Dr. Jim Wright, an omnipresent figure at sports events, is retiring from his job as athletic director in the South Huntington school district at the end of the month.
He spent 20 years in the district, coming to South Huntington from St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay. Before that, he worked in private industry.
“The best part of the job has been watching kids play,” Wright said. “My head’s on a swivel. And the visibility of the job is important,” for all sports, he said.
Over the length of his career, Wright, whose duties include supervising physical education, health, athletics, and recreation, has seen several changes occur in youth sports, some better than others.
“One of the problems has been specialization,” he said. “Instead of playing two or three sports, kids focus on just one.” Aside from narrowing a child’s interest at any early age, “that has reduced the number of kids available for other teams,” he said.
He has also seen a rise in parental involvement in their children’s athletic activities. “It was always there,” Wright said, but now, some “are making financial investments” and that affects kids. “Parents have the right to do that but they’re still kids.” He said he thought the district, under just-retired superintendent Dr. David Bennardo and new superintendent Dr. Vito D’Elia, understood how to manage expectations. “We listen to people” and their needs, he said. “We’ve managed it pretty well.” But, he said, funding “Can be an arms race. You need money to be successful.”
He said that he doesn’t expect a recent decision to allow college athletes to profit from their branding–providing compensation for use of an athlete’s name, image or likeness–to filter down to the high school level. “I don’t see high school students becoming that jaded” and thinks that maintaining amateur status will prevail.
He said he was a “little melancholy” about leaving but he wanted to thank parents, coaches and staff for their contributions.
Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, which oversees scholastic sports in Suffolk County, said, ” Jim has been very involved with almost everything. He’s been an integral part of the association. He’s been very instrumental moving Section XI with technology–it’s one of his biggest contributions” along with upgrading a student health handbook and policies.
“He’s been very dedicated to the student athletes, and he’s an all-around great guy we’re going to miss,” Combs said.
Wright will take up work as a consultant with the district, overseeing transportation and facilities.