Two of Bloomington-Normal's longest serving school athletic directors are calling it quits after this school year.
Wendy Smith at University High School in Normal and Stan Lewis at Normal West have both been in school athletics for over three decades.
Smith has spent 25 years at U-High, the last 11 as athletic director. Prior to that, she worked in athletics at Peoria Notre Dame for 10 years. Lewis has been AD at Normal West for 14 years after an 18-year stint at Champaign Centennial.
Lewis said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas it's a demanding job but one he did with passion.
“I worked in the business world for a few years when I got out of college and I was working an 8-to-5 job,” Lewis recalled. “I was coming home more tired and rundown than I was when you work 80 to 90 hours a week. It’s just a very fulfilling job.”
Lewis and Smith said the expansion of club sports and travel teams have increased athletic opportunities for students over the years, but it's also led to specialization.
Smith said that's made it harder for some coaches to find players.
“You see kids now in junior high that have already decided they are going to specialize in a sport to chase that almighty Division I scholarship,” Smith said. “I think a lot of times people lose sight that if a student is a good athlete, they are going to find them wherever they are.”
Football has experienced the largest participation declines across the country because of concerns about players’ safety. Lewis said Normal West continues to have between 115 and 140 students in its program.
“We’re not really feeling the pinch of it yet, but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t somewhere down the road,” Lewis said.
U-High moved to the Central State Eight in 2016, a conference known for football powerhouse programs. Smith said the move has been good for the Pioneers, despite the challenge of playing perennial state title contenders Rochester, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, Chatham-Glenwood and others every year.
She said the shift to a district format which the Illinois High School Association adopted but later scrapped would have helped U-High.
Smith argued the biggest challenge U-High faces comes from the success factor which the IHSA uses to recalculate enrollments of successful private and non-boundary school programs that forces them to play larger schools.
“We’ve proved that we can be successful moving up (through the IHSA multiplier), so now we get punished again because we are successful,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t have had a problem with that if it were applied across the board equally between non-boundary, private and public schools.”
Smith joked that she knew it was maybe time to step aside after seeing some U-High parents who she can recall being in the school as children.
“Now I’m seeing students that went through high school and now their kids are coming through high school. That kind of tells you maybe it’s time to hit the road,” Smith said, adding she plans to eventually move to Florida.
Lewis said he’s retiring now because he’s now eligible to collect a state pension, but he plans to get a full-time job in the area while he still has two kids in college. He studied accounting in college.
Neither defined their careers not by the school’s athletic successes, but rather the relationships they cultivated over the years.
“Both of us probably have a pretty large network of people that we’ve worked with over the years,” Smith said, “and 99% of those people that we deal with are just awesome people.
“That’s definitely an advantage being in the position we are in.”
U-High won 26 state titles during Smith's 25 years there, half of those were for boys and girls golf, but also came in non-athletic events including chess, speech and the scholastic bowl.
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