MONTGOMERY – Alabama High School Athletic Association Executive Director Steve Savarese announced plans to step down from the position he has held for the last 15 years effective July 1. He made the announcement at Wednesday’s annual Central Board of Control spring meeting.
Savarese did agree to remain in the position at the pleasure of the CBOC until his replacement has been hired and has had ample time to adjust to the position.
A very successful teacher, coach and administrator widely admired for his leadership skills, Mr. Savarese became just the fourth full-time Executive Director of the 100-year old organization in 2007. Cliff Harper became the first full-time executive director in 1948, serving until 1966. Herman L. “Bubba” Scott replaced Harper and served until 1991. Dan Washburn then served in the position from 1991 until 2007.
All three became leaders in the National Federation of High School Associations during their tenures. Savarese has played a key role nationally as well. He currently serves on the NFHS Board of Directors, was selected as the president-elect of that board for the upcoming 2021-22 school year and also is currently serving as the chairman of the NFHS Network Board of Directors.
He said his 47 years as an educator has been a long and very positive journey.
“It’s now time for me to devote my time to my family,” he said. “I’ve had an awesome time, teaching, coaching, serving as an administrator, and most humbly serving as the Executive Director of the AHSAA. To follow icons such as Cliff Harper, Bubba Scott, and Dan Washburn has been the greatest honor of my life.
“Professionally, I would not change anything regarding my career. I genuinely feel as if I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve tried to approach each day knowing that nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without enthusiasm. God has truly blessed me.”
Central Board President Van Phillips admits his board faces a very difficult task ahead.
“We think Steve Savarese is the best at his position in the nation,” Phillips said. “But we will do our due diligence to find his replacement. The Central Board will begin immediately its search for the next executive director.
“First, as president of the Central Board of Control, I want to thank Steve Savarese personally and publicly for making this association the best high school athletic association in the nation. He is leaving big shoes to fill but all I can ask is for him not to go too far. We will always want and need his advice as we move forward.”
He said Savarese’s commitment to the AHSAA’s mission has kept the association moving forward.
“I want to express just how much we admire Steve Savarese and the work he has done protecting this association, constitution and by-laws always and standing tall for what is right. His positive impact has changed the lives for so many student-athletes and adults alike.
“We wish him the very best as he prepares for the next chapter of his life. We pray God will continue to bless him and his family.”
Savarese’s tenure has been highlighted by many major achievements including the introduction of the AHSAA’s widely acclaimed Revenue Share initiative that has provided more than $16,000,000 back to the member schools since 2010. His business acumen has put the AHSAA in its best financial shape in history.
Savarese also moved the Super 7 Football Championships to a rotating schedule between the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium and Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium by bringing the cities of Tuscaloosa/Northport and Auburn/Opelika together. Beginning next fall, Birmingham’s soon-to-be-completed Progressive Stadium will join the rotation. He also secured outstanding venues for all AHSAA sports championships – providing most positive life-long memories for the student-athletes, coaches, schools and communities.
Through his guidance, the AHSAA upgraded its technology through components such as C2C and DragonFly to successfully move the organization into the 21st Century. The online eligibility component is one of the most advanced in the nation. His vision led the AHSAA to be the first state association to join the NFHS Network. More than 300 of the member schools have joined the NFHS Network School Broadcast Program, More than 10,000 events will be livestreamed this school year by AHSAA member schools and its student broadcasters – and is generating much-needed revenue back to the member schools in the process.
Through his leadership, the AHSAA expanded its Medical Advisory Board and has become a leader in areas such as sportsmanship, health and safety and officiating. Alabama’s contact limitation guidelines for football has been a model for other state associations as well as the AHSAA’s pitch count limitations for baseball.
Savarese says the advancements have been a team effort.
“When I was hired, Bubba Scott and Dan Washburn sat me down and explained how important it was to consistently uphold member school bylaws,” said Savarese. “I hope I have lived up to their expectations and will leave this job never wavering from my duty or responsibility.
“I want to give special thanks to our staff and former staff members of the AHSAA. They truly are dedicated to the principle of educational athletics and student success. Thank you all for being wonderful child-centered servants.”
He thanked the Central Board for their confidence and support.
“To the Central Board of Control, thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime. Beginning with President Richard Robertson, and all the original board members (in 2007) who had confidence in me, and to our current board members under the leadership of President Van Phillips, thank you for your unwavering support but most of all, for your resolve in upholding our schools’ bylaws,” he said. “Every board member has unequivocally upheld the constitution and bylaws while providing more lifetime opportunities for our students. Your contributions to this 100-year-old Association are evident by the passion Alabamians have for high school athletics.”
He said the AHSAA’s democratic governing process set up in the original constitution in 1921 was visionary and still just as important as ever.
