By KEVIN MERRILL
When it came time to arrive for her job interview two years ago, Tammy Talmage didn’t need directions. After all, she had been coaching Green Bear athletes for nearly 30 years and earned 11 varsity letters as an Ottawa Hills student-athlete.
But she admits to needing some directional assistance during her first 20 months as athletic administrator. Whatever challenges were encountered, she overcame enough that Ottawa Hills received the Toledo Area Athletic Conference All-Sports Trophy. The trophy is awarded to the district whose sports team collectively won the most championships for the season. Call it beginner’s luck – or hard work paying off.
As her second year winds down, she is more confidently steering a program that covers 18 varsity and seven junior high sports, 45 individual teams and coaches, more than 200 student athletes, and numerous paid workers, such as people who run game clocks and sell tickets.
“I do love the job. I love watching the kids compete,” Ms. Talmage said. “Now, I can take my emotion out of it, unlike when I was coaching. Watching students compete is the culmination of what I do. I mean, who has that kind of a job? How many people are lucky enough to get paid to supervise and watch sports?”
Early in her tenure, she would get the odd-ball question that no amount of prep work could address – such as, “Is the curtain in the gym fire retardant?” (It is, by the way.) With only a part-time secretary to assist, she found that and other answers and gained knowledge and experience. Along the way, she has escaped the shadow of her predecessor, Tim Erickson, who served as athletic director for 27 years.
As athletic administrator, she oversees the department budget, organizes schedules for all sports, and recommends coaches for hiring to the Board of Education. But there are less ceremonious assignments, such as making sure U.S. flags are stored after games, gates and buildings locked after events, and referees handed their game-day checks. It’s a one-woman show for the most part.
But help comes from other sources, such as the faculty managers who help perform a lot of those functions when dueling sports are playing the same night. Hundreds of parents also help the athletic program by selling tickets and food and organizing pre- and post-game meals. Also contributing is the OH Boosters, an independent nonprofit organization that donates thousands of dollars every year for needs from uniforms to equipment as well as special requests.
The role of AD
For the athletic administrator of a small district, game days – which are nearly every day during the school year – are most exhilarating (or hectic, depending upon your point of view). In addition to the daily tasks of answering emails and talking to coaches and students, game days present additional challenges: setting up the cash box, getting tickets ready, ensuring the referees’ room is stocked and their checks ready, the person working the clock has arrived and set up, the national anthem is queued and ready to go (unless the pep band is playing) and ensuring the flag is waving (or lowered from the ceiling in the case of the high school gym).
“Once the national anthem is done, I can kind of relax and enjoy the game,” Ms. Talmage said. After-game duties vary by season and depend on whether the game is home or away, indoors or outside.
The need to manage gate receipts and all the moving parts of a home game, coupled with multiple sports under way at once, is very time consuming. “In my first year in the fall, I worked 70 hours a week for six weeks in a row. I was the walking dead,” she recalled.
Longer term, she would like to see event managers added to her team: a few staff or faculty assigned specific roles throughout the year. Doing so would allow her to be out and about more as athletic administrator. “I don’t want any of our teams to feel slighted. Even so, when I do make it out to some, it’s like, ‘She’s here!’”
If there is one aspect of the job she does not like, it’s not being able to spend an equal amount of time with each team. “I don’t get to see as many of our teams as I would like,” she added. “When money is involved or there is a higher potential for injury, managing those sports takes more time and therefore precedence.”
Another large part of her job is finding opponents and building sports schedules. Doing so is time consuming, but there are advantages to centralizing the work rather than allowing individual coaches to handle the logistics. “The good part about me doing it is that once I confirm the game, I put it on the school calendar, then into ArbiterSports (online scheduling used by refs to pick games), and then finally onto my paper calendar. I’m not being a control freak, but I have everything at my fingertips in front of me.”
Even though snow is on the ground, she already is working on completing schedules (finding opponents and venues) for the 2019 fall sports teams. Spring 2019 schedules are nearly wrapped up. “Sometimes, I do have to challenge a coach when putting together a schedule. I tell them, ‘If you want to be the best, then you have to play the best.’ But I try to let the coaches have a say. I always ask them, ‘Who do you really want to play .. and who do you really not want to play?’”
Talmage family and sports
The Talmage family (Ms. Talmage has one brother and one sister) is well known in Ottawa Hills. Her father Dr. Lance Talmage is a Toledo-area obstetrician/gynecologist and was a brigadier general in the U.S. Army, where he served as a flight surgeon in the late 1960s. Her mother, Dee, grew up in Toledo and earned a master’s degree from the University of Toledo. She also served on the Ottawa Hills Board of Education and currently serves on the Owens Community College Board of Trustees. The family moved to Ottawa Hills in 1977 so Tamara Talmage could begin eighth grade. By the time she graduated in 1982, Ms. Talmage had been named the high school’s “Outstanding Female Athlete” and earned several all-district honors.
Sports have played the central role in her career. She taught children at summer camps to play sports, as well as those with developmental disabilities. (Before becoming athletic director, she spent 30 years at the Lucas County Board of Development Disabilities in a series of direct care and management roles. She also has planned and supervised the county’s annual participation in the Special Olympics.) She began coaching almost as soon as she graduated from Wittenberg University (where she also earned 11 varsity letters).
