They come from different backgrounds, but they find themselves in the same position. Bob Pegram was a wildlife biologist who always loved sports. Aaron Kivette just wanted to be a coach at some point. Carmen Wood was a manager on the UNC women’s basketball team. But here, in the 2019-2020 school year, they serve as either the primary or assistant athletic director at their respective schools in Chatham County.
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They come from different backgrounds, but they find themselves in the same position.
Bob Pegram was a wildlife biologist who always loved sports. Aaron Kivette just wanted to be a coach at some point. Carmen Wood was a manager on the UNC women’s basketball team.
But here, in the 2019-2020 school year, they serve as either the primary or assistant athletic director at their respective schools in Chatham County.
While the athletes and coaches get quoted and photographed and noted for their contributions to prep sports in Chatham County and around America, athletic directors serve an important role in making middle school and high school athletics happen. Chatham Central High School’s Pegram, Woods Charter School’s Wood and Margaret B. Pollard Middle School’s Kivette are no different.
‘I thought I would die giving up football’
Yes, Bob Pegram’s first career was as a wildlife biologist, but his interest in sports started before he worked for a living.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach,” he said. “Even when I was in high school, I thought it was a pretty cool job.”
After seven years in the U.S. Army, getting a fisheries and wildlife management degree from N.C. state and working as an endangered species biologist for another seven years, he wanted something different. Being with family, he said, was “way more important than chasing the dollar,” and his job kept him away for all but two weeks of the month.
So he got a job teaching and coaching. He worked and coached football at Lee County High School in Sanford before moving to Chatham Central in 2006. He taught science and PE while coaching football, but a year after becoming the athletic director in the 2014-2015 school year, he dropped coaching.
“I didn’t do very well at either one of them that year,” Pegram said. “I thought I would die, giving up football, you know? But I didn’t.”
His normal day involves coming to school and “putting out any fires that erupted overnight.” He teaches his 9:40 a.m. physical education class, then gets back into AD work.
“I’m either doing something with scheduling, ordering stuff for the concession stands, going to pick up stuff for the concession stand, mowing grass. fixing something that broke, you know, some type of athletic equipment, being a paint sprayer or whatever, you know, just doing something,” he said. “There is no 9-to-5 cookie cutter assembly line job here.”
Of the three ADs featured in this story, Pegram is the only one at a school with football. He was used to the late Friday nights while coaching, but this new job provided a different agenda. He checks in on food prep in the concession stands, getting the ticket gate set up, lights turned on, even standing in as a certified first responder sometimes that can help with minor medical issues.
All that while overseeing the school’s coaches, making sure students stay academically eligible — more on that in a bit — and enjoying the sports themselves.
“They’ve always said that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life, you know, and that’s kind of like what it is,” Pegram said. “I used to keep up with the number of hours of worked a day and it kind of got depressing. I quit doing math because I do love it.”
‘We do put academics No. 1’
Aaron Kivette liked coaching, but he stumbled into the athletic director role kind of by accident.
“I just wanted to teach and coach and then it just kind of fell in line,” says Kivette, the athletic director at Pollard Middle School. “I had coached for maybe eight or nine years and then our previous athletic director left and I just kind of took that position.”
Like Pegram, he also teaches physical education classes for Pollard’s students, but his favorite part of his job is keeping Pollard’s athletics program going. Making sure that everything gets done on top of teaching classes is “tough” sometimes, he said.
“Being a PE teacher, I might not have as many responsibilities in the classroom as a normal classroom teacher, but I still have to do lesson plans and all that stuff,” Kivette said. “So I do that and then my first priority is making sure everything is ready to go for whatever is going on that day for athletics. If we’ve got a home game, I’ve got to get ready for that. And then after I get home, I take care of other things if I need to if I didn’t get it done in planning.”
One of the athletic director’s primary responsibilities is making sure students are academically eligible to play. Kivette says students at Pollard must maintain a C average or above at all times. So every week, he gets a readout of students’ grades and checks to make sure athletes are staying there.
“If they drop below that, we pull them off the team for a little while,” he said. “Allow them to get help from teachers, whatever they need to get to get that grade back up. And then as soon as their grade comes back up, they’re back on the team. So we do put academics No. 1 and I think our student-athletes know that.”
At a middle school level, he said, there’s not as much focus on winning as there might be at the high school level. It’s more about helping students and providing an educational environment.
“Now we’re going to do everything we can, our coaches will do everything they can to win, “ Kivette said, “but they’re not going to do it at the expense of either behavior or academics. And so it’s not like high school or college sometimes where you look at win-loss record, and you want to determine whether the coach needs to move on or not.”
‘Relationships are important’
Carmen Wood is the assistant athletic director at Woods Charter School, and one of her roles is being the liaison between the middle and high school sports programs.
But her background is unlike the other ADs we met — she was a manager for the women’s basketball team at UNC during her college days. That means she helped with logistics of the team’s activities, was at every practice and sat on the bench at game days. Wood said she carries that experience into her current role.
“Relationships are important,” she said. “Just building that up together with the players and anyone that comes into your vicinity. That’s what’s going to last the longest.”
Wood teaches physical education for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, coaches middle school girls’ basketball and is an assistant coach for varsity girls’ basketball. So unlike most people at Woods Charter, she can play a role in a student’s life from day one until graduation.
Wood does a lot of the things that Pegram and Kivette do — make sure fields are ready, coordinate with coaches, check grades. She’s a basketball fanatic — she does help coach both of Woods’ girls teams — but she’s enjoyed getting to witness other sports and even found one she likes.
“I really like our soccer teams,” she said. “The coaches create this environment where you have this outlet and it’s about having a good time developing yourself as a kid and as a person, but also driving you to compete. I never really liked soccer because of how much running it was, right? But I came here and I watch them.”
Since she gets to work with elementary students, and she loves sports, she gets to try to influence them to consider athletics in the future.
“A lot of them don’t play sports, but part of my curriculum is like, ‘we’re at least going to try them so that as you develop and you learn how to do things, you might be a great pitcher and have no idea,’” Wood said. “So we’re going to try you know, my thing I’m doing baseball, but you know, just working on throwing and catching that opens up their mind to something.”
‘This whole other outlet’
Wood, Kivette and Pegram all spoke about the role that sports plays in their schools and communities, and while there are similarities, each has its own level of uniqueness.
Kivette’s Pollard has an after-school program for students that provides homework help and adult supervision between the final bell of the school day and opening tip, first pitch or kickoff so they can stay at school and stay for the game.
“I think our student body really loves our athletic program here,” he said. “You can tell from the amount of kids that come out for all the sports. I mean, for cross country, we probably had 100 and some runners this year (on the team).”
Wood views the sports teams at Woods Charter as an opportunity for students to find an outlet, something to maybe take their minds off of what’s bothering them for a bit.
“I think our academics can speak for themselves,” she said. “You’re a kid and you’re challenging yourself constantly, every day to grow and to learn and to especially academically be successful — that gets stressful. But now I have this other outlet that says, ‘You know, I can show myself in a whole other world.”
Chatham Central is one of the few if not the only show in town in Bear Creek, Pegram said, so the Bears’ games become a social event. Athletics at Chatham Central is not just sports, but a community centerpiece.
“A lot of the folks that attend our ball games buy sponsorships and they don’t even have kids in the school,” he said. “But they want to come watch the ballgame. They want to come see the people. It’s something to do. In the rural community, the school survives on the community. And I think the community survives on the school.”
And the athletic directors are the people that help make that happen.
Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.