High school athletics in Colorado entered a new chapter on July 1 as former Palisade athletic director and Aurora Public Schools district athletic director Mike Krueger began his tenure as the commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association.
Krueger succeeds Rhonda Blanford-Green who announced her retirement during the 2021-22 school year.
The new commissioner left the NFHS summer meetings in San Antonio so he can get into the office, roll up his sleeves and get to work.
He took a little time to talk to Colorado Preps about the task ahead of him and why this is a challenge he was excited to take on.
Colorado Preps: What’s the most exciting part of this job in your mind?
Mike Krueger: The opportunity to serve our state is so exciting. I believe so strongly in extracurricular and co-curricular programs, athletics, and activities and the opportunity to support and serve the schools, our communities, our athletic directors, our coaches, our community parents. It’s such a special opportunity. And it’s one that I don’t take likely, obviously. But I just feel really blessed to be in a position where I can serve and work alongside a great staff and do some great things for kids.
CP: What’s the biggest challenge you think you’re facing as you walk in the door as commissioner?
Krueger: Wow. I think the fact that we’re all coming out of a very difficult situation with the pandemic and kind of getting back, reconnecting, in a sense. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve really had to take care of things and shore things up in our individual communities. One of the things that makes athletics and activities so great is it’s a natural unifier. So, the biggest challenge I think, will be coming back in and just reconnecting with all of our membership and uniting around our shared purpose. It’s caused us to be so isolated. And I think reconnecting in that is going to be the big challenge, but also the big and great opportunity we have.
CP: COVID was obviously not friendly to the world of high school athletics. Do you think there are any lingering affects when it comes to what the association was and wasn’t allowed to do during the pandemic?
Krueger: I’ll tell you off the top, I have a background in mental health as a counselor. Right now, one of our biggest priorities will be to support athlete and coach mental health. The stakeholders in our school communities, our athletes, our student participants, have gone through – and we’ve gone through – some real difficult times where opportunities were taken away. We didn’t have the opportunities at times to just operate in the normalcy of what we were used to and friend groups and those peer-to-peer connections, whether that’s for our students or our coaches. Our mental health is something that’s very much at the top of our radar for making sure we provide support and guidance where needed along with resources and see what we can do there, paying particular attention to that. Also just always evaluating all our health and wellness policies and procedures and how we’re meeting the needs of our students and stakeholders, coaches and athletic directors, that’s going to be a big one.
CP: With staff members such as Bert Borgmann retiring and Tom Robinson passing away, you’re working with a group that’s greener than what previous commissioners have had coming in. Does that affect how you want to approach things early in your tenure?
Krueger: Right off the top, it’s important to note that you don’t just simply replace people like Bert Borgmann, Rhonda Blanford-Green and Tom Robinson. And right before that, a Bud Ozzello. These are people that have worked and served for so long and take so much wisdom with them when they leave the organization. But the nice thing is we still have connections with them. Obviously, with Tom’s passing, that was hard on all of us and you just don’t replace those people, but what you do is you find people that have the same type of servant leader hearts that those people served with.
And I’m over-the-top excited about the people that are joining our staff in John Sullivan and Michael Book and even some of our new executive assistants that are joining our team. It’s a family that is fully committed to serving our schools and our communities. I think we will hit the ground running. There’s no doubt all of us will have opportunities to learn and get better. But these are people that serve from the heart. And when you, when you find those type of people, that is the best way that we can recognize the work that was done by Tom and Rhonda and Bert to carry on the traditions and to take them and to continue to grow just like they did when they started.
CP: What would be your measurement of success after Year 1?
Krueger: That they renew my contract. I’m just kidding. I’ll be honest with you, as we look back over the year and at this time year, that our state feels connected. That we feel that we have a palpable sense of unifying around our shared purpose. I’m a big person on understanding our values and our why. Being able to look back at the course of the year and say that we really feel that sense of family, that sense of unification as a state.
