Matt Baumwart didn’t just trade middle school for high school this year, in his transition to become IHS assistant principal and athletic director.
He also traded handshakes for temperature checks. Each morning, Baumwart greets students by taking their temperature to guard against the spread of COVID-19 as they enter the building. Handshakes, as well as any physical contact, are not allowed because they could spread the virus.
“I’m very big on handshakes, saying hello, calling a student by name,” he said. “Even though I’m taking a temperature, I’m still trying to greet them, trying to get them started right on their day. Whatever you can do to see a squint in their eye, because you know that’s a smile under a mask.”
The pandemic has made it difficult to get to know students. Social distancing makes it more difficult to have a quick word with a student.
“You can’t have that quiet little conversation as easily,” he said.
Baumwart has an advantage, though. Unlike most new administrators, he knows most of the students because of his past three years as assistant principal at the middle school.
This year’s junior class members were eighth-graders when he came to IMS. He’s known the freshmen since they were sixth-graders.
He hopes that’s reassuring to them.
“I built some strong relationships with students and got to know them from a different role, as a principal instead of a teacher,” he said.
BAUMWART grew up in Neodesha and competed against Iola teams in basketball and baseball, so he was familiar with the community long before he came to IMS.
He earned a degree from Emporia State University, then taught physical education at schools in Emporia for 18 years.
He joined IMS during the 2017-18 school year, with principal Brad Crusinbery as his mentor.
Baumwart figured he would need about five years of experience at the middle school level before considering a transition to high school — his ultimate goal.
But a change in administration presented an opportunity for an immediate decision. Baumwart is now working under first-year principal Scott Carson, who himself had previously served as the IHS assistant principal and athletic director.
The added familiarity helps, Baumwart said. He’s enjoyed working with Carson.
The job brought about a change in his living situation, too.
For the past three years, Baumwart had commuted to Iola from Emporia, a trip of about 80 miles each way. He and his wife, Deidra, recently moved to Iola. Deidra works for Dr. Ryan Coffield, a dentist.
They have two sons. Bryce, the oldest, is in his second year as a graduate assistant coaching baseball at Fort Hays State University, where he is studying sports administration. Hayden is a sophomore at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, where he is studying pre-chiropractic.
IT’S A challenging time to work as an athletic director.
The pandemic has taught Baumwart to live in the moment, as it’s impossible to plan very far ahead. His biggest goal is to give student athletes a season.
“I’m thinking more short-term just because of the situation,” he said. “We try to do the things we can to save the season, small things like wearing a mask.”
He especially wants to see the spring sports season happen, after the pandemic canceled school and all athletics in March. It was difficult for athletes to miss out on a season, especially last year’s seniors, but Baumwart doesn’t want to see anyone miss two seasons in a row.
“If we can get back to that standard of play this spring, that will be a milestone,” he said. “For football and volleyball, I want to be able to see a regional, sub-state and move to a state tournament. I hope basketball starts on Day 1. If we have to make adjustments, I hope it’s just a week or two and we can get right back on it.”
The district has moved its senior football night up to this week’s home opener, just to make sure students have that opportunity. Homecoming, though, is still scheduled for October.
THE BIGGEST difference working as an athletic director at the high school level is the role of sports in a student’s life.
In middle school, Baumwart encouraged students to try a sport. Any sport. All sports.
“It’s important to get them to play, to see what activities are like and see if they enjoy it enough to participate in high school,” he said.
Middle school students who participate in sports often find it helps academically, because they must keep their grades up.
At the high school level, the challenge is to keep students interested in continuing sports. They have many demands on their time, and the level of competition can be a bit more challenging. Still, Baumwart said, sports can encourage students to do well in school and promote valuable skills like teamwork and time management. Sports also can provide opportunities to further their education with college scholarships.
“Just as I said to my own kids, education is the goal. Baseball was the means,” he said.