Evans High School has a new athletic director - and it's a woman.
Gail Connor is following in her husband's footsteps: Jim Connor served as athletic director for 13 years before retiring in 2001. She replaces Lee Chomskis, who remains the school's head football coach.
"People are surprised," she said. "Usually, your head football coach is your athletic director, since football is the sport that makes the money for the other teams to use."
Although Mrs. Connor is Columbia County's first female high school athletic director, Ralph Swearngin, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, said it's not uncommon in Georgia.
"There are a surprising number of women; you just never hear about it. But we just don't track statistics like that," he said.
Mrs. Connor might be new to the job, but she's not new to Evans. She has coached Knights teams for 26 years.
After graduating with a bachelor of science degree in physical education from the University of Georgia, she began teaching at Evans Junior High School in 1976. In 1984, when the school was converted to a middle school and the ninth grade was moved into Evans High School, she moved, too.
At Evans High, she has coached softball, basketball and volleyball and now coaches the tennis team.
As athletic director, she will oversee 16 coaches and various fall, winter and spring sports. About 400 of the school's 1,700 students are involved in sports.
The school plans to start a new ninth grade football team this year so "kids can play against kids closer to their age," Mrs. Connor said.
"You want to get as many kids involved as you can," she said. "The (junior varsity) team is usually ninth- and 10th-graders, but there's a big difference in size from one grade to the next. If we have enough people, we will do a separate ninth-grade team to keep those kids more interested and give them more playing time."
Her goal as athletic director at Evans is pretty simple: Make the school's athletic program profitable.
"Our football gate drives the rest of our program; if we don't have a year where we are making much at the gate, everybody suffers," she said. "The athletic director's main goal is to have enough money to provide transportation, referees and equipment for all sports and remain in the black."
Last year was nothing short of catastrophic for the program.
Because of the school's size, the Georgia High School Athletic Association placed it in Region 4-AAAAA, where it competed with teams primarily in the Atlanta area. Late in the year, the school and the association reached a compromise that will allow Evans to play more games near home.
"The travel absolutely whipped us," she said. "We get to have two nonregion games this year - Greenbrier and Lakeside - which will help, and two small scrimmage games - an extra one of those - so hopefully we will get more people in the stands."
Having been Evans' athletic director, her husband wondered why she wanted the job, she said.
"He told me, 'I want you to know that is a thankless job,' since the athletic director hears all the complaints," she said. She's looking forward to the challenge, though.
"I'm so focused in on getting us out of debt," Mrs. Connor said. "I'm going to try every way in the world to get people in the stands. And I want people coaching the right things - people who know what they're coaching and can really teach the kids the right way."
"The athletic director's main goal is to have enough money to provide transportation, referees and equipment for all sports and remain in the black." - Gail Connor, the new athletic director at Evans High School
Gail Connor is the first female athletic director at a Columbia County high school. She joins a number of others in the state, including:
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.