Bethel's Billy Strickland will be the next overseer of high school sports in Alaska, a position he hopes to use to spread the word about the benefits of participation and to make the Alaska School Activities Association as user-friendly and financially stable as possible.
Strickland, 49, will replace Gary Matthews as executive director of ASAA next spring, when Matthews retires.
ASAA didn't venture far to find a new boss. Strickland, who was born in King Salmon and moved to Bethel with his family at age 14, has been president of ASAA's board of directors for three years. He would have completed his six-year term as Region I's board representative at the end of next year.
"I immediately loved living in Bethel, and a big part of that was my participation in ASAA activities," Strickland said in a phone interview Friday. "I was on the basketball team, I sang in the choir and I was involved in student government."
He began his teaching career in Kipnuk. He has been Bethel's dean of students since 2001 and has worked in the Lower Kuskokwim School District for half of his life.
"Anchorage is the only city of any size I comfortably drive around in," he joked.
In a press release announcing Strickland's hiring, Colony athletic director and ASAA board member Mike Boyd said Strickland's rural background is a plus.
"The board feels that Billy is a great fit for the uniqueness and diversity of the member schools of Alaska," Boyd said. "He understands the special needs of the rural schools as well as the member schools on the road system."
Among Strickland's goals is to keep ASAA on an even keel financially. A nonprofit with an annual budget of $1.6 million and no state funding, ASAA was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2012 before $100,000 in cuts were made, Strickland said.
"We did it in such a way I don't think students had any lesser experience," he said. "We were real conscious of not making cuts students would notice, but we had some costs we could no longer cover that impacted fans and officials."
One consequence was the elimination of free parking at last season's state high school basketball tournaments at Sullivan Arena.
"That was a big cost to our rural fans," Strickland said. "Those are the kinds of things we'd like to fund with a sponsorship."
When courting potential sponsors, Strickland said he plans to champion the documented benefits of participation in high school activities.
"One of the greater indicators for success after high school and college is participation in (high school) activities," he said. "I want to promote that. At a time when budgets are being cut and so forth, I want everyone to understand you get a tremendous bang for your buