Firebirds’ first AD to retire

Grant steps down after 11 years at FSHS

Outgoing Free State athletic director Steve Grant, left, jokes with Firebirds soccer coach Jason Pendleton. Grant's retirement party was Thursday at Louise's West.

Steve Grant figures he’ll still be a fixture at Free State High sporting events come fall.

The big difference is, for the first time in more than a decade, he won’t be getting paid for it.

Grant announced Thursday his decision to retire as the Firebirds’ athletic director. He came to the decision back on May 20, submitting his official letter of resignation to Free State principal Dr. Joe Snyder, but waited until the 2007 sports season had come to a close before leaking it to the public.

“I don’t think there’s a better job than being a high school athletic director at a public high school in America,” said Grant, labeling it a bittersweet transition into the next stage of his professional life. “The things you get to do, the stuff you get to see kids do, and how competitive they are and how they represent the school, it’s a great feeling.

“I can honestly say in 35 years of education, especially these last 10, I can count on one hand the days I’d say, ‘Do I really have to go to work today?’ It’s been a lot of fun. It really hasn’t been like a job. Ten years at Free State, I really enjoyed what I did.”

Grant, 57, actually put in 11 years at Free State, joining the staff as the school’s first – and until last week’s decision, only – athletic director a year before the city’s new high school opened its doors in the fall of 1997. Prior to the move, he worked 17 years in a variety of capacities at West Junior High.

Prior to the 2005-06 school year, he retired from Lawrence Unified School District 497, but worked out a deal to still serve as the Firebirds’ AD on a part-time basis.

That still meant plenty of hours on campus during the day and at literally hundreds of sporting events throughout a given school year – a workload that’s prevented Grant from pursuing new career possibilities despite what was supposed to be his official retirement from the education field two years ago.

On Thursday, he dropped hints just such a possibility might soon come to fruition.

“An opportunity presented itself to work outside of education, which is intriguing,” Grant said. “I can’t say a whole lot about it right now, because it isn’t a done deal.

“I just think the time is now to kind of move in a different direction and see what happens.”

One thing sure to happen is the noticeable absence of a popular campus fixture whom multiple Firebirds coaches referred to as “Mr. Free State.”

“You get to hear his voice on the announcements every morning. A lot of people are going to miss that because he’s a cheerful young man,” said Free State head football coach Bob Lisher, who, like his former boss, has been with the Firebirds from the beginning.

Asked what he’ll miss most about a person he also termed a close personal friend, Lisher pointed Grant’s gift for daily affirmation.

“Just a place to go sit down and talk and cheer you up,” said Lisher about his regular visits to Grant’s office. “Steve could always do that, and get everybody on a positive track. I’ll miss that the most, just getting everybody to feel better. He’s made me feel better a lot.”

Free State baseball coach Mike Hill – another Firebirds lifer – also singled out Grant’s ability to connect with everyone from kids and coaches to teachers and administrators.

“He’s a people person and he’s a kid-oriented person. I don’t know that you could have two more important qualities in that job,” Hill said. “He cared about everybody who came through here.

“You can’t replace the care and concern he’s brought to our school. I can’t say enough from a personal level, and I feel confident speaking for everyone else, too.”

That concern figures to continue, albeit on a pro bono basis. The ink’s barely dry on his resignation letter, and Grant already is talking about squeezing substitute teaching this winter into a schedule heavy with golf – he already works part-time at Eagle Bend Golf Course – and traveling with wife Mary to see kids out of state.

And, of course, there will be a steady diet of games to attend.

“I think my car is on auto-pilot. I’ll probably still go and watch a lot of those,” Grant said. “I will definitely remain a fan and try to go to as many Free State events as I possibly can.”