Stepping away

Highlands Ranch athletic director retires after 35 years in education

Posted 5/7/11

Thirty-five years is enough. And although Janelle Peters enjoyed her relationships with staff, students and parents the most as the athletic director …

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Stepping away

Highlands Ranch athletic director retires after 35 years in education


Thirty-five years is enough.

And although Janelle Peters enjoyed her relationships with staff, students and parents the most as the athletic director of Highlands Ranch High School, it sure was fun to win.

This academic year, Peters decided to retire after 35 years in education. She has been the AD at Ranch for nine years, where she has seen numerous state championship teams and athletes grace the halls of the school, including girls hoops, boys swimming, girls golf and several in track with the all-but-legendary Alex Gove.

Peters said after 35 years, 14 of them in Colorado, she has probably accomplished all she feels she could.

“I mentally and physically knew it was time,” she said. “This is a 60-hour a week job, and I’m not getting any younger.”

Peters started her career as a mathematics instructor in Dukator, Ill., and eventually at Southern Illinois University, where she earned her administration certificate. She aspired to become an assistant principal. She eventually ended up at Arapahoe as the assistant principal and athletic director.

Once she had the athletic director experience, she wanted to keep her hand in high school sports administration when it came time to leave.

“Working with student athletes was an exciting and invigorating thing to do,” Peters said. “I also enjoyed the camaraderie with coaches, the staff and the parents. There are many facets of the job and all of them are rewarding.”

When Peters came to Highlands Ranch nine years ago, the state of athletics at the school wasn’t exactly shabby. There had already been a legacy of athletic talent with the Falcons’ programs, especially on the female side. She said she simply continued that legacy and aspired to support the boys sports to start turning a corner.

When Highlands Ranch split into two high schools and then four, Falcons state championships were harder to obtain with the thinning of the student athlete pool; however, Ranch has brought home at least one state championship team or individual each year.

“The department wasn’t broken when I got here,” Peters said. “It was in as good or better shape when I got here.”

Building relationships was priority one for Peters when she came to the Falcons’ helm. Learning the department’s strengths was also important to her. She didn’t want to tamper with them. As for weak spots in Falcons athletics, Peters aimed to lend support and help them to the next level.

“There was a learning curve that first year,” Peters said. “There was a lot of assessing. I inherited a lot of great coaches when I got here, and I think I’m leaving with a great lineup of coaches for the next person.

“We have a lot of great coaches who do wonderful things for these kids.”

That next person to helm Highlands Ranch athletics is no stranger to the school. Bruce Wright will succeed Peters. Wright has been an instructor at the school, administrator and was head coach of the softball team for several years. With Wright familiar with the department and already having relationships in place on his own, Peters expects the transition from one athletic director to the next to go smooth.

Peters said the biggest struggle in high school sports today is seeing a lot of students and parents buy into the false promises of scholarship-magic from the club sports systems.

“High school sports offers a unique experience for students,” she said. “Some will see the club scene as the be-all-end-all. They buy into the promise of college scholarships by playing on club teams, and sometimes it pays off. ... But sometimes its too taxing on the athletes. Their parents pour money into the club scene without seeing any real dividends they hope to recover.

“In high school, you’re playing in front of your peers, your friends and against that cross-town rival team, and that’s not an experience you get with a club. ... We hope to turn a student into a good person, a good problem solver and learn to work with others towards a common goal. That’s something that can be taught in high school sports which can’t be taught in a lot of other venues.”

With Highlands Ranch having multiple coaches in their system whom also coach in club systems in the off-season, one may wonder how Peters has maintained that philosophy with those on her roster. She said those who coach for the Falcons and club teams outside of the academic season are usually ones who already know the difference between the two experiences.

“The club sport coaches we do have on staff do know that balance and can clearly and easily explain the difference to their athletes,” Peters said. “You usually don’t see high school coaches being the problems in the club scene, making these promises to parents. Those types of people are usually career club coaches.”

The hardest part of the athletic director’s job specifically is having to juggle so many responsibilities and a constant stream of tasks and people who need her attention.

“There’s scheduling, there’s budget issues, organizing playoffs, attending to the needs of your coaches. You have students coming in to talk about their eligibility. There are so many facets to the job, if I get done half of what is usually on my to-do list within a day, I feel pretty accomplished.”

With her departure, Peters had to thank the supportive parents from the Falcons program who continue to volunteer their time and raise supplemental funds. She also said principal Jerry Goings has been the best person she’s worked for in her years.

Also, the “little people who don’t get much attention” are also whom she will remember from her time at Ranch. Athletic secretary Betty Bennett, staff at the front desk and bookkeeping personnel are just a couple of those behind-the-scenes faces to which she owes something.

“They are all outstanding people, and I will treasure their friendships forever,” Peters said.

The exiting sports administrator said, with children and grandchildren scattered all over the communities of South Metro Denver, she will remain in the area during her retirement.


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