By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
Edward Tomlin had it all. Or, at least, everything he wanted when he left Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, to launch himself into the real world.
“I was in sales. My big thing in college was that I wanted a company car, and a laptop, and I wanted to travel. That was it,” Tomlin recalled on a cold February morning this winter. “Well, 25 pounds later, I realized, ‘You know what? This is not all it’s cracked up to be.’ It was a lot of fun for a guy coming right out of college, but it really wasn’t meaningful.”
The erstwhile traveler is now firmly entrenched in a first-floor office at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, selling the most precious of all commodities: opportunity to student-athletes.
He recalls going into work one day during his prior life and thinking there must be something else to do.
A phone call to his mother was all it took.
“She said, ‘Well then, quit.’ And, I quit, that day,” Tomlin said. “It’s funny because my mom told me before I left college I should get certified to teach, and I said, ‘Nah, I’m going into sales.’”
Well, mother knows best. In Tomlin’s case, both his mother, Jacqueline, and his father, Kern, were lifetime educators.
And, now, so is he.
After beginning as a substitute teacher within a week after retiring his sales briefcase, he landed his first teaching gig at Detroit Crockett High School.
A solid golfer, Tomlin was never at a loss to find people seeking to fill out a foursome during his sales travels. So, he put that talent to use as the Crockett golf coach during that first year.
“I started to coach golf in the fall of 1994 and found that I enjoyed it,” Tomlin said. “Plus I got to hit my golf ball a little bit and show some kids that they could play.”
A year later, his coaching path took a duck-hook if ever there was one when he arrived at his alma mater, Cass Tech. It was then that one of his dad’s friends told Tomlin the Technicians needed help with girls volleyball.
“About all I knew was what I’d seen in the Olympics. So over the next three or four years I learned to coach volleyball, and we went from being a good program to a bad program,” Tomlin laughed, while adding that Cass Tech had just won an MHSAA Regional and had some solid individual talent when he stepped in.
“But, through MIVCA (the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association), and some additional training and sports performance videos, I’ve turned into a better coach,” he added.
Such is Tomlin’s approach to administration. As he was trying to find his way during the early years, and continues to do to the present, he leaned on the network of people and resources available.
Tomlin had worked closely with long-time Cass Tech athletic director Robert Shannon, and early in his educational career was introduced to the Michigan Interscholastic Administrators Association by Doris Rogers, then AD at Crockett.
“I started going to MIAAA and taking leadership courses and training,” said Tomlin, now in his second year as Cass Tech’s AD. “It really opened up a side of interscholastic athletics that I had not been exposed to. Going to those conferences has really helped me to develop my philosophies and helped establish what we try to do here at Cass.”
There is so much more that he’d like to do, but like all ADs in the Detroit Public School League, there are time limitations.
“One of the things holding us back in the Detroit Public Schools is that our position has turned into a stipend position,” Tomlin said. “I’ve got five Algebra I classes, so I’m in class until 2 (p.m.) every day. The things that I really want to do with this program in terms of moving it forward by finding more sponsorships for new teams and facilities suffer a bit due to time.”
As such, much of the responsibilities placed on athletic directors at other schools statewide fall to the coaches in the PSL. Cass Tech has won two straight MHSAA Division 1 football titles, something other coaches at Cass aspire to do. But, warns Tomlin, there’s a price to pay.
“Everyone likes the end result of a state championship, but the support and the effort it takes to get there is totally on the coaches here. They deserve all the credit,” Tomlin said. “The coaches have huge tasks because, hey, your AD has five classes so you have to be really passionate about what you’re doing; if you’re not, this isn’t the job for you.”
Hiring the right coaches is paramount today, as expectations of parents and students seem to be at odds with reality.
“Parents’ and students’ expectations have changed so much. Everyone wants that scholarship, or this level of athlete, but are they willing to put in the work?” Tomlin said.
Tomlin knows a bit about parental expectations, and hopes to instill all he’s learned in daughter Montana (16) and son Chase (11) as they continue to enjoy athletic participation.
When it’s time, Tomlin might even try to sell them on a career in education, as his mother did to him years ago.
PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech athletic director Edward Tomlin stands in his school's gymnasium. He returned to his alma mater as volleyball coach in 1995.
This is the fourth installment of a series, "Career Paths," focusing on the unsung contributions of athletic directors. See below for earlier installments.
A first-of-its-kind mentorship program is greeting more than 100 first-time high school athletic directors who are officially beginning their tenures at Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools with the start of the 2023-24 school year.
The “AD Connection Program” has matched those first-year high school athletic directors with one of eight mentors who have recently retired from the field and will now provide assistance as those new administrators transition to this essential role in school sports.
A total of 102 first-year high school athletic directors are beginning at MHSAA schools, meaning a new athletic administrator will be taking over at nearly 14 percent of the 750 member high schools across the state. Athletic director turnover at MHSAA high schools has reached 10 percent or more annually over the last few years, and it’s hoped that this additional mentorship will support athletic directors adjusting to the high pace and responsibilities of the position for the first time.
The AD Connection Program will build on training received at the required in-service program all new athletic directors must attend each fall. There is also a strong connection to programming from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA), the professional development organization for the state’s athletic administrators.
"When you crystalize it, the AD Connection Program is an attempt for us to give a true year-long in-service to new athletic directors with people who have done it,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Brad Bush, who is coordinating the program and joined the MHSAA staff in January after more than two decades as an athletic administrator at Chelsea High School. “This also connects new ADs with a larger professional group, and it will culminate in March at the annual MIAAA conference, where there will be several face-to-face meetings with all ADs.
“These mentors are meant to become that first-year AD’s go-to person.”
Mentors will conduct frequent meetings with their cohorts. They also will meet monthly (or more) with each first-time athletic director individually via zoom, and at least once during the academic year face-to-face at the mentee’s school.
The eight mentors, noting their most recent schools as an athletic director, are Chris Ervin (most recently at St. Johns), Brian Gordon (Royal Oak), Sean Jacques (Calumet), Tim Johnston (East Grand Rapids), Karen Leinaar (Frankfort), Scott Robertson (Grand Haven), Meg Seng (Ann Arbor Greenhills) and Wayne Welton (Chelsea). Leinaar also will serve as the AD Connection Program’s liaison to the MIAAA, which she serves as executive director.
High school practices at MHSAA member schools may begin today, Monday Aug. 7, for the nine fall sports for which the MHSAA sponsors a postseason tournament. The AD Connection Program was approved by the MHSAA Representative Council during its annual Winter Meeting on March 24.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.