A Q&A with Middleton A.D. Jamie Sims

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims has faced unique challenges since beginning his job on July 1./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Jamie Sims took over as Middleton’s athletic director on July 1. 

Three weeks later, the Big Eight Conference canceled fall sports. And in a year where very little has been normal, things have been completely unconventional for Sims.

Friday Night Lights have been replaced with meetings. Instead of overseeing volleyball and tennis matches, Sims is planning for an “alternative fall season” next spring.

During a recent wide-ranging interview, Sims talked with the Times-Tribune about the unorthodox start to his tenure, his thoughts on winter sports and the challenges that lie ahead. What follows is an edited version of that interview.

 

Times-Tribune: You started on July 1 as the athletic director for one of the state’s elite athletic departments. Since then, Middleton hasn’t had a single sporting event. How strange has that been for you?

Jamie Sims: Yeah, so it’s been challenging. However, you know, I knew coming into this role that was going to be the case because of COVID and all of that. So I viewed it from the very beginning as an opportunity to hold together a great program and use it as an opportunity to find ways to try to build relationships from a different capacity than what is normal, hoping to get back to that normal as soon as possible. So, it has allowed me to do that. 

And the biggest support and blessing for me in this has been having Ben White and Mindy Ripp, my assistant A.D. and administrative assistant. They’ve really helped us come together and work together as a team. They helped me piece together a lot of things that being new in the virtual world would have been almost impossible had I not had some people around me that knew a little bit about the structures that were already in place.

So with having the three of us work closely together, it’s been amazing. And we’ve been able to move forward on getting some good stuff and some positive stuff done for our programs.

 

TT: People say, “There’s no sports being played at Middleton. What does an A.D. do all day?” What’s a normal day been like?

JS: Yeah, so a normal day is definitely not something that we have at this point. But one thing I’ve definitely been doing is reviewing a lot of the old things that have been in place in regards to how that works as far as getting referees set up for the future and making sure we’re ready to go with our winter sports.

We’ve been doing the bi-weekly Middleton Athletics presents, which is a virtual platform where we’re having guest speakers come on a bi-weekly basis to still keep our athletes, coaches and families engaged if they so choose to involve and engage in that. We’re working on things like that. 

We have been in virtual meetings and some in-person meetings with our upcoming winter coaches so that we make sure they’re prepared and ready to go, hoping that we’re going to be able to kickoff with our winter sports. So we’ve been meeting with our winter sports teams on a weekly basis. We’ve been reviewing budgets and seeing how we as an athletic department, even in this current state, can support them to make sure we’re good to go. 

And lastly, as you know, our school district had a referendum where we’re building onto the school. So we’re having to work on moving a lot of what was in athletic storage into a new storage facility. So we’ve been working on getting that set up and ready to be moved out and taken care of in this time, as well.

So believe it or not, there’s still a lot to do. It’s just different things. 

 

TT: The Big Eight Conference canceled fall sports on July 21. Some schools followed your lead, but approximately 70% of schools around the state are playing fall sports. So do you have any regrets that you canceled fall sports when you did? Do you wish you would have waited a little longer? 

JS: I think one, being new and stepping into this role and having that big decision being made as a conference, one of the first things I was going to make sure that I did and I think this would be smart for anyone is I wouldn’t have come in and went against what our conference was deciding. Had I been in the conference for a while, I might have had a different input on how we might have moved forward. But with me being the new guy I wasn’t going to come in and ruffle the feathers of the conference and say, ‘Hey, we’re making a bad decision.’

However, even at the time, I think the decision that was made in regards to why it was being made was the right decision. Would I have been supportive if we decided to wait a little longer? Yeah, I would have. But did I understand why we made the decision that we made at the time at which we did? Yeah, I do.

Now, if you’re asking me this question and I’m an A.D. that doesn’t live in Dane County, you’d get a different answer. 

 

TT: Winter sports can start practicing in just over a month. What does your gut tell you is going to happen with winter sports?

JS: My gut tells me right now that we are going to be hopeful that we are going to move forward with winter sports. So, what the model will be, I don’t know at this point because that’s going to come back to a conference decision once again. If our conference decides that we’re not doing winter sports, then who are we going to compete against?

So, that’s another important piece for me, not just being a new A.D., but being an A.D. in what I think is a very prestigious conference and standing alone in a decision like that doesn’t do any benefit for our program as a whole, because I can say, if our conference decides we’re not doing winter sports until the end of Semester 1 or mid-January and I say, ‘We’re tired of sitting at Middleton. We’re going to take all the safety precautions that we can and we’re going to move forward and practice and play,’ then who are we going to play?