“To the legislative council, I implore you continue finding ways to enhance the student experience through interscholastic athletics while maintaining integrity and fairness,” he said. “You write the rules. Our students are counting on you.”
Savarese said he has so many others to thank for a career he has cherished.
“God has truly blessed me. I’ve treasured every professional opportunity granted to me, starting in Kansas - and in Alabama from Ensley, to Benjamin Russell, to Daphne and McGill-Toolen. I loved every school and community, but most importantly, my students. Students were the highlight of my career and those relationships remain honored and treasured. I know I am a better person because of everyone I was blessed to work with, faculty, administrators, and support staff -- particularly the young people.”
“The true servant in our family is my wife Beth,” Savarese said. “For 45 years she has sacrificed so I could chase my professional dreams. She is absolutely the best spouse I could ever ask for. She has shared this journey with me every step of the way – to 1000’s of events.
“Our children, now our grandchildren, unselfishly watched their father and grandfather spend most of his time with others -- now it’s their turn, for however as many days God will provide me.”
MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE AHSAA’S STEVE SAVARESE ERA
Most importantly, Savarese has tenaciously safeguarded the AHSAA Constitution and By-Laws and its democratic process established 100 years ago in 1921 from numerous assaults coming from outside sources wishing to exert personal influence to the implementation of those by-laws.
- The AHSAA is in the best financial shape of its 100-year history, currently keeping one year’s operating expenses in reserve as required by the Central Board of Control since 2007.
- Guiding the AHSAA through proration, the stock market crisis of 2008 and the COVID 19 Pandemic of 2020-21, his financial expertise has helped member schools thrive thanks to such innovative programs as the AHSAA Revenue Share program.
- AHSAA Revenue Sharing, that amount over one year in reserve, has been distributed to all member schools since being instituted for the first time following the 2009-10 school year. The total amount distributed to date reached approximately $16,000,000 through 2019-20 and is expected to pay out another $1.5 million plus for the 2020-21 school year bringing the total to $18.9 million overall despite the challenges of the COVID 19 Pandemic.
- In addition, schools will receive an additional $450,000 from the $1 added to the playoff tickets and paid for by the consumer which goes directly to the schools. The $1 was added originally to help the AHSAA pay off its mortgage debt on its new building constructed in the early 2000s. That dollar, plus some frugal refinancing of existing loans to a lower interest rate, helped the 20-year mortgage be paid off in less than five years.
- The AHSAA is the first and only NFHS member state association in the United States contributing an amount of this magnitude to its member schools.
- Stipends for school payouts from championship events have risen substantially since 2008 -- that additional payout to member schools in 2018-19 totaled approximately $3.6 million.
- Eliminated all entry fees in sports that charged admission.
- The playoff financial distribution has not changed in 25 plus years. Schools receive 78% of all revenue from championship events and AHSAA receives 22%.
- School membership dues have been waived annually since 1991 (approximately $80,000 per year savings totaling more than $1.2 million over the last 15 years and It literally costs AHSAA member schools nothing to be a member.
- In addition, all fees received from member school fines and ejections are given back to the schools with 60% distributed back to the schools in each district and the remaining 40% being placed in the AHSAA Revenue Share program.
- More than $100,000 annually has been saved each year due to out-sourcing print costs for championship programs. Even more has been saved due to providing AHSAA publications on-line.
- Championship Venues Provided for
- Student-Athletes’ Championship Experience
- Savarese moved the Super 7 football championships to Bryant-Denny Stadium and Jordan-Hare Stadium on a rotating basis in 2009 and added Birmingham’s new Progressive Stadium to be opened in 2021 into the mix.
- Working with cities across Alabama, expanded and secured outstanding neutral sites for the state playoff experience for member schools for all 26 championship sports -- and expanded the state playoffs to include regional tourneys in softball, volleyball, wrestling, swimming, cheer and bowling and section competition in outdoor track, golf and cross country.
- Added back the sport of Indoor Track in 2011 – providing important assistance for the City of Birmingham and the Birmingham CrossPlex indoor facility which has now become one of the top facilities in the nation.
- He also added the sport of bowling, E-sports, and with the latest announcement in early April – is partnering with the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL to add Girls’ Flag Football beginning in 2021-22.
- Working Special Olympics Alabama, established a Unified Sports Championship Flag Football Game for students with special needs and incorporated participation in other state championship events such as track and field, swimming and diving for these student-athletes.
- Oversaw the implementation of allowing home-schooled students become eligible to participate in AHSAA events at the public school serving where the students reside.
- Has continued the partnership with the Bryant-Jordan Student Scholarship program, which has distributed more than $11 million directly to students. The B-J Program is recognized as the best of its kind in the nation.
