A Day In The Life: Brett Bardwell

The Herald | Wrangling Raider Nation

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Story by Travis David

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan

When Brett Bardwell first took over as the athletic director at his alma mater, he found himself roaming the halls of Southridge High School looking for something to do.

Fast forward 21 years, Brett is still roaming the halls as the athletic director, but it’s usually running from one place to the next.

“That first day, I really did not know what to do,” he said with a chuckle. “I would walk into the office and then just walk around wondering what the heck I should be doing.”

Now he has a system in place, which is a must with running successful athletic programs like the Raiders’ in addition to teaching one class each day. So what’s his secret?

“You have to surround yourself with great people,” the veteran teacher and athletic director stated. “You give them a job and just get out of their way.”

Although it’s plenty evident Brett has brought in successful people to help balance his job, his plate is plenty full.

None more than on Fridays in the fall and winter.

Brett helps his daughter, Laney, 10, pack her lunch before school. Brett says that one of the greatest challenges about being an athletic director is the hours he puts in. Some days he only sees his family in the morning before school or at night before bed. "That's kind of a price you pay but I really fight that and try not to let that happen too often. Family's got to come first but you gotta really work at it."

Each morning, Brett and wife, Sarah, jump-start the day by wrangling their two daughters, seventh-grader Ellie, 12, and fifth-grader Laney, 10.

With Ellie often not being an early riser and Laney going to elementary school in Holland, there’s normally very little time for a family breakfast.

“We usually just grab something on the go,” Brett said. “For me, it’s usually a Pop-Tart and coffee, while Ellie usually grabs a brownie.”

Living a short golf-cart drive to work (when it’s not his day to drop off Laney to catch the bus) helps get a long day started.

Brett typically arrives at the high school around 7:30 a.m. He has first period free as he scurries to plan for his psychology class, which commences during second period.

Crafts made by Brett's daughters, Laney, 10 and Ellie, 12, cover the walls in his office.

“It’s usually just checking emails when I first get into the office,” he said. “Then it’s getting prepared for class, which I love, because I have some great kids.

“Sometimes on a busy day like today (Friday, Sept. 6), it’s nice to have that second-period class where you can kind of forget about the stress of the AD duties.”

Brett teaches psychology to a group of seniors. Next semester he will teach sociology.

From the classroom, it is a quick trip to the football field to make sure the concessions are stocked for the football game in a few hours, and to also make sure the press box is in tip-top shape.

Check. And check. And it’s still only 10 o’clock.

After zipping back to the school in his personal golf cart from the field on the west side of campus, it’s now time to get ready for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event.

Brett helped organize and start the FCA chapter, which has been taken over by Shawn Schaeffer.

The guest speakers that Friday, to a group of nearly 200 students, are Washington residents Lorri and Steve Zeller — parents of the Zeller brothers who have starred in college and the NBA. Their message is about having good character and respecting others — a trait Brett lives by.

“That is something I learned from my dad — how to treat people,” Brett said. “He just had a knack for connecting with people, everybody.”

As does Brett. During the school day as kids roam the halls, going to wherever their schedule takes them, numerous students stop Brett for a word — each one greeted with a warm smile, a handshake and oftentimes, a little joke.

“There’s days where I don’t take a lunch,” Brett admitted.

That Friday was one of those days, but he did end up in the lunchroom — of the middle school.

Instead of him doing the greeting, oldest daughter Ellie greets her father with a hug at the lunch table.

Brett sits with his daughter, Ellie, 12, left, while she eats lunch with her friends at Southridge Middle School.

Quickly, Ellie’s friends surround the table, with Brett making a quick joke about what they have on their tray for lunch.

“I try and get down here once a week or so, even if it’s just for a couple minutes,” Brett said. “It’s just one of the perks of the job, and it makes putting in the long hours throughout the day a little more rewarding.”

Any successful athletic director has to be willing to wear numerous hats throughout the day, and for Brett, those hats know no limits — just like he learned from his father, who was Southridge’s athletic director for nearly 30 years.

Brett spends the next few hours preparing the Raiders’ turf field — something he helped implement 10 years ago — to get it in pristine shape, in addition to making sure the visitors’ and officials’ locker rooms are clean.

“It’s something I enjoy,” he said of getting everything prepared for gameday. “I am often out there singing, because it’s something I find relaxing in the middle of a busy day.”

Brett watches over the football game from the top of the press box after completing his to-do list. "You just hope that everything runs smooth during the game," he said. "Once the game is started and teams arrive — for me — that's when I'm really free to oversee it. In 21 years, that's something I never really get tired of is going to games."

Now, it’s game time, which can be a stressful time. But Brett has faith in his work and also the work of his helpers.

“When the game hits, you can just enjoy the work that’s been put in by everybody,” he said. “And then, after, hopefully a Raiders win, and everything going smooth, I turn everything off, head home and breathe a sigh of relief.”

A 1979 Southridge graduate, Brett is just as proud of the Raiders now as when he was suiting up for the football, basketball and baseball teams in his glory days.

“I loved being a Raider then, and I feel blessed to be back at Southridge, and love the tradition we have carried on.”


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