New coaches, new rules, new challenges

Incoming KHS athletic director has a lot to contend with and big shoes to fill

John Venenga

John Venenga

KINGMAN - John Venenga's first official act as Kingman High School's new athletic director occurred weeks before he officially took over the job July 1.

He hired Ron Anthony as the new head boys' basketball coach.

Hiring coaches will be just one of the new challenges Venenga faces.

"We're in a transition period over the next few years as Lee Williams opens up and we start to lose students and we move to a different division," Venenga said. "We are hoping that Ron will keep us competitive as we move through that transition."

Anthony served as junior varsity coach under former head coach Dirk Walker, who left the district to take a job at Glendale Cactus High School.

Venenga takes over for Tim Casson, who will remain at the school as assistant principal with some added duties, including analyzing data from the school's test scores.

"I was ready to look at some new challenges," Casson said. "Being a former math teacher, I've always been intrigued with exploring data and testing and things like that and a lot of what I'm going to be doing is with things like that."

Casson has been with the district for 35 years and was a math teacher and baseball coach before serving as the school's athletic director for the past 14 years. During that time, the Bulldogs won the 2007 5A Division II boys' state golf championship and had some early success with football and girls basketball programs.

While the high point for Casson was the joy of watching kids have success in athletics, his lasting legacy could be the expansion of athletic facilities: A new football stadium, additional practice fields, eight tennis courts, two softball fields and a renovation of the baseball field.

"It's something that we needed for many years," Casson said. "It made our campus home for our programs - not just our athletic programs, but our daily P.E. activities and other activities and events that our school is able to hold, including our graduations."

Casson agrees that the biggest challenge facing KHS athletics in the next few years is having Lee Williams becoming a fully operational 9-12 high school.

After that, KHS is expected to drop from Division I in most sports to possibly a Division III school - a move that Casson feels is needed for the long-term success of the athletic programs.

"I think dropping down into lower divisions will help us get our feet on the ground," Casson said. "We've struggled in some of our programs to get our feet under us and probably football is the biggest example of that."

Although a drop in divisions means that KHS won't be up against some of the powerhouse schools in the state, Casson pointed out that playing smaller schools doesn't mean weak competition.

"I don't think we can go into it thinking that once we play smaller schools, we will be on easy street," Casson said. "I don't think that's going to be the case at all.

"There are a lot of fine programs across the state and even in our own area that are smaller. We will still have our challenges, but I do believe that it will give us a chance to get a fresh start."

Venenga has been with the district for the last 11 years, spending the last six years as assistant principal at White Cliffs Middle School.

His first order of business will be to make sure the school stays within the legal zone of the Arizona Interscholastic Association and to get up to speed on the AIA's rules and bylaws that come with having two high schools in the same town.

"There is a whole different set of rules that we have never had to worry about," Venenga said.

"We have boundary lines and people switching to our school. We have to make sure they live in our zone. That whole transition to two different high schools - it will be a very big challenge."

Other challenges for Venenga include keeping and attracting new quality coaches. He needs to fill open assistant football and boys' basketball coaching positions as well as head coaching spots in swimming, boys' soccer and boys' tennis.

"I think keeping quality coaches is a big challenge, and keeping the kids coming out is a big challenge," Venenga said. "Friday night for football games, and there are not a lot of kids on the sidelines. We have to get kids back interested in playing sports."

Venenga is also trying to get the community's entertainment dollar to go back into KHS athletics, perhaps via different ticket packages that will make it more economical to attend events.

One such idea is a pass for kids that costs $14 and is good for the entire year.

"I'm going to have to talk to Tim, talk to coaches and we have to make sure the younger kids come and watch and get them interested right away," Venenga said. "It can't just start at the high school. It has to start at the smaller levels."

While Venenga gets used to his new job as athletic director, there is one person he needs to find a replacement for before the first Bulldogs home football game - himself, as the public address announcer.

"It would be fun if I knew there would be no trouble ever and I didn't have to worry about it, but we all know that's not going to happen," Venenga said of the idea of still serving as the P.A announcer for football and boys' basketball.

As Venenga gets set to move into his new office, he's also very mindful of the person who held the position before him.

"It's going to be hard replacing Tim," Venenga said. "He's done such a great job all these years and he's kept this district and the school out of trouble.

"You don't go in there and replace him. You go in there and try and not to screw it up."