Ira Childress knows he’s a trailblazer in athletic administration, but when we he goes to work every day, that’s not something he thinks about.
Childress, Okemos High School’s athletic director, wakes up everyday and asks himself: “How can we get better?”
“Everything continue to grows for him he’s not the one to settle for just ok right now,” said Kelly Foltz, who is the strength and conditioning coach for OHS. “He sees the future and set his sights on what else he can do to better this place.”
When Childress walked into the athletic director position five years ago, this guy from the small town of Baldwin, Michigan, made history for being OHS’s first African American athletic director. He was also the first director that was not apart of the school district’s administration before receiving the position.
“Anytime you are in a trailblazing position it’s never easy especially in the beginning,” said Childress, who worked in athletic administration for the collegiate level before coming to Okemos. “I think overtime when people get a chance to know you and see who you are then things get a little bit easier. I feel like my time here at Okemos, by a large has been really really good.”
Although he holds this revolutionary position, being able to have the “first” title was not the only factor on his mind coming into the job. He came ready to use his unconventional style to bring a difference into the school’s athletic program.
“Ira is the first athletic director that I’ve had the experience to work under that has
that limited secondary teaching experience and has that collegiate experience,” said Jamie Ianni, who has been the head coach for the Okemos girls volleyball team for 19 years. “I think in terms of what he brings to the table is quite a bit different than the K-12 administrators that I worked for previously.”
Since he has been at OHS, Childress constructed a new strength and conditioning center, installed a new surface for the track and added new tennis courts to the
sports complex. He also created the Okemos Athletics Hall of Fame and secured partnerships and deals with both adidas and the Sparrow Sports Medicine program.
Along with all the new changes he has brought to the program, he has also developed a relationship with both the athletes and staff members of OHS. Coach Foltz says that Childress is very supportive of the athletes and even tries to get them involved in leadership within the athletic events.
“In terms of my volleyball kids they think the world of Ira, they all have a very positive relationship with him,” said Ianni. “He put himself in a situation to get to know the student athletes whether it’s being at the events or showing up unexpectedly.”
The athletic department also had a great season this fall, winning six out of the nine league championships. But alongside of success on the field, the student athletes had success in the classroom, which is something Childress likes to stress to the athletes. This semester they averaged a 3.6 G.P.A., which is higher than their usual average of a 3.5 G.P.A.
“One thing I tell our student athletes is ‘one day the ball will stop bouncing’,” Childress said. “Education can change your life forever, where athletics there’s an expiration date on that. We emphasize academics with everything we do. It’s who we are as education athletics.”
According to Childress, although he has accomplished a lot during his five years with the school he does not want to get too comfortable with where the department is now. Everyday he is striving to raise the bar for the athletes, the coaches and for himself.
“I want our student athletes to say ‘you know what I had an amazing experience being an Okemos student athlete’,” he said.