We bring a lot of different backgrounds. Our state is very diverse in regionally from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains, from the Southwest corner to the Northeast corner, we bring a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, we have a shared purpose and a unified vision. And it’s those differences when we bring those perspectives, that’s what actually brings the strength to our organization. Respecting those differences and the strength there but understanding that our purpose is shared and it’s bigger than all of those differences. That’s, that’s when we look back and we have that real palpable sense that we’re doing some great things together as one family and to serve our students and our student participants. That’s going to be a great success.
CP: What would be your measurement of success after, say, Year 5?
Krueger: Being able to look back and look at how we’ve outlined some strategic priorities. Making sure that we have a strategic vision and that our financial situation is aligned with our strategic vision. We have been great stewards of the responsibilities that we retain. We’ve made some progress in how we apply our membership’s bylaws. We’ve looked at diversity equity and inclusion efforts.
Growing opportunity probably is the biggest one for me. Have we continued to grow opportunities for participation for student-athletes and student participants?
Sportsmanship efforts. Growing that ties directly into hoping in five years that the crisis we’re facing right now, with the shortage of officials and having a solid, growing pool of officials across all sports and all levels of sport that we have made great strides in growing that pool and, and training and education relative to officials. And that’ll be a big one.
Some of those things would be really adopting some of what we’re outlining right now and working on together as a staff and a membership in some of our strategic priorities, but being able to look back at those, those things, like the officials and providing opportunities and growing opportunities for kids.
CP: A few years ago, CHSAA added girls wrestling, boys volleyball and unified bowling as sanctioned sports. Is there room for more growth in that regard?
Krueger: Hands down. I think it’s one of our greatest responsibilities. How can we continue to grow opportunities? I’m a big proponent of adaptive sport, in growing our unified sports programs, working with Special Olympics Colorado. That will be something we look to do and continue to do to grow right out of the gates. We will continue to look at opportunities for both the boys and girls in sports that are new and upcoming and where we can grow opportunities and where we feel we can have some success in sanctioning new sports and activities. Without question. That opportunity is always is ever present, and we will continue to pursue it.
CP: You’ve spent some time on the Western Slope, what about that experience is going to help you?
Krueger: I’ve had the luxury of being at a more rural school where it’s smaller. I was president of the Western Slope League, which is one of the most diverse leagues in the entire state with schools ranging from (Class) 1A all the way up through 4A schools. You inherently understand the challenges and that are faced by the smaller schools and some of our smaller communities at the same time.
Right after that, I was able to come and serve Aurora Public Schools, which is one of our largest and most diverse school districts in Colorado, in an urban setting. I think it’s just experience and taking the opportunity to sit back and learn from that and have an ear of understanding and know some of those inherent challenges both ways. It’s simply that just when you’ve been there and you’ve done that, you’ve got that t-shirt in your closet, it allows you to listen with an informed perspective.
CP: In your mind, what makes a governing body such as CHSAA as strong as possible when it comes to the growth and development of high school students look to engage in either athletics or activities?
Krueger: A unified vision. Going back to that unified vision. Working tirelessly from a servant leader’s mentality, all of us we’re there to serve our membership. That means that we have to be working together to do that, to provide our kids with the greatest opportunities. We have to unite around that vision, be very in touch with what we value, with what our core values are with what our mission is. From that perspective, make sure that we’re all pulling in the same direction. There are going to be differences. We bring different perspectives, but it’s those perspectives that make us stronger at the end of the day, we’re still serving our students. And so, while respecting those differences, unifying around what our purpose and vision are.
CP: Is it going to feel different for you the first time you attend an event as the commissioner of the state association rather than as an athletic director?
Krueger: I would be not be honest if I didn’t tell you yes. In fact, today’s my first day and I haven’t even changed my voicemail yet. My wife says I can probably change my voicemail and let people know (about the job change). Yes. And I don’t even know what to say around that. I don’t know that I’ve completely, even today, wrapped my mind around that. All I know is that it’s an incredible platform to serve, and that’s the way I’m approaching it. I think people that know me and have been around me my entire career here in Colorado, know that (I think) the title is great, but the responsibility is greater. And I take that to heart. I’m so excited today, just to get started and get going.