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Northwest Salmon



One more notch added to his belt

by Emre K. Erku

School sporting events wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for athletic directors.

Without officials: no contest. Without scorekeepers: no contest. Without coaches: you better believe there’s no contest. Athletic directors are responsible for coordinating all of these characters in the venue.

After proving this true for the last 19 consecutive years, newly retired Webster Area athletic director Bill Sawinsky’s veteran coordination and managerial expertise was critically recognized by his peers as he received the 2016 Athletic Director of the Year award in Mitchell on July 12.

“It’s pretty neat because it’s voted on by the coaches; those are the people you work with,” said Sawinsky, emphasizing the selection made by the South Dakota High School Coaches’ Association. “For them to vote for (me) means a lot.”

With more than 170 school districts within the Mt. Rushmore State, this not only marked the first time Sawinsky has received the honor but the first time any Webster Area AD has. Past AD Harvey Hammrich, who began his career in Webster, won the same award in 1983 but as an Arrow for Watertown High School.

“(Bill) was very flexible and very organized,” said Jim Block, current Webster superintendent and high school principal. “I can’t honestly say there was a moment in the 15 years that I was here we doubled up on officials, game contracts or any other additional workers. He runs a good show.”

However, Sawinsky has fessed up to a few first season bloopers.

Before establishing himself as a highly revered and reliable presence in the Northeastern SD high school sports world – according to his profile, he was named Region 1 AD of the year four times throughout his career – minor mishaps, like hiring an extra pair of referees for one boys varsity basketball game, were committed by the almost 20-year vet. Another instance, he recalled, was even out of his control. Somehow, nevertheless, he made it out to be his own fault.

“My first year as an AD – my first football game as an AD – there was thunder and lightning,” Sawinsky reminisced. “That doesn’t happen every time, and here it’s happening my first game!”

But the clouds would soon part for Sawinsky as he diligently balanced a thick regimen of AD duties alongside his coaching and teaching positions. This included instructing junior high school science and girls and boys basketball while being the head honcho for track and field.

Some might say the numbers are record breaking.

Since 1997, Sawinsky has annually orchestrated the scheduling of contests, the recruitment of officials, scorekeepers, announcers and statisticians for typically four home varsity football games and three to four junior varsity and junior high football games; three to four cross country meets – including the conference and region 1A meets every year; nine varsity volleyball bouts; nine to 10 games for both boys and girls varsity basketball; a few wrestling meets in the winter; and one golf invite in the spring (Sawinsky said Webster rotates every five to six years in hosting the conference invite too). Not to mention, much of the varsity entertainment is merely the tip of the sports hierarchy of junior varsity, C and junior high games. Sawinsky was responsible for coordinating those too.

Under the circumstances, one wonders if he ever had time to relax.

“For me, usually, it was, ‘OK, what’s tomorrow got?’” Sawinsky explained. “It never really seemed like you could sit back because there’s always something coming. You got to be a week or a month out thinking about things. It never really was a nice little break until the state track meet was over and my kids were home. That’s the time of year to hibernate. But then it starts up again, and there’s schedules to get out and you got to start thinking about next fall.”

And if the AD duties weren’t enough, in about two decades of head coaching tracksters, he instructed 710 athletes, held 2,090 hours of practice while his Bearcats competed in 228 track meets. Additionally, according to his profile, he represented the South Dakota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Executive Committee from 2001 through 2007 and has been the secretary/treasurer of the Northeast Conference for the last three years.

But despite the sizable resume amassed without the assistance of secretaries, which some bigger school ADs have, Sawinsky’s motivation wasn’t necessarily fueled by self-interest. Instead, preserving the purity of athletics, by ensuring, with sound organization, the contests are scheduled and uninterrupted, set his spark. Sawinsky explained when structure lacks, a coach could ultimately be forced to record the scores and stats while simultaneously officiating the action and coaching his athletes.

“It’d be chaotic,” Sawinsky said. “I don’t think you can have a coach of a sport doing all his scheduling.”

Even nowadays, more and more directors are increasingly marketing the districts they represent, trying to grow community sponsorship. For Sawinsky, it was all about conducting the contest; not petting the piggy.

“Some guys are going out and starting to recruit sponsorships,” said Sawinsky. “I didn’t feel right that we had to do that yet. I saw things that I could do well as far as game preparation and being ready.”

Many know Sawinsky as an athletics aficionado, and as he settles into retirement he plans to reinforce this persona by taking a road trip throughout the Midwest, touring major league baseball venues from Wrigley Field to Miller Park. However, he plans to be right back in the Webster sports action this fall, taking the position as a scorekeeper or statistician. It might go to show: the competition, the athletes, and that distinct atmosphere will never let him go.

“Being around the kids and the coaches that are involved – they’re good people, by and large,” said Sawinsky. “For the most part , they want things to go well for their kids; that’s kind of why we’re there. (It’s) the unpredictability of it. I enjoy watching the kids work to get better... I just like to watch the games.”

With his award setting the last notch to his belt, Sawinsky said a close friend of his told him he’s justlike the late great Splendid Splinter Ted Williams: he hit a home run at his last at bat.

Sawinsky is 56-years-old.

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