By Garth Shanklin
Change is inevitable, something the Bethel community learned first-hand earlier this month with the announcement that Bethel-Tate athletic director Matt Koenig would be leaving the school for the same position at St. Bernard High School.
Koenig arrived at Bethel-Tate in January 2015, which isn’t the ideal time for a new athletic director to take over. Regardless, Koenig said the experience was “rewarding” and that when he arrived at Bethel-Tate he had a blank slate to begin with.
“It was a very rewarding experience,” Koenig said. “Walking in blind, I was given a set of keys, an iPad and a computer. No spring schedules were done. I kind of walked in completely blind and had to start from scratch with everything, including setting up coaching meetings, there were no agendas provided.”
Koenig said his first act of business at the school was to figure out what needed fixing. In order to determine that, he changed very little over the first few months in order to get feedback from various members of the district.
“Everything that I tried to do, I tried to make better,” Koenig said. “I met with coaches, parents, I sat back for the first month or two and evaluated what’s going on. In my head more than anything I put together a game plan. I realized what the needs were of the coaches and parents and just started chipping away. I understood what needed to be done rather quick and just got to work. That involved meeting people and mapping out game plans for each program. One program at a time, one coach at a time, one player at a time.”
Koenig added he heard how many people wanted to have something to get excited about at the school, and hoped he was able to do just that.
“People wanted to see more excitement and school spirit, and we had to get to that point,” Koenig said. “At the end of the day, I hope that I left the program better than where it was when I got there. I put my heart and soul into making those programs better, and I feel like we accomplished it.”
He was quick to add he wasn’t alone in the process of making Bethel-Tate athletics better, quickly thanking parents and coaches.
“It wasn’t just me,” Koenig said. “It was parents and coaches alike that bought into what I was trying to do. Our Bethel Blitz event is one example. It’s a dinner/auction/fundraiser we included with our Hall of Fame induction. They had never tried that. Having a dinner, raffle baskets, auction items and trying to raise money. I presented this, and certain people looked at me like I had three heads. The first year we did that, it was a success. I feel like, luckily for me, people bought into my vision and wanting to make improvements. The coaches and the parents supported it.”
Even with all the things accomplished by Koenig during his time at Bethel-Tate, he said there were still a few little things he wished he was able to get done.
“There’s all kinds of little things,” Koenig said. “Nothing in the big picture. You’re not a good athletic director if you’re not always trying to make improvements. There was always more that I wanted to do, I wasn’t done yet. I wanted to continue to build it. Our practice fields needed work, we got started on that a bit. We’re trying to get a pole barn built…It’s all little things. Structurally, there’s always day to day improvements.”
Those day-to-day improvements will help benefit teams who have posted strong seasons of late. The memories of watching specific teams achieve championship victories are things that will stay with Koenig as he moves to St. Bernard.
“The football team going to the playoffs in school history,” Koenig said. “Our girls basketball team going to the regional semifinals for the first time ever, and last year the wrestling team qualifying for that elite eight. Team-wise, those were my fondest memories. Overall, just the growth. Growing our numbers, hiring good coaches, getting to the point where the numbers increased and people cared about what we were doing. Those were really good memories. We had made so much growth in a short amount of time, I hope I left the plate somewhat full from the standpoint of them being able to take what we did and continue to make improvements.”
Koenig finished by leaving well-wishes for the Tigers in the future.
“I wish them luck,” Koenig said. “I hope that I made improvements that people feel the program is better than when I started, and that I’ve set them up in a good position to have future success. A lot of parents have reached out to me, either via Facebook or text or whatever and wished me luck. That was very humbling for me to know, even some of the ones that over time you make decisions that parents don’t always agree with. Even the ones that don’t seem as happy were giving me hugs and wishing me luck. I hope for continued success and that I was able to play a small part in advancing the program.”
Bethel didn’t have to wait long or look far to find Koenig’s replacement, turning to Steve Large to lead the athletic department.
Large served as a counselor at the school last year, so he’s familiar with the campus. He’s had to hit the ground running, as his first official day on the job was August 14.
“It’s been organized chaos,” Large said. “[Koenig] left us in a pretty good situation . We’re catching up. I’ve gotten a lot of help from fellow athletic directors and Penny Church, the assistant athletic director, is just wonderful. She’s helping me every step of the way and breaking me in slow. Everyone has been very supportive. I was a counselor last year here so I’m familiar with everyone, but a new role makes it tough. you have different roles with different people. Everyone has stuck out there hand and said if you need help, we can.”
Like Koenig, Large said he has goals for what he would like to accomplish as the school’s new AD. “There’s a lot of things that need to be improved,” Large said. “The middle school football/soccer field press box is falling apart. We need a new one, but we don’t have the money. One of my goals is to redo that. The other thing we need here, every school around us it seems like has a turf field. My goal before I leave here is to have a turf field. There’s a lot of crab grass, you walk on it and you have to watch yourself.”
Getting a turf field like the ones some of the larger schools in the area have not only would help out at the high school level, according to Large. ”There’s a gap between our high school and youth programs,” Large said. “Letting the youth leagues around here use turf field could help bridge the gap. New uniforms have been issued to soccer and cross country this season, last year football. The athletes are well-cared for, that’s not an issue. Our outdoor facilites need to be upgraded.” Upgrading facilities and equipment is one way to help keep Bethel-Tate competitive. There is another way, however, and it revolves around the people making the on-field decisions. Large said keeping good coaches helps keep smaller schools like Bethel-Tate in the title hunt consistently.
“That’s what makes it tough, we’re a smaller school and if any small school it’s always an up and down process,” Large said. “You have a good senior class, they’re gone and suddenly you’re in rebuild mode. We’ve got a lot of good coaches in place, just getting good coaches in here and I think we’ve got that. I need to keep those people here. If you have a quality coach, they attract quality kids. We’re a pay to play school, it’s $230 to play a sport, per sport. That’s hindered a lot of our numbers here.”
Large finished by discussing the role sports played in his life as a child, adding he hopes he can continue to keep Bethel-Tate trending upward. ”I never thought this would be available, I really didn’t,” Large said. “When [Koenig] left, I thought about applying before they even came to me. Sports was my babysitter as a kid growing up. I never thought this job would be open. I’m thrilled to be here, and hopefully I can help keep it growing.”