Editor’s note: This is a question-and-answer session conducted last week between the Muscatine Journal and Muscatine High School activities director Tom Ulses. Ulses was hired from Waterloo Columbus to replace the retiring Mike Morgan as the activities director over the summer. The interview focuses on Ulses’ vision for the Muscatine athletic department, possible stadium renovations and the adjustment of moving from a Class 2A school.

You’ve been on the job about one month now. What are your first impressions?

The first month has gone well. I’m enjoying getting to know our coaching staff, our families and parents that I’ve met. We have a tremendous amount of support from the administration and community, so we’re trying to build on that to have the best possible programs for the students.

How big of a priority are stadium renovations for the football and softball programs?

Right now, we are in the process of trying to formulate our next steps and what we can do with the stadium project. We have some things we’re working on. Because of the cities requirements with the stem addition they’re doing on the front of the school, we’re going to be building a storm shelter facility on the backside of the school that will greatly enhance our stadium. It’s going to be almost a first step on stadium improvements. The district is supporting that aspect.

We’re in the process of researching how we can go about the best methods and how much it would take financially and what the timeline would be to improve the playing surface, make sure our stadium seating and press box are in the best possible shape and how we can make those better.

On the softball front, we’re going to be pulling together a meeting of people internally first to brainstorm what we can do to best approach the city and work with the city to best understand our options. There’s some questioning and some research we have to do. I have to come up to speed on previous conversations.

Our softball structure is a little awkward simply from the aspect of we’re fortunate enough to have a very nice city-owned diamond that we play on, but that creates challenges because we don’t control how it gets used. From talking to (head softball coach) Steve (Hopkins) there are challenges because that is the best diamond at Kent Stein because everybody wants to be on that diamond, so the wear and tear on that diamond is really challenging because of how much it gets used by everybody.

What are the challenges of going from a Class 2A school to a place that’s 4A and 5A across the board?

Some aspects are similar that you deal with as an (activities director) no matter how large your school is in regard to scheduling, officials, those types of things. Some of the challenges for me in moving from a 2A to a 4A school is there are some sports we didn’t have in-house like swimming, so we’re working with our swimming programs for the first time. This is also the first time I’ve had fall golf. We had boys and girls golf in the spring at Columbus. That’s some adjustment to work through and making sure we have everything in line to be ready to go right from the beginning.

One of the other things is learning the process and procedures of how things are done in a different district and just making the necessary adjustments so I can succeed at the district level and do the right things to support our coaches and students in the best possible way.

What is your vision for leading an athletic program? 

I’m a very hands-on person because I want to know what’s going on with our coaches, how our coaches are, what their mission is and how their program is working for the benefit of our students. I want to support those coaches and programs the best that I can.

My mission as an activities director is to serve both our coaches and our students and to empower our students to achieve success while they’re at Muscatine High School and when they go on, when they leave Muscatine High School for college. The things they learned and worked on will impact them the rest of their life, their experiences they had will impact them the rest of their lives, so I need to make sure our coaches and all of our leaders are focused on that mission, too. How is the experience we’re providing going to help our students succeed now and in the future?

A lot of the most successful programs in the state are in affluent communities. How does a town with one high school, not in a metro area, keep pace?

There are challenges because these are our students. We want to, for every single one of our programs, make it the best program that we can so that when our students are in third grade or seventh grade or whatever the case may be, they’ve been watching and learning. By the time they get to high school they know we have great programs for them.

Our coaches are great at what they do, and they’re going to care for each one of the students they’re charged with in that particular program. They’re going to have a great experience so that maybe when they come in as a ninth-grader, they try two or three things or whatever it may be. We work with all those pieces we have that we’re fortunate to be able to impact. We have to stay focused on the why we’re here, what it is we’re going to do to help our students, and not worry about what we don’t have and we’ll make a positive impact.

What do you do to keep those programs vibrant?

One of the things, and I know in talking to (former athletic director) Mike Morgan the conversations were going on, he was working with our high school head coaches to help articulate information for our youth programs. We’re going to be continuing to improve and better articulate what we do with those feeder programs because I want our high school head coaches, our varsity head coaches to be thinking about, not only are they the varsity head coach, but they’re the program’s head coach as well.

You may not always be hands-on coaching those younger kids, but you’re tasked with and challenged with sometimes hands-on coaching and leading those adults that are working with our youth kids. We want our Muskies at the younger level to be learning those skills and foundation pieces, so by the time they get to high school, they’re not starting from ground zero. They understand what the Muskie way is all about, that is going to help our high school programs tremendously.

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