Cultivating good athletes and even better humans: TCA Athletic Director Duo, Don English & Jeff Smith
It's not usual to see a two-person head of department running the game or calling the shots in high school athletics, but Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas is changing the name of the game with Don English and Jeff Smith. During a recent media day at TCA, VYPE DFW was able to catch up with the Athletic Director duo to discuss all things TCA!
It Takes Two
English and Smith have both been with TCA athletics for quite some time. English came to the program a decade ago where he began as the head baseball coach before also assuming the role of boys' athletic director. Before his time at TCA, English worked in the public school system as a teacher and coach. Smith held a similar position in Tyler, Texas before joining TCA- where he's been coaching as well as serving as the girls' athletic director for eight years.
Some might think running an athletics department with another person might be stressful or difficult, but that's just not the case for the duo at TCA. "When I'm working with a great human being like Don English, it's very easy," Smith said in an exclusive interview. "We work together very well. It's a 'I got your back' kind of thing. By splitting boys and girls separately, it gives every student at TCA someone to be accountable to and gives us the opportunity to be accountable to them as well instead of having that favoritism that athletic directors can sometimes be accused of," Smith added.
"I've only been an athletic director for a few years now," English noted, "so I lean on Jeff heavily. He's got a great background with great experiences and he's never prideful about it. He's always extremely helpful. On top of that, I'd say he's done more for girls here than any place I've ever been. He's really made the girls equal to the boys. I'm sure there are instances in which he feels there is still work to be done culturally, but he's done a great job of elevating women's sports here at TCA."
Expectations and Goals
Don English poses in the gym during Media Day for TCA and VYPE DFW. Bradley Collier (VYPE Media)
While it's clear that both English and Smith are extremely proud of their athletic department, coaches, and athletes, they take the time to lay out expectations and goals for each season. As one could imagine, sometimes the goals and expectations mesh together to form an all-encompassing way of life. As much as they want to produce great athletes who go on to do great things, they also want to produce great humans that they can look at and be proud of. A recent note of this would be TCA golf alumni Will Zalatoris who placed second at The Masters. Zalatoris is known for still coming around the campus to help make an impact on future golfers' games and lives.
"People think we're soft when we say this," began Smith, "but we really don't feel like the value is in winning and losing on the field... it's really about life and the heart. Don't get me wrong, we're as competitive as anybody- we want to win with the scoreboard, too, and we believe there is a way to do that, but the bottom line here is how well these kids are going to be fathers, mothers, employees, and friends down the road rather than the score on a scoreboard at the end of the night."
English went on to echo Smith's sentiments with his own thoughts on the quality of human beings TCA athletics continues to produce: "Until a kid comes back to see you and he's a husband/father or she's a wife/mother, you don't really know the impact you have on them. We like to believe we do know in the moment, but we don't until many years down the road. We do have a different definition of winning here at TCA and it happens on and off the field."
Strengths and Challenges
It's no doubt that TCA students are great in all aspects of life. In fact, English boasted about the co-curricular activities that TCA has to offer: "Our art department is, arguably, the best in the country. They're incredibly talented- second-to-none even." With such high praise, oftentimes sports can fall into the shadows of other shining departments, but not at TCA. English and Smith take the challenge of rounding out their own program to stay top-notch just like the rest of the school. "That's kind of our challenge in the extracurricular world: to bring our kids' overall experiences to that level," said English. "There's tremendous competition within a 20-mile radius of our school, so it's a challenge to make us continue to be competitive across the board in every sport, but that's really our goal. If we want to tell other people about Jesus and how He loves everyone, then winning certainly gives you a better platform to do that than losing does. That's just the way it is. Now, sometimes the way you lose is very, very important with the sportsmanship you exhibit."
Despite pressures to be great in all areas, strengths are not hard to find when you look at TCA athletics. It's obvious that the students love to be there and love to compete. It's also clear that the coaches enjoy encouraging their athletes to be standout people as well as athletes. "I would say differentiation in the behavior of our kids and coaches is our strength," noted Smith. "We've had feedback from many people whether it's a bus driver that takes them to different games who calls and says each and every one of our kids thanked then when exiting the bus and that's rare or a waitress where we happen to stop and eat who chases us down to thank us and ask what school we're from because our students cleaned up their own mess. That's the kind of difference we like to make and do continue to see from our students," Smith added.
English went on to note that TCA is made up of not only great staff, but also great kids. "They really want to do well," English said. "They're outstanding in the classroom and want to be outstanding in athletics, too. There are only so many minutes in the day for them to be great, so we've got to make every minute count when they come to us."
Joys and Benefits
Jeff Smith poses in the gym during Media Day with TCA and VYPE DFW.Bradley Collier (VYPE Media)
When you love your job, no amount of hard days will ever outshine the good ones. For English and Smith, it seems that the bad days are few and far between as they continue to smile and work to change the lives of every student that crosses their path. The ways in which they do that may vary, but ultimately it's what matters to them. "I'm a little jealous of Jeff because he's still able to coach and I miss that, but it's a lot of fun to resource the coaches who end up having an incredible impact on the kids," said English. "It's truly all about the kids' experiences. Jeff and I work more behind the scenes in working to resource and develop coaches so they can coach their kids at a high level- that's really our goal."
With a big smile on his face, Smith added that the biggest benefit of his job was "being around these kids. It's as simple as that. They keep me young." There is absolutely no question about it: kids learn a lot from the adults around them, but as English and Smith continue to prove- adults learn a lot from kids as well. The impact that TCA staff and students alike have felt from English and Smith is great and can be expected to remain great for many years to come.