EDITOR’S PICKTOPICAL NSAA New director ready to take the reins at NSAA
Jay Bellar has been on the job as executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association since July 1, but his work starts in earnest Wednesday.
That’s because the retiring Jim Tenopir’s contract as executive director runs through Tuesday, so he’s been on duty the last month making sure there’s a smooth transition for the former Battle Creek superintendent who’s also been a member of the NSAA’s Board of Directors the past 11 years.
“I thought it was important for him to move right into the office, and I communicated to our staff (that) unless it was a personal call for me, that anything to do with rules interpretation needed to be directed to Jay,” said Tenopir, who is finishing out the third year of his second stint as NSAA executive director. He held the same position for nine years before leaving in 2010 to be the chief operating officer for the National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis, where he served five years.
“We had a month to work together and he (Bellar) needed to get his feet wet. This gave us some time to discuss how rules are interpreted and what questions need to be asked.”
Bellar says closing out the school year at Battle Creek and getting up to speed on everything the executive director job entails has been “hectic, but enjoyable.”
“It’s a big learning curve, but having Jim here has helped a bunch, just to ask questions of him and the staff, who have been more than helpful in the things I need to know,” said Bellar, who was at Battle Creek 20 years. “We have a great staff and they’ve made the transition much easier for me.
“Rules interpretation has been the hardest adjustment to make, and knowing the right questions to ask,” Bellar said. “Everyone answers them a little differently, so application of what those things are can be difficult, too.”
Since Tenopir came back from the national federation, the NSAA has established policies in sensitive areas such as home school and transgender student participation. The organization has also ventured into Unified Sports, in which students with and without intellectual disabilities partner to participate in an activity. The NSAA has sponsored Unified Bowling the past two years and is in the process of sanctioning Unified Track and Field sometime in the future.
There’s also been a move toward adaptive sports, adding some exhibition wheelchair events to the state track meet.
Tenopir said his time at the national federation helped guide the NSAA through those issues.
“I had a pretty good idea what was happening in every state in the country with regard to home school and transgender issues, and it gave me a little better perspective how to go forward on those issues and do what’s best for kids,” Tenopir said.
Because of Tenopir’s leadership the past three years, Bellar says he’s taking over a school membership-driven organization “that’s in very good shape.”
“I hope schools don’t see a drastic change, because that’s not my intent,” Bellar said. “Things are going very well, and hopefully I’ll be able to continue what Dr. Tenopir and the staff have been doing. When change needs to occur, hopefully we’ll have the wisdom to do the right thing.”
Bellar said he’ll use the next few months to introduce himself, particularly in the metro areas of Omaha and Lincoln and the western part of the state, which were not part of his northeast district as a NSAA board member. He will attend conference meetings with athletic directors and ESU gatherings with the superintendents as part of his reaching-out tour.
One of the things he wants to emulate from his predecessor is the way Tenopir communicated with the member schools throughout the state.
“He made the schools feel like they had a voice and were being heard,” Bellar said. “When I go to these meetings, I will tell them I have no agenda. I just want to listen to them, find out what issues are important to them and interject on the behalf of the NSAA about what we’re doing.”
Tenopir says he’s considered the NSAA executive director position “a calling, not a job.” That’s why he has mixed feelings with what he calls retirement.
“I would be lying if I said I was gung-ho about retirement, but by the same token, I think that the time is right. My wife (Sharon), says it’s time,” Tenopir said. “Everyone tells me you’ll know when it’s time to retire. I don’t know at this point. I wouldn’t rule that (taking another job) out. I’m heading into this like this is retirement, but who knows?”
Bellar knows one thing, and that’s Tenopir’s phone number.
“I asked Jim to do one thing for us, not change his number,” Bellar said, laughing. “I think I’ll be calling him a little bit for advice.”