The 2016-2017 school year was book-ended with state championships, capping the most prolific athletic season in the Keller school district’s history.
As the summer yielded to the start of the academic year, Keller’s girls cross country team brought home a state title. At the end of the year, the Lady Indians’ softball team added a back-to-back championship. But the middle was crammed full of district titles, playoff runs and high honors from all across the district, including an individual state wrestling title for Central’s Blaine Martinez.
The Keller ISD fielded an amazing 52 teams which made the postseason in their respective sports and each of the four schools — Keller, Fossil Ridge, Central and Timber Creek – had their share of athletic prowess. Over 130 student athletes were a part of the All-State teams named in the various sports.
Having 70 percent of your district’s teams qualify for a playoff spot in a school district of four 6A schools is a bit eyebrow-raising.
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At Keller High School in 2016-2017, 52 teams made the playoffs, 130 athletes were named all-state, and lengthy postseasons made for a $700,000 budget overrun.
In fact, Bob DeJonge, Keller ISD’s director of athletics, was recently selected as a Hall of Honor inductee by the Texas High School Athletic Director’s Association. He’ll receive the award at the annual conference in Houston in July.
“There’s a concerted effort to talk more about success than making the playoffs,” DeJonge said. “It may be an overused word but I look at the synergy of the coaching staffs, athletes and the sports community. And when the kids and adults buy-in, there’s a good chance of success.”
That sort of postseason success has a price. A price tag no one is hesitant to pay at the KISD administration office.
The cost to send so many teams to playoff locales, venue rentals, travel expenses and incidentals for that many players, coaches and training staff can mount.
DeJonge said this year’s successful campaigns ran about $700,000 over the predicted budget amount. The district estimates costs at the start of a school year and goes back to the school board and chief financial officer for any incremental needs from the General Fund.
Those are the same funds, though, which support competitive academic activities, band and fine arts programs, too.
“That money is kept outside of my budget,” DeJonge said. “It draws off an account our CFO has, and no athletics or fine arts budget suffers.”
Traveling to district team member, Abilene, has likely stretched the budget more than in the past, but playoff games in neutral sites such as Odessa or Midland when paired with El Paso schools, can take a bit more gas money.
During DeJonge’s 17 years as athletic director at Keller ISD, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“When we were growing rapidly, it was a bit of a challenge to build successful programs. With consistency, these teams have been able to mature,” he said of the stabilized geographic boundaries each high school draws from. “When a kindergartner starts in a pattern to be a Fossil Ridge Panther, they know they’ll be a Panther. You can see the benefits over time.”
In addition to his tenure as athletic director, DeJonge was a coach and teacher in Keller for another nine years prior to his move to the administrative side.
Moving forward, DeJonge feels Keller ISD athletes and coaches have a leg up on their competition.
“Sustained success is a catalyst for continuing what you do. Success becomes an expectation. The confidence in what you’re doing is heightened,” he said.
“When you think about 40 programs making it multiple rounds into the playoffs and into the regional semis, for example,” DeJonge said, “seeing them be successful, it’s incredible to watch.”
With success comes opportunities, and Keller ISD staff members are the beneficiaries. Keller ISD’s former assistant athletic director, Becky Spurlock, has accepted the athletic director position at Azle.
“Becky has over 15 years with a work ethic that’s one of the highest I’ve ever seen,” DeJonge said. “She’s a compassionate and ethical person. She’s going to do well at Azle and we’re happy for her.”
Taking the assistant director slot is Eric Persyn, formerly an assistant principal at Central for 13 years, who has a decade of coaching experience.
Also moving to Azle is Tim Lyons, who will assume the role of head coach for the Lady Hornets soccer program. He was formerly an assistant coach with the Timber Creek girls soccer team.