She’s coached and played field hockey, swimming, basketball, and softball. She has served on many local, state and national organizations as well as received many accolades, such as being named TAAC “Basketball Coach of the Year” for 1992-93. And she received a master’s of education degree in recreation and leisure studies from the University of Toledo in 1999.
Evolution of the student athlete
Because Ms. Talmage has been around sports for nearly 40 years, she has first-hand experience with the evolution of the student-athlete. “Back in the 1980s, we were all pretty clueless. We just got in cars or on the bus and went to games. Maybe you had some open gyms here and there. But pretty much, your season was your season. For girls’ sports, you played on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the boys played Friday and Saturday nights. The boys got the big nights, the girls didn’t. And if a doctor happened to be at the game, that’s who ran out on the field to take care of you. We didn’t have a trainer. Coaches did the taping,” she said. “It’s evolved … and in a good way.”
“Now, sports are not only becoming more equitable between the sexes, but they are year-round. If you play soccer, you just don’t play soccer in the fall. In the winter, you’re playing in an indoor soccer league,” she said. “For field hockey, preseason used to be August. Now pre-season becomes spring. So spring is pre-preseason, summer is pre-season and then you’re ready to go.”
“What you do in the off season makes you better during the season,” she added. “The athletes, by virtue of that, are bigger, better, stronger, faster, and more knowledgeable.”
Coaches face the same expectations, she said. “They are expected to have open gyms, organize weight-room workouts, and be prepared prior to the season starting. So coaches have had to up their game. They are expected to go to clinics and be more knowledgeable than their athletes. And because certain athletes are playing year-round and are exposed to other coaching techniques, coaches have to be receptive to the fact that a student might know something better than you.”
Future of the TAAC
As athletic programs, facilities, and students evolve in Ottawa Hills, that transformation almost will assuredly stay under the umbrella of the Toledo Area Athletic Conference (TAAC), a league OH helped to form and join as an inaugural member in 1988.
“Do I think it’s a good league? I do,” Ms. Talmage said. “TAAC is the right league for us based on the level of competition.” TAAC has 10 member schools, but only six are full members; the others participate only in football.
“From the athletic directors’ perspective, we’d like to get a couple of more teams but we need to be sure they will be competitive and a good match for our league,” she said. “There are so many dynamics. For example, some schools only want to come if you have wrestling, but TAAC doesn’t offer wrestling.”
One of the issues district administrators and coaches have to contend with is the occasional disparity within a certain sport. “It’s different for each sport. In boys’ and girls’ soccer, it’s not even close. Our teams are way better. For boys’ basketball, TAAC is extremely competitive,” she said. “For football, I believe we’re in the right league. For track and cross-country, is TAAC the strongest? No, but it is what it is. Everyone has their time. It all evens out over time.”
For Ottawa Hills, the search for competitive balance needs to address the needs of the tennis (both girls and boys) and lacrosse (both boys and girls) teams. Currently, they do not compete in a TAAC-sponsored league because too few schools offer those sports. “In five years, I want to see those teams in their own leagues. Until then, we’re the Notre Dame of northwest Ohio: An independent school trying to piece together schedules without the built-in convenience of conference opponents.”
Long-term goals and plans
What would she do with a bottomless pot of money? “It would be to make all our facilities better. Thankfully, the new fitness center is going to help a lot. Still, I would get all new track equipment, including high jump and pole vault pits. I’d get protective netting that keeps the lacrosse and soccer balls in,” she added. “I would build an indoor batting facility. I would move the auditorium over and redo the multi and add stands so we could keep all the junior high sports there.”
In five years, she wants the district’s facilities to be top notch. “And I want the coaches and myself to be on the same page about athletics. And when we’re on the same page, to be able to get the community on the same page.”
“But I also want to be able to look back and ask, ‘Have I done what I said I would during my job interview?’” she asked. “Did I keep my campaign promises, if you will. So far, I feel I have, but I feel I’m still evolving and learning.”
“I could say that in five years, I want to have three state championships. But it’s more important to keep doing everything I can to be the athletic director that coaches, students, and parents appreciate,” Ms. Talmage said. “I want to be the athletic director that I would want if I was still a coach. And someone about whom people say, ‘I’m really glad she got the job.’”
Getting to know Tammy Talmage
Favorite athlete: Grant Hill. “I followed him both when he played at Duke and the Detroit Pistons. He gives back to the community, he does a lot for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.”
Role models: Former OH athletic director and coach Norm Neidermeier and former coach and physical education teacher Sandy Osterman. “Because of them – even when I was in college – I knew I wanted to teach, coach, and be an athletic director. Their demeanor and how they dealt with people and how they worked with kids – it all just made me want to be like them. They epitomize what I view Ottawa Hills as and what I want it to continue to be.”
“I still call them ‘Mr. Neidermeier’ and ‘Miss O,’” she added. “They tell me, ‘Please, call us Norm and Sandy,’ and I say ‘I can’t. You’re my heroes.’ Mr. Neidermeier comes into the building and I turn into a 12-year old. I’ll see Miss O out somewhere and I go, ‘Hi Miss O.’ And she’ll say, ‘Call me Sandy!’”
Favorite sport: “Field hockey, of course. I coached it for 27 years. There was just something about the sport that drew me in … and that something was my college coach (Linda Arena). She made me love the sport.” After a couple of knee surgeries, she doesn’t play field hockey the way she used to. Playing sports now is limited mostly to golf.