 

TT: Wouldn’t you simply play teams outside the county, where sports are happening right now? Places like Sauk County, Waukesha County, etc.?

JS: Yes, but then when you start talking about things like a regional championships or something like that, we wouldn’t be able to be involved in that. And that’s going to be problematic.

So those are things we need to think about. I’m actually hopeful for our next conference meeting (Oct. 14) to see what our conference says and what we might decide moving forward. 

 

TT: The WIAA recently approved up to 15 contact days for fall sports coaches. Is that still wait-and-see due to Dane County restrictions?

JS: I think so. I think so. Me and Ben (White) have a plan put together that we’re going to be proposing to the district leadership that will allow us to use those days in some format, whether that has to be virtual or we can do that in person and adhere to the guidelines. But we’re going to meet on that and then determine how we’ll be able to move forward. 

A good thing for us, the way things have been is that it has allowed us to be pro-active and plan ahead with things to come. So we have a plan that we hope to get approved and move forward with, a plan that will allow us to use those contact days. The question is when? That I don’t know. But I hope to be able to find out within the next week, or so.

 

TT: Are you watching closely around the state to see how things are going with various sports teams? And are you rooting for those schools that are playing right now to have success getting their games in?

JS: I absolutely hope things go well. As we sit and watch, if things don’t go well, we’re going to have to continue to sit and watch and nobody wants that. So I am 100%, and our department is 100% rooting for everyone to continue to do well because that gives us hope for what’s coming.

 

TT: If we can get to a winter sports season and have it go well, what are your greatest challenges trying to squeeze an “alternative fall” season into that March/April window?

JS: It’s one of those things we’ve been proactively planning on and meeting on and discussing. The biggest thing for us right now is going to be finding and utilizing shared facility spaces with the issue of having some overlap and the amount of facilities we’ve got, in consideration with the construction taking place right now. 

I actually have a meeting set up with Middleton Parks & Rec to discuss that and what kind of city parks and rec areas we might be able to acquire and use during that time. So this will be the second of I think two or three meetings that we’ve been having with city contacts to make sure we have other spaces and places to use when that does come to fruition for us, because that’s one of our biggest issues is having teams ready to practice and ready to compete and not have enough facilities to use.

 

TT: The associate athletic director position at MHS is new. So how has it gone with Ben White? Have you two divided up the sports … or are you in charge of all of them?

JS: With me being new and wanting to learn them all, we’re doing it in conjunction and working on them together. There are certain things that work to his strength and skill set already like building the schedules into our school programs. So, he leads a lot of that. But we still do it together.

So right now, it’s not split where he’s doing one and I’m doing the other. And then we meet weekly as an athletic department to talk and discuss those things. So, right now, with this being new learning for me and some aspects kind of new for him, we’re working on it together so if one of us is out, we still are able to keep moving. And if one of us is out, nothing will fall to the wayside. So we’ve been doing it all together.

 

TT: You’ve had a few months now to evaluate the entire athletic department. On a whole, what do you like most? And are there any changes you’d like to make?

JS: Right now, again, and I can use this for a while because I’m new, but being new and one thing I’ve learned being a leader prior to this is when you come in new, you don’t come in and make a lot of big changes, especially to a program as great as Middleton. 

So there’s not a lot of huge changes we’re making at this point because we truly know there aren’t a lot that need to be made. But with time and the way structures are set up in a normal setting, then those changes are going to come and they’re only going to come to benefit our coaches and our programs.

There are a couple of things we’ve tweaked so far and they’ve all been done to take things off of our head coaches’ plates so that they can focus more on just their programs and running the program. So when it comes to coming in and making those changes, you know, I would always steer against someone new doing that, especially in a program as elite as Middleton.

If I came in and started making changes, that should be a sign that I truly didn’t know and understand the greatness that I was stepping into. But I did know and understand that. So I’m not making any significant changes at this time.

 

TT: So to follow up on the last question, what’s impressed you most about this athletic department that you’ve taken over?

JS: I would say the two biggest things are the adults and the students I get to work with and serve. Again, I mentioned the last two Middleton Athletics presents earlier. I’ve been in awe with the participation. And not only that, but the quality of questions and respect and understanding that our student-athletes have shown.

I’ve been involved in a couple booster club meetings already and they’ve all been super responsive and nice and supportive. And the adults have been very warm and welcoming in stepping into this role, especially after the circumstances and the loss of Mr. (Bob) Joers. I know it’s a tough and difficult thing to make a transition and they’ve really accepted me with open arms and it’s been a blessing. It’s made it a lot easier than expected coming into a new role and a big role. 

 

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