BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Every athletic department needs one – a person who works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the school’s student-athletes have what it takes to be competitive. Kokomo High School has many such individuals, but Tom Hale seems to stand out while not standing out. He is a jack-of-all-trades who has mastered many – and he is more than willing to go the extra mile or work the extra hour for young Wildkats.
“He is one of those guys behind the scenes who makes this a first class program,” said Kokomo Athletic Director Jason Snyder. “Tom has been invaluable with the time he puts into the athletic department. I can’t say enough about Tom; he makes our programs work on so many levels.”
Hale wears many hats for the Wildkat athletic department, including serving as the school’s equipment manager, weight room monitor and athletic supervisor. And that is on top of his daily position as a Kokomo-Center Schools special education supervisor for kindergarten through eighth grades. As the Wildkat equipment manager, Hale stays on top of trends in style and safety while maintaining uniforms and equipment for 19 varsity athletic teams and a slate of junior varsity and freshman squads. By far, the toughest and most time consuming of those sports is the football program – so much so that he is on the sideline for every home and away varsity game.
“As the equipment manager, especially in the fall, he works to make sure our coaches and athletes are equipped, and equipped in a safe manner,” said Snyder. “He does an outstanding job with that.”
Hale said that while the football program takes a lot of time – for instance, he has to pre-soak 50-60 grass stained uniforms every Friday night before he goes home after the game – some sports are simple. As an example, he said cross country takes little more time than ensuring uniforms are ordered each year.
“Ninety-percent of the job is in the fall,” said Hale. “And the football team is the most time consuming with just the sheer number of uniforms and broken equipment. Man, I have tried to figure out how many jerseys I have hung up in the 11 years I have been the equipment manager. I took over for Tom Cooper, and we still soak those uniforms in the big barrels after every game to get the stains out and then hang them up after they are washed on Monday morning.”
From ordering basketballs and scorebooks to ensuring numbers are positioned correctly according to the rule book on each Kokomo High School uniform, Hale’s duties are year round. He explained that he needs to understand that girls and boys basketball use different sized basketballs and have specific lettering requirements on uniforms, shot puts are different weights, pole vaulters now have the option for helmets, and football safety standards are constantly evolving. Needless to say, he spends as much time in rulebooks as coaches.
“I try and make it where coaches don’t have to worry about the equipment; they can just coach,” said Hale. “They don’t need to worry about helmets or mouthpieces. When Mr. Snyder yells for a basketball net, I can tell him there is one in the vault. That is my goal.”
The daily life of Tom Hale
A typical day for Hale starts in his office in the athletic wing of Kokomo High School – an office he requested so he was close to the program. As a special education supervisor, he travels from school to school each day, covering seven elementary schools, two middle schools and the Lincoln building. Hale then returns to KHS to perform his equipment manager and weight room duties.
“They let me keep an office here (in Kokomo High School), so I start and end my day here, close to the weight room and my after school activities,” he said. “I actually come back to the building, run the weight room until 3:20 p.m., and then finish my administrative functions and paperwork. It is nice they let me do that.”
Starting the Western winning tradition
Hale arrived in Kokomo via Tri-Central High School, where he served as the athletic director and girls basketball coach. He is a local guy, having graduated from Western in 1974, where he played basketball and baseball. He matriculated at Indiana University and started his teaching career at Clinton Central High School.
“Being the AD and girls basketball coach for seven years started to wear me out, and I am sure you can ask Jason about that,” said Hale. “I had the opportunity to work with the special education program here in Kokomo, and have now been here 20-some years. (Superintendent) Jeff Hauswald has vision for the schools, and it is really neat to be here right now. It is a great time to be in Kokomo.”
While playing baseball for Duane Keisling at Western, he had the distinction of being on the 1974 Panther squad that won the school’s first baseball sectional title. Thirty-eight years later, the Panthers own the most sectional titles in Howard County history (15, Kokomo has 13) and were crowned the 2012 Class 3A state champions. He said he is proud of his connection with history.
A Wildkat weight room warrior
When you talk to Hale, you get a sense he thrives on and enjoys working with athletes in the weight room. He is certified in weight training through IU Kokomo, and when Wildkat student-athletes walk up the steps to one of the best high school weight room facilities in the state, they know the instruction will be top notch.
“I work in here nearly every day, sometimes on weekends, and even over Christmas break and during the summer,” said Hale. “It is a year-round position – I even help some of our former student-athletes who are in college during their off-time. Good kids come into the weight room because it is voluntary – no one forces them to play sports, they want to be in there working. They want to get better.”
Hale said he has watched weight training change from his days as an athlete at Western. When he graduated, the school only had a universal machine – and it was newly arrived on campus and state-of-the-art. Now, it is much more personalized with individual weights and tracking progress.
“So much has changed,” he said. “It used to be all about the bench press and strength, but now we look at each individual and what kind of muscles they have. It is so much more individualized to each athlete who walks in and what sport they play. Football players don’t need the same kind of weight training as tennis players – but they are both in the weight room preparing to be the best athlete they can be.”
He points to a pair of success stories as to the importance of the weight training at Kokomo High School.
“Brandon Johnson really bought into the weight room after his sophomore year,” said Hale, almost with a proud father look. “He was amazing and benched 405 pounds as a junior. He went to Butler to play football and said it was still like he was in high school. He then walked-on at Purdue and ended up getting a scholarship from Joe Tiller. And something clicked with Nolan Sanburn in the weight room; he bought into it and is now a professional baseball player after getting a scholarship to Arkansas.
“So the weight room works for the kids who really want to get after it, like Armon Bridgeforth last year. I don’t think you can really compete without the weight room – and that is why it is year round. These kids know so much about nutrition as they live, it is amazing. Kids are fortunate now, and they should take advantage of it.”
While wearing dual hats as the athletic director and girls basketball coach, Snyder doubly appreciates the weight room efforts of Hale.
“Daily, he works in the weight room with athletes who are not in season and continues to develop their strength,” said Snyder, a former Wildkat athlete himself. “He is not just unlocking the doors for the kids to come in and go crazy. He works on techniques and tries to find new workouts and routines for our student-athletes. He has a very good understanding of what athletes need for their sport and does a great job of helping them reach their goals. As a coach and former weight room monitor, I know how hard that is – it is extremely important for all of our athletes and all of our programs.”
And if you ask Snyder, Hale is not only all of the above, but he is also a mentor and close friend for the second-year athletic director. After all, Hale previously served in two positions that Snyder currently holds.
“For me, to be able to bounce ideas off him, he has been able to relate all of the different things he has been through – like playing a varsity football game on a 50-yard field after a bank of lights went out,” said Snyder. “He can just share those stories – we ride together to away football games and just talk and have a great time. He shares those experiences with this very young athletic director and I am appreciative.”
Tom Hale is a master of behind the scenes activities within the Wildkat athletic department. Every school needs someone like Tom Hale, but not many will be able to match the real Tom Hale – while a Panther at heart, he is a true Wildkat.