Sportsmanship, Health and Safety are Priorities
- Savarese established the AHSAA requirement of an annual Medical Advisory Board meeting conducted by the AHSAA Medical Advisory Board that must be attended by school principals and administrators.
- Expanded the AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee to include more doctors (8) and certified athletic trainers (3) and administrators (3)
- Required more health and safety courses for coaches’ certification than any state association in the NFHS –with his most recent recommendation including a new NFHS Mental Illness Course which helps coaches and administrators recognize symptoms of mental illness and provides resources on how to help.
- With the Medical Advisory Board’s input, AHSAA became one of the first states to develop concussion protocol and practice contact limitation regulations in the sport of football and pitch-count limitations in baseball – protocols that have been praised nationally and copied by many states.
- Through grants that became available, helped each member school secure automated external defibrillators (AED), and required schools to develop Emergency Action Plans for all sports and all sports venues.
- His commitment to sportsmanship and health and safety has resulted in the AHSAA’s certification requirements for coaches becoming one of the most stringent in the nation.
- All faculty and non-faculty coaches must complete all requirements of the Coaches’ Education Program before conducting practice with student-athletes. The courses include: Coaching Principles; Sports First Aid and Safety for Coaches; NFHS Sportsmanship; NFHS Concussion Course; NFHS Heat Acclimation Course; NFHS Sudden Cardiac Arrest Course; NFHS Mental Health and Illness Course; and must have an active CPR certification with AED Training.
- Along with former AHSAA Executive Director Dan Washburn, established sportsmanship protocols More than 500,000 student-athletes and 11,000 coaches have completed either the STAR Sportsmanship or NFHS Sportsmanship courses during his tenure, which has reduced fines and ejections considerably over the last 15 years.
- Under his watch, the AHSAA has managed to make eligible approximately 156,000 students annually for participation in 26 AHSAA sports and events with major increases in participation in in most sports.
- Has overseen the development of local, district and state training for contest officials and has established the current District Officials’ Coordinators program to have more oversight, mentoring and evaluation for contest officials.
- Was a leader in developing instant replay for high school football with DVSports. Alabama was the first state to implement instant replay for the regular season and championships. Now a number of other states are following Alabama’s lead and incorporating instant replay for its member schools.
Moved Technology and Professional Development into the 21st Century
- Savarese has overseen the advancement of technology transitioning member schools with the most up-to-date and state-of-the-art computer programming which has made student-eligibility data requirements simpler and more efficient, saving schools valuable time and finances.
- In addition to the programs instituted first by C2C and now by DragonFly that address student eligibility and school finances, online programs such as GoFAN ticketing and officials online payments are helping schools become more efficient, thus saving even more time and resources.
- Has expanded professional development and technology training of the AHSAA’s more than 11,000 coaches and administrators and 7,000 contest officials through important events such as the annual summer conference, principals and athletic directors conference in April and individual sports mini clinics held throughout the school year.
- In addition to that important training, he has helped bring the pay scale for officials up to par with the rest of the nation.
- With new Web platforms, AHSAA can give recognition of student-athletes and schools through its Social Media commitment.
- Through his commitment to being accessible to media, has been able to take the AHSAA’s message to the public effectively.
- Is working to develop a 24/7 AHSAA TV Network that will be easily accessible to the public.
Became National Leader in the NFHS and NFHS Network
- Savarese’s leadership in health, safety and finance has been praised nationally. He currently serves as the Section III member of the NFHS Board of Directors and was chosen by that board as its NFHS Board of Directors President-elect for 2021-22. He has served on various other key NFHS Committees – including the Finance Committee.
- Through his innovative leadership, the AHSAA was one of the first state associations to join the NFHS Network. He has served on the Board of Directors of the NFHS Network and currently serves as just the second chairman of the NFHS Network Board of Directors in the network’s history – seeing the Network go from a major financial deficit to profitability during his leadership.
- Encouraged the NFHS Network to provide special Pixellot cameras to participating schools, not only in Alabama but across the nation, which has provided opportunities for member schools to produce live-streaming events throughout the school year.
- That investment, worth approximately $3.2 million, proved vital and was never more important than in 2020-21 when COVID kept many fans at home.
- Currently 303 member schools have joined the NFHS Network through the School Broadcast Program – which will have generated close to $500,000 in revenue for those member schools by the end of this school year.
- Currently member schools rank eighth nationally this school year producing almost 10,000 live-streamed video events through the NFHS SBP up significantly (48.7%) from last year’s 4,529 events produced. This year’s total already surpasses the total from the previous four years combined.
- Savarese serves on the NFHS Football Summit and has been selected to serve on the USA Football/NFHS/ Football Congress.