Kelli Kurle wants to make a difference. Her goal is to make sure that all sports at East are viewed equally — that the gymnastics team feels as important as the football team; that the girls’ basketball team receives as much support as the boys’ basketball team.
Going into this position, she has plans to get the department up and running — whether it be organization or being more involved with the different sports. She is the first athletic director at East to use a Twitter account (@SMEAthletics) to let people know what events are happening around East.
Principal John McKinney chose Kurle, only the second female athletic director in the history of the Shawnee Mission School District, after former athletic director Sam Brown retired last year. McKinney was looking for a person who could seamlessly fit into the position.
“All signs pointed to Mrs. Kurle,” McKinney said. “She is great with kids, great with our coaches, great for our school and great for our community.”
Organization, experience with coaching and athletics, time management skills and familiarity with East were all factors that qualified Kurle for the position.
“[Kurle] had such a great history of working with students from all different levels,” McKinney said. “[Because of this] we knew that she was going to do a great job.”
The athletic director position typically has three class periods each day dedicated to sports administration. This entails scheduling, helping out coaches and making sure all Kansas State High School Athletics Association and Shawnee Mission School District guidelines are being followed.
Last year, Brown had set hours from 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. This year, Kurle has to work in those hours as well as teaching hours one, two and six. However, this is not ideal for an athletic director because emails and phone calls will be coming into her inbox from coaches and other athletic directors while she is teaching.
“I think [the worst part for me] is the fact that it’s part time,” she said. “It’s email, it’s phone calls, it’s at night looking up stuff.”
Athletic secretary Gayle O’Grady was very excited about having Kurle in the athletic director position. According to O’Grady, they work well together, and Kurle had shown interest in the past in receiving the position.
“I have been pushing for her for that job for two years,” O’Grady said. “Because she teaches such tough curriculum, it’s been hard for them to work her schedule around the athletic department. This year I think it will be nice to have a female [administrator]… in the office.”
Kurle is the only female athletic director in the Sunflower League out of 12 and in the Eastern Kansas League there are two out of eight.
According to Kurle, some athletic directors think they have the secretary on the phone when they call her.
She will receive a pause when they call, often a surprised voice asks “Is this the athletic director?” Some athletic directors are surprised by the fact that she is the athletic director for both boys and girls athletics. When other athletic directors question her about her job, she is quick to respond.
“Are you the athletic director for boys and girls?”
When they say they are, she counters: “Well me too.”
“I’d like to think [being a female] doesn’t affect my job, but I think it’s a mistake if I say that,” Kurle said. “I think it absolutely does.”
Additionally, Kurle feels that her motherly instincts kick in. Kurle thinks that she worries more about the athletes more than a male athletic director would. On the day of the soccer game against Shawnee Mission West, when temperatures were nearing 100 degrees, she emailed the coaches and athletic director from the other school, and moved the game back an hour.
Despite the numerous emails and after hours phone calls, Kurle still enjoys her job. To her, it is a better way to get involved, and she loves all of the sports.
“At Shawnee Mission East, we have fantastic sports, coaches and our fans are just being a part of that,” Kurle said. “The hardest part, so far I haven’t found yet. I’m still pretty new, so it’s still awesome.”