For years, Chris Noll has preached we before me. It has been a big part in his construction of the athletic culture that stands today at Doherty High School.
Expectations are high for the athletes, both on the field and in the classroom.
Now Noll is taking on a greater challenge. Two weeks ago, he was named the Colorado Springs School District 11 athletic and activities director. Now he’s tasked with giving four high schools the devotion that he gave to Sparta.
His new role will be filled with learning curves and challenges, but after a conversation with Noll about expectations for himself and the schools, he seems more than up to the task.
Question: What’s the biggest challenge that you see when it comes to taking on an entire district rather than being in charge of a single athletic department?
Noll: Truly, finding the culture and how things work at every single school. That’s going to be the biggest challenge and once you figure that out, then you can start making some suggestions and start helping shape and mold and form (each athletic department).
Mitchell is going to be a complete rebuild with a brand new athletic director; the whole nine yards. It’s going to be getting in there and helping somebody. It’s assisting Coronado and Palmer with what they already have going and then helping (new Doherty AD) Stephanie (Leasure) get her feet under and figuring out what she wants to keep at Doherty and what she wants to change.
Ultimately though, figuring out the culture for all the buildings.
Q: Do you find that with a situation with Mitchell where it’s going to be a complete rebuild that your attention will be there more than the other schools because they have a foundation in place?
Noll: I do think that (at first) I’m going to spend more time at Mitchell and Doherty than I will at Coronado and Palmer.
At Doherty, it’s going to be mentoring and assisting Stephanie as she gets her feet underneath herself and learning the role of athletic director. The culture at Doherty is pretty much set. Everybody knows it’s a “we before me” thing and she is going to keep that. The coaches want to keep that and it’s just going to be taking it and running with it.
At Mitchell, there’s a brand new athletic director and at the end of the day, I think they’re looking to make some major changes and do some things, so I’m going to spend a lot of time there, not only helping a new athletic director that hasn’t been in that building, but helping a guy figure out how to be an AD. How to follow CHSAA rules, how to do all this stuff for CHSAA and those things.
I think I’ll be spending more time in those two schools, but I think I’m going to spend a lot of time in the schools in general. I’m committed to the schools as a part of this new job. I’m not a paper pusher, it’s just not who I am and not how I’m built. I’m a people-person so I need to get where the people are which is in the schools.
Q: I always hear people talk about getting into education to impact kids, but it always feels like the deeper they get into administration, the further away they get from the kids. You’re a very student-oriented guy so what are you going to do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Noll: That’s part of what I have to figure out. I’m a big student recognition person. I’m all about student recognition. Part of it is just getting with the kids and getting in the buildings.
We’re going to start a program where we recognize a male and female athlete of the month. One of the schools has already asked me to help with a leadership council and come in and work with the male population of that school in terms of their captains and student leaders.
Part of it is working with each athletic director and figuring out how I can be more involved and more active with their kids and how can I assist building what they’re trying to build with their kids.
Q: As a D11 alum, a former teacher, coach and athletic director and now the district athletic director, do you have a strong sense of what this district is about and what needs to happen for each school to be successful?
Noll: I do have a strong sense of it. You don’t truly understand exactly what’s going on until you get into the building and get your feet on the ground.
We played Coronado and Palmer in almost every sport and we play them twice in most sports so I have an idea of what’s going on in those schools, but part of our deal is that we have a brand new superintendent. I got a chance to sit down today with our new superintendent, Michael Thomas. I’m super excited to work for Michael Thomas.
He’s coming to us from Minnesota and he wants to hear our vision and he’s all about students and recognizing students and doing what’s best for students. I’m looking forward to that as well.
I am challenging myself and I have sold it to my district that I will be in buildings and not in Garry Barry Stadium.
Q: When you look at what you’ve done with the CHSAA Legislative Council, as a district AD you’re just as tied in to the Class 4A Colorado Springs Metro League as well as the 5A CSML. How will you make sure you’re acting in the interests of everyone and not one side over the other?
Noll: I think there’s an opportunity for your voice to be heard in different ways. It’s obvious that I have a different voice now. I just don’t speak on behalf of Sparta, but I speak on behalf of Colorado Springs School District 11.
I am no longer on the Legislative Council representing the 5A Colorado Springs Metro League. I think there’s a different way for my voice to be heard for our district. I’m the football (committee) chairperson.
When you serve as the chair of a committee like football you, in essence, are serving all of Colorado football and not just 5A.
I’m still on the basketball committee and recently, (commissioner) Rhonda Blanford-Green has asked me to serve on the handbook committee. That handbook committee is starting to get a bit of traction and it’s going to make it’s going make some policy and do some things that will help all schools.
My voice is different and I do represent four schools now, but I do think there’s an opportunity for your voice to be heard and you just have to go about it different.
Q: What are some of the great things going on at D11 that you’re going to be able to promote and put out there that maybe haven’t been as much in the spotlight in recent years?
Noll: I think that’s part of me going in and finding culture. When you look at the academic success that the Palmer teams have had, they won three or four academic team championships this year.
That’s a big deal.
I’m anxious to see what Coronado does now that they’re going from 5A to 4A because I think their success is going to go through the roof.
And when you look at Mitchell you have to look at what they’re doing. There’s an excitement that I’ve already felt from Mitchell. I sat in on an open community night where they selected their new athletic director. There’s an excitement there. The parents are excited. The coaches are excited. I attended a 7-on-7 (football) practice with Mitchell and met with their soccer coach. There’s an excitement there and you have to publicize that excitement.
Yesterday we established three social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I don’t know if it’s one big thing that I know of yet, but I know of a bunch of small, exciting things and positivity and being positive is contagious.
If you can bring energy and positive energy to things, that’s contagious and people get excited about that.
And then you have to push that out and there and let people know about that. Our first step is getting that social media up and running, you see what we’ve done with the DHS Athletics accounts.
It’s doing the small things that ultimately lead to big things.
Q: I know that by the time your career is over, you want to leave D11 in a better place than you found it. What is your vision for district athletics over the next five to 10 years?
Noll: My vision is to make sure all kids in District 11 have access and availability to compete. We have some things going right now that are going to help some of our lower socio-economic schools with their activity fees and transportation and things like that.
One of of my big visions is how do we get some of our lower socio-economic areas the ability to compete with club sports. How do we give those kids the access and ability to go compete at that and really just compete.
I want there to be a big push in terms of facilities. Our facilities are lacking. When you look at the number of 4A and 5A high schools throughout the state of Colorado, most of them have turf fields, synthetic tracks and good facilities. We’re behind the times in terms of some of our athletic facilities.
People understanding their “why.” I’m a firm believer in that if you do business the right way, meaning having high-energy and being unbelievably positive and knowing your “why.” Coaches need to know their “why” and if their “why” is to win games and championships, then they’ve lost out on the meaning of high school athletics.
Getting coaches in there to really focus on the why will have a significant impact in league standing and what we’re doing. The winning and all that will take care of itself.
I want to make sure that we have a systematic approach in recognizing our student-athletes. How do we recognize what has been there before us at District 11 and get it back into our schools and back into our communities and get some excitement built around that?
That’s something I want to do. District 11 athletics has always been something special. I’ve been a part of it since I was in kindergarten. I’m 46-years-old. I’ve been a part of District 11 for 41 years.
We have to get some of that old guard back in to connect with some of our new folks and reboot what we do and how we do it and why we do it.