Mount Abe’s married athletic directors made job-share a success
BRISTOL — No matter how much people have enjoyed a job over the years, a time can come when a new direction looks like a good idea.
At least that’s how married couple Jeff and Mary Stetson explained their decision to step down this June from their unique 25-year partnership as Mount Abraham Union High School’s co-athletic directors.
Jeff, 58, and Mary, 55, who will still teach part-time and coach at Mount Abe, can readily offer highlights from their years sharing the AD job.
Mary said they appreciate having been able to help so many students enjoy healthy activities, for example.
“When you have a nice fall day and you look out, or spring day like today, and every practice field will be buzzing and kids will be out there,” Mary said. “It’s an important part of their life. They’re still learning some great stuff. We’ve been very lucky in that this school really believes that extracurricular things, whether it be sports or arts or whatever, are an important, valuable part of their education.”
But the Stetsons, whose 32nd wedding anniversary arrives in July, can also easily list the increasing demands of a job that requires strong people skills, organizational ability, and routinely more than 60 hours a week counting their teaching posts.
“It was really, really time (to retire as ADs),” Jeff said. “We spent 57 nights in the gym together last winter until at least 8:30. It was too much.”
Both said they have plenty left in the tank to devote to their other Mount Abe posts. Mary, a New York native and former University of North Carolina field hockey player, will still teach two physical education courses and lead the school’s field hockey team.
Jeff, a Bristol native who received his secondary education at Vermont Technical College and the University of Vermont, will teach two technical education classes and coach the Eagle baseball team.
But the 60-plus hour weeks will end this month, Jeff said.
“We just got to the point where the last thing would end on Saturday, and the rest of the weekend was just lying low and trying to re-energize to come back in to work again on Monday,” he said. “After doing that for 25 years it was time for somebody with younger blood and a little more energy. It was just wearing us down.”
Their colleagues said they will be missed. Mount Abe PE teacher and girls’ soccer coach Dustin Corrigan and boys’ soccer coach Mike Corey praised the Stetsons’ work ethic; dedication to students, community, and sportsmanship; and consistent support for coaches.
“One of them at least is always present at a home event,” Corrigan said. “They are always there as field marshals making sure our fans are showing good sportsmanship and demanding that of our school community. And you don’t see that at every school.”
Corey said the Stetsons support an expanded roster of programs while working under tight fiscal constraints.
“They ran an incredibly well-organized program,” Corey said. “Even though they were very — and in many ways I think this is a positive — fiscally minded and they thought and talked a lot about the community and what the community could support in terms of dollars and cents, they found a way to be supportive from a financial standpoint of each team.”
Both said one of the toughest things coaches have to deal with is parents who are not pleased with their decisions, and the Stetsons consistently ironed those wrinkles.
“One of the things that has made coaching incredibly rewarding for me is that I’ve not had to be in the direct line of fire for those who may not always agree with what I’m doing,” Corey said.
Even managing one gym for 10 high and middle school basketball teams (Middlebury and Vergennes have two gyms) can be a minefield, never mind tough calls on whether to suspend students, Corrigan said.
“They’ve always been willing to make hard decisions, even if they’re not going to be easy to make or going to be popular. They do what’s right and they stand by their convictions, and I really appreciate that,” he said.
Corrigan summed it up.
“It’s huge amount of responsibility, and they’ve balanced it all,” he said. “I’d call it a career pretty well played.”
TOGETHER IN BRISTOL
Jeff started teaching at his hometown high school in 1981. Mary’s father was a Middlebury College graduate who had a friend from Vermont who sent him notices of openings up north down to Sufferin, N.Y. (“Jeff calls it Exit 15,” Mary said.)
One was a yearlong PE substitute position at Mount Abe that included coaching the JV field hockey team, and it became permanent. Two years later, Jeff and Mary married.
Ten years later, the school was in a budget crisis, with financial pressure on the athletic and tech ed departments. At that point their children, Lindy, Rob and Jen, were 5-, 3- and 1-year-olds, respectively.
Their solution was to propose they share the AD position, allowing Jeff to go to halftime in tech ed, thus saving money for both departments — and keeping both of them happy.
“Both of us were interested in the AD’s job, but both of us knew it wasn’t fair to the other one to say, ‘I’m going to go for it, you take care of the home front,’” Jeff said.
With young children and both coaching, there was another factor.
“We knew one of us just couldn’t do it,” Mary said.
They arranged schedules to make it work. Their classes are held on different days, allowing one of them to take prime responsibility each day. And Mary coaches in the fall, and Jeff in the spring, meaning at least one is always available after school.
As logical as it sounds, longtime Middlebury Union High School Athletic Director Sean Farrell said he knows of no other school that has shared the job in this manner, and certainly no other married co-athletic directors.
LIFE ON THE JOB
The Stetsons insist job-sharing has not strained their marriage.
“Have we disagreed about things? Certainly,” Mary said. “That’s life. I don’t think there was ever anything dramatic. I can’t think of anything.”
Jeff said sharing the job has even helped.
“There’s never been a major issue,” Jeff said. “I think it’s worked pretty well, because I can come home and just blow off steam about what’s going on around here and she knows exactly what’s going on … It’s not like I’m going home to a spouse that’s like, ‘You’re gone all day, and now you’re complaining about the job. Can’t you let it go?’”
Common values have made it work, he added.
“We both have the same convictions,” Jeff said. “Our morals and ethics on how things should be run are pretty much the same. There’s not a lot of big arguing going on or disagreeing to be had.”
They also credit their children and Jeff’s parents, who often watched the kids when they were younger.
“If we didn’t have the support of our family we wouldn’t have been able to do this job,” Mary said. “We pretty much raised our kids over here, and they never really squawked. And Jeff’s folks being so close and always helping us out, that was huge.”
The job has had its challenges, including adding many middle school teams and varsity high school teams such as football and boys’ lacrosse without expanding the budget: Athletes and families do a lot of fundraising.
“We’ve added quite a few programs since we’ve started, but we haven’t added a lot of money since we started,” Jeff said. “We’ve just kept making do.”
And the Stetsons have had to keep juggling the extra work.
“There’s mornings at home when you say, ‘You realize I left this on your plate today,’” Mary said. “Or I put a note on your computer when I got back from a game in the fall and I realize I never got that done.”
With all that, a few things are beginning to look more and more attractive: traveling, spending time with Jen’s new son, golfing, visiting the condo they own near Rob in North Carolina. There was no debate about retirement.
“We entered this together, as a pact together, and we knew when we were going to leave we were going to leave as a pact,” Mary said.
They said they will look back less on the many championships they or their coaches have won than on the success of Mount Abe students.
“Some of the highlights for me aren’t so much what we’ve accomplished as a particular team in any of our sports here,” Jeff said, “but the whole idea that you’ll see a kid 15 years later, and they’ll go, ‘I was a knucklehead in school, but thank goodness I got involved in sports. It really helped me figure things out.’”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)
BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)
See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.