THSADA Showcase: Justin Hefley
Growing up in a small town in the Texas Panhandle (Wheeler), athletics was a primary part of my life that helped shape my childhood experiences. Hence, the saying that “everyone is a star in a small town,” no doubt applied to my time in Wheeler. Sports were woven into the fabric of Wheeler. Everyone played and it was very important to the community. Additionally, my mom coached high school basketball during my early school years, so I was always around sports. She spent many hours trying to improve my jump shot and ball handling skills. I didn’t understand it at the time but she wasn’t so focused on improving my basketball skills as she was using that time to enhance the life lessons harvested from sports. Those same lessons positively impacted my life into high school and college. I was never the fastest or the biggest so I had to play with tremendous hustle and passion. To this end, I have tried to use the same approach in every aspect of my life. Without doubt, I feel so blessed that I am still heavily involved in athletics as an assistant athletic director. Additionally, it is very rewarding watching our coaches pass down the same lessons that I soaked up as a kid.
My career started at Morton ISD, which is a small school out in West Texas. In addition, I had stops that included Levelland, Rosebud-Lott, and Amarillo High. I was privileged to work under tremendous leadership that pushed me to become a better teacher and coach. For that reason, I continued my education obtaining a master’s degree in administration and a doctorate in education. Undoubtedly, the skills that I garnered from athletics as a player and coach equipped me with the necessary fortitude to complete my thesis.
For reasons that just happen in our profession, I briefly changed roles in the education profession as a principal at Mann Middle School. It was a change that would serve me well in future roles. Mann Middle School is composed of a diverse student population that provided many challenges that helped define my leadership style. As a principal, I learned the true meaning of being a “servant leader.” To me, a “servant leader” is someone who, regardless of level, leads simply by meeting the needs of the team. I strive to be a ‘servant leader” focused on helping every member of our AISD family grow and succeed.
I am currently serving my eighth year in the role of assistant director of athletics at Amarillo ISD. It is a privilege to work under the guidance of Coach Brad Thiessen. He is the definition of a “servant leader.” I go to work every day excited to learn and grow under his mentoring. He is a man of great integrity. He has exhibited to me that leaders have the responsibility to employ ethical practice in the daily activities in one’s personal and professional lives. Many thanks to Coach Thiessen for passing down these great lessons and I hope I can do the same for others in our profession.
Day to Day tasks are very fluid in the athletic department. You may start your day working on soccer schedules and completely change course with a call from a parent who has concerns over one of our sports programs. Other times it is just listening. It may be something as small as taking a call from one of our coaches who is sharing details from their last practice. It is eventful serving four high schools and nine middle schools. Undoubtedly, we have a great athletic department who all do their part in serving our coaches and students.
The best advice I can offer anyone who aspires to be an athletic director is to make sure you have a defined vision of what leader you want to be. Others will shape your leadership style but in the end you have to be yourself. Importantly, understand that it is a privilege to be in a position to direct, shape, and focus the potential of people to a specific result. Lastly, many times, the most important action you can take as a leader is to simply listen.
What I enjoy most about being an athletic director is the relationships built through our profession. With authentic relationships, I have the ability to develop strategies and collaborate with coaches who can help transform frameworks that ensure all students are successful. Of course, I define success not only by wins or loses but by meaningful relationships between coaches and students that facilitate life skills. I believe every experience has prepared me to serve as an athletic director. Be energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, and have a growth mindset! Amazingly, those are all the same qualities that were taught to me many years ago by my mom on a gym floor in Wheeler.