Changing sports world tough for Neubauer

DIAA executive director Tommie Neubauer shares a laugh with Debbie Windett after the girls’ lacrosse state tournament committee presented him with a plaque. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Tommie Neubauer is a pretty gregarious guy.

And as a former long-time referee and administrator, he long ago learned how to deal with unhappy parents and coaches.

But, while there are a few reasons why he’s stepping down as executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, the unrealistic expectations of coaches and others are certainly on the list.

“Really, it’s our change in society with litigation, parents that just can’t take ‘no’ for an answer and the misperceptions of the talents of the student-athlete,” Neubauer said as he sat in his Dover office on Thursday afternoon.

“If you sit in this chair, your phone rings with all that. And it gets to you after a while.”

With four months notice required after Neubauer announced his retirement in April, the 61-year-old Middletown resident will still officially be on the job until August.

But the end of the school year closes the most visible part of his job this week. Neubauer handed out his last state championship trophy to Cape Henlopen High after it beat Salesianum, 12-10, for the boys’ lacrosse state title at Caesar Rodney on Thursday night.

The State Department of Education is in the process of interviewing candidates to replace Neubauer, who has been the DIAA’s executive director for three years but was the assistant for 11 years before that.

Neubauer says the fact that his wife and a few other family members are retired made him think about stepping down. He also admits there’s a lot of red tape now involved with high school athletics that make the job less appealing.

“There are newer procedures that I know need to be done but just seem mind-boggling to me,” said Neubauer.

At the same time, Neubauer said it’s difficult to escape the high — and perhaps unrealistic — expectations of some people involved in high school athletics. There’s a ‘win-at-all-cost’ mentality that goes with it.

Tommie Neubauer proudly displays his honorary plaque.

While Neubauer knew all that when he took the job, he says he has been surprised at the level it rises to at times.

“It’s the volume and the vehemence — the intensity,” he said.

Neubauer said he can remember, when he was still a football referee, he and another official ejected a player for kicking someone on the other team. Despite there being video of the kick, he said the school still appealed the call.

“It just seemed like, ‘I’m going to appeal it even though I know it’s wrong,’” said Neubauer. “And that’s becoming more and more prevalent. I was taught (as an official) … own up to your mistake and pay for it. I always found that to be a good philosophy, no matter what I did.

“And I don’t think our society wants to do that as much anymore.”

Clearly, there are a significant number of parents who think their child’s high school athletic career should lead to a scholarship — despite the reality.

Neubauer points to statistics that show how small the percentage of college scholarships are available. Many parents pay more money on their child’s youth athletic career than they ever get back in scholarship money.

“But there’s this very strong part of the population that believes that’s not their kid,” said Neubauer. “Their kid is going to be the one getting the scholarship.”

As for the DIAA, Neubauer wishes people had a better understanding that it has a three-person staff that just generally oversees high school sports.

Most of the actual decisions about state tournament seedings and rules and even punishments are made by committees and the member schools themselves. There are about 250 committee volunteers.

“People think, on the one hand, we don’t do anything,” said Neubauer. “Or, on the other hand, we have a magic wand and we can change everything.”

A former athletic director at Middletown High, Neubauer has worked in high school athletics in Delaware since 1984. There’s still plenty to like about being involved in it, he says.

And Neubauer plans to stay part of high school athletics, maybe working with officials or as an official. He’s also interested in working with the Phillies again on home game days.

“Ninety-eight percent of the job is probably the positive end of DIAA — student leadership, the state tournaments, the day to day, the kids,” said Neubauer. “But the two percent, for some reason, it’s just more intense and it leaves a bad taste.

“I don’t know if that’s just me but that seems to be the part that’s worn on me personally.”

Neubauer tells people that he never set out to be an athletic administrator.

He was working as a social studies teacher in the early 1980s when Richard Green stepped down as Middletown’s AD. Neubauer started out applying for the assistant AD job but ended up as the athletic director instead.

“I realized, I’d probably been training for the job all my life and didn’t know it,” said Neubauer. “They (his previous jobs) all came together and I found out I had a really good knack for being an AD. It was not my original plan but sometimes karma …

“My journey’s taken me to some great places with some great people. It’s been a great ride and a lot of fun. I hope to keep it going on a lower key.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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