Lawrence High, Free State athletic directors to step down
photo by: Journal-World File Photos
Just more than two weeks ago, Lawrence High, Free State High School and the University of Kansas all had athletic directors in place. Now all three schools are seeking replacements.
Both Bill DeWitt of Lawrence High and Mike Hill of Free State are stepping down from their current roles as athletic directors for their respective programs. Hill is returning to teaching, and DeWitt accepted a job to be the principal of an adult education center in Lawrence.
“As much as I love sports, I have played it my entire life and coached my entire life,” DeWitt said. “This is an opportunity to serve a higher good, and really get some kids through that otherwise may not have.”
But DeWitt and Hill had a large influence on local athletics during their tenures in Lawrence.
DeWitt, who has been the LHS athletic director for five years, was especially pleased with the growth of the girls programs since he took over the job. The girls track team captured a state title on his final day of his last athletic season, which marked the school’s 108th state championship.
“When you come into a program as storied as Lawrence High, it’s not like this place was broken,” DeWitt said. “I think we elevated the view of our girls programs. I was just proud to be a part of it for five years.”
In fact, DeWitt’s favorite moment was watching the girls basketball team qualify for the state tournament in 2017.
The Lions, who posted just one winning season between 2009-2016, punched their ticket to the 6A state tournament with a 58-44 win over Shawnee Mission South in the sub-state championship game at LHS. It marked the team’s first state berth since 2008.
“They won it in our gym,” DeWitt said. “They had come a long way and they had not been there for a long time. Just to see their excitement and joy, it was fun to be a part of that. That would be the one that sticks out the most, but there were moments all over the place.”
Still, DeWitt plans to remain a fixture at athletic events in Lawrence. DeWitt is eager to go to games in an unfamiliar role — even if there is one significant downside.
“One thing I am going to have to get used to doing is paying,” DeWitt said. “Obviously, if the school ever needs any ounce of help, I’m happy to give it. I love the school, and I love the community. I have three children here, so I am very passionate about its success.”
Hill, meanwhile, was forced to make a decision on his role as athletic director.
The district approved of a rule that prevented administrative officials from coaching any sports. For Hill, who has been the Free State baseball coach for more than 20 years, the choice was a rather easy one.
“It was the right decision by the district,” Hill said. “I’m fortunate to be in a position in my life where I get to choose what I want to do and not what I have to do. For me, staying with coaching was a slam dunk.”
Hill spent 10 years as the athletic director for the Firebirds, revamping multiple programs over the last decade. He also helped improve athletic facilities around campus.
“During my tenure, we were able to build the athletic facilities we have now,” Hill said. “Just days ago, we started to refurbish the turf and some new things. I’m proud of that, and we are handing a really, really solid program off to the next leader.”
Even though the decision was a simple one, Hill admitted he will miss one thing in particular.
“It’s the relationships with coaches and kids,” Hill said. “That’s always the staple of this level. I think we have wonderful coaches. We have coaches that run programs and not coach teams. There is a significant difference between those two things.”