quality education with the extracurricular activities.
“Young people discover who they are through a variety of opportunities,” said Brown. “If we wrap everything up in football, for example, if that’s the only thing kids have the opportunity to connect with and they are not terribly successful or terribly involved because it is what it is as a game, you run the risk of reducing a kid’s opportunity to really define, in a healthy way, who they are. And so when you have lots of things to experiment with, to play with, to get involved in, that well roundedness takes on a real definition for young people and it’s much healthier than not having those opportunities.”
As Brown faces the task of having another job put on his plate, there will be challenges. Plans are being made to prepare for what awaits, but there is a big amount of unknown facing the district as another school year with less personnel approaches. There is no doubt the job will have to be attacked with a team mentality and it will take help to get done.
“I was the AD for over 10 years at Minneapolis, once upon a time in my former life, and a half-time teacher,” said Brown. “So I’m familiar with lots of the kinds of considerations that the AD has to deal with. Having been in this district now for eight years, this is a much more involved set of athletic activities than Minneapolis was at that time.”
“Just trying to sort through those things that are a high priority for me as a principal for sixth through eighth graders, maintaining those, managing lots of the stuff of the day ins and the day outs that the AD has to do. Right now I’m working on a task list that I can hand off to my secretary and say, ‘These things need to be done by this time. Can you contact the officials and make sure they are coming,’ as opposed to me doing those kinds of things. It will be a challenge, and we will get it done.”
While Brown was at Minneapolis, he worked with current Hillsboro high school principal Max Heinrichs. Heinrichs is no stranger to balancing two jobs, and has been the head football coach as well as the principal at Hillsboro. Their familiarity with each other and understanding of taking on heavier and heavier workloads will be an asset to the district as work continues to pile up.
In communities like Hillsboro, high school athletics, as well as things like music, and drama, get to the very core of the town. From parents, to local businesses, support for the students is a priority, whether it is in the form of money, or simply packing stadiums, gyms, and auditoriums. Game nights are a part of life in a small town. They become a way for people to gather and celebrate the accomplishments of the people they have had a hand in developing. They produce a swell in pride.
The Trojans will be fortunate to have a community behind them as times get tougher moving forward. Things like equipment and travel do not come with a cheap price tag. Support is needed and appreciated greatly by the school.
“I think it is better to work through difficult times with support than it is without support,” said Brown, “whether that is Hillsboro or any other community. Other communities are dealing with the same thing.”
“Our booster club has been phenomenal at generating financial support. Our car dealerships have some special events that they work with. Robert (Rempel) established the opportunity to have some of the businesses here in town sponsor football and basketball games, and that’s kind of neat. We’ve had some pretty good response again. The tricky thing administratively, or as a school person, we need to be careful that we don’t take people for granted. And the level of gratitude that we have for those folks needs to be well expressed. I think if we lose sight of that gratitude, or lose our ability to express sincere thanks to those folks, then we won’t have the support that we should, and we won’t have earned it.”
As the school moves forward down a position, there is an excitement for Brown to be a part of an athletic department that has had a ton of success not only recently, but throughout the history of the school. But it will be an adventure and take a lot of work to execute some creative thinking.
“I was told this would be the job,” said Brown. “So this is the job.”