Paul Angelico, our commissioner over the past seven school years, usually arrived in the office around 6 a.m. or so. Occasionally he would come in even earlier.
He's an early-morning person. Emphasis on early. I can picture him, ballcap atop his head, sitting at a table outside a coffee shop in Denver, or Vail, or Steamboat, or Boston, or Oklahoma City, with his coffee in front of him — no lid — as he reads something in the early-morning light.
He's always the first one to arrive wherever we're going. "Let's setup at 7:15," he would say about the Legislative Council meetings. And some of us would show up at 7:15 a.m. The setup would be done. He got there at 6:45.
So of course this habit extended to typical office days. But he also arrived so early in part because that was the only time he could really find time to answer emails, or check his voicemail, or really just work on things he needed to. When everyone else shuffled in, usually one of their first stops was his office. Sometimes just to chat, or to go over a waiver, or brainstorm about a committee meeting.
His office had a perpetual open door. You could walk in there, and he'd put his pencil down from whatever he was working on — he had this thing with rulers and underlining — and he would give you his full attention.
"You could always go to him for help on questions," said longtime assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann, who worked with Paul for all 27 of the years he's been at CHSAA.
I can't even begin to remember the number of times I've walked into Paul's office to talk politics, the world, or ask him how he could possibly have parked his Jeep so terribly. I thoroughly enjoyed each moment like that, and others like them at lunch, or at state venues.
Look, he's not dying. I know those moments will continue, they just won't be in his office anymore.
But that's the point: We're going to miss him in that office when his retirement becomes official this weekend. Us, as a CHSAA staff. But also us, as a CHSAA membership. He's done a lot in his career.
The first time I met Paul was in March 2011. I was about a year into a job at the Denver Post covering high school sports. I did a short Q&A with him about television rights of the state championships, and other things.
I got to know him better over the course of the next two years, and eventually saw an opportunity at CHSAA to start a site that would promote high school activities.
Paul and I went to lunch in the Northfield area at a time when Northfield was literally being built. There was no one else in the restaurant.
I pitched him on the idea that would later become CHSAANow.com, and Paul was interested, but honest: "I need to see what our Board thinks," he said. I thought perhaps we would revisit the idea at a later time, but then a few months later at the Legislative Council meeting in April, he said that Harry Bull, then the Board president, gave a green light.
Paul offered me a job — this job — and I accepted.
It remains one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. And not because I had to leave the newspaper — no, I did enjoy that — but working for Paul at CHSAA has been so thoroughly rewarding and challenging.
I've told him this already, but I never really believed in the idea of mentorship when I was younger. I do now. I seek his guidance daily, for all kinds of things. And that will never stop.
His influence has pushed Colorado to the forefront nationally.
Things like the InsideOut Initiative, now growing nationally, started here because of the conditions he created.
He welcomed the You Can Play! initiative, which sought more inclusion for the LGBT+ community in high school activities, even though some schools opposed it. He did that because it helped kids.
"That was huge, and what that meant for inclusion, and what it meant for that community was huge," said Tom Robinson, who has been Paul's associate commissioner since 2014. "He left an indelible mark on our organization with gender equity and those kinds of things. And it's not that he was doing every single thing, but he was certainly in the loop and empowering it."
At the Equity Committee meeting in January, outgoing Board president Eddie Hartnett told Paul, "We are seen as one of the more progressive states, and it was because of your leadership that that happened."
He's part of a legacy of associate commissioners who became commissioners. That will continue when Rhonda Blanford-Green takes over his seat on July 1.
"Paul has taught me — through his words and his actions — that leadership success starts with honesty, integrity, and being frank, but also that it needs to be combined with compassion and common sense," Blanford-Green said. "Over the years, I have applied that in my leadership roles, and it has served me well.
"He's retiring," she added, "but he has a designated seat in my office. I think I can lure him in with food."
His 40 years of education experience shone through in the decisions he made (though, he still can't spell). He would often start sentences with, "Well, when I was in a school ..."
A former gymnastics coach, and gymnast himself, he understood the influence coaches can have on the life of a high school student.
Paul had this thing about him in meetings, big or otherwise, where he would always ask questions to see what others thought before he offered his own opinions.
"One of the greatest things about him is he doesn't micromanage," said assistant commissioner Jenn-Roberts Uhlig. "He allows you to fulfill a vision, allows you to make the decision to better your sports, and really encourages you to take things to a different level."
He was the first to back us is every situation.
"He empowered us," said assistant commissioner Bethany Brookens.
He also expected excellence out of each of us.
"He offered guidance, history, and the opportunity for his staff to succeed," said CHSAA assistant commissioner Bud Ozzello. "The high standards he placed on the staff and the Association has been a benchmark for changing the focus of our communities to honor the student by teaching life lessons through interscholastic competition."
Sometimes, his temper would flare up, his face would turn red. But that was part of his nature, something we also grew to love. At times when this happened, we would laugh, and his face would only grow more red.
"I love that he could get fired up and tell you what he thought, but he also made sure that that did not ruin the relationship between you and him," Borgmann said.
No one cared more about his employees. He'd always ask after our families, tell us to bring our kids into the office so he could spend the whole day playing with them. And he loved to share his family with us.
In the summers, we have an event where our families and the families of Board members eat dinner together. Paul would always sneak off with the kids to go buy them ice cream. I would say he will make a great grandparent one day, but he basically already is one to our kids.
"When I had just taken the job, I sold my Prius, so I needed a car for a month or so before I started work," Brookens said. "And he just let me use his car for as long as I needed. He's always thinking about other people before himself."
He loved spending time talking to everyone in the break room. In fact, one of our executive assistants, Whitney Webermeier, has a grand plan to name it after him, despite his protests.
Jenn moved into a new house last week. Guess who showed up to help?
After state championship events, Paul was the one who would take the volunteers out to dinner.
He treated all of CHSAA's activities the same. He was at every state championship event, music gala, every student leadership camp.
"He gave the same attention to a state wrestling champion as he did to a competitor in speech and debate or student leadership or music," Ozzello said.
When I first was hired at CHSAA, I spent the first year or so strictly working from home. I regret that, because it means I didn't get to spend more time in the office absorbing what I could from Paul.
Thank you, Paul, for pushing CHSAA to the forefront nationally. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your guidance.
Thank you for your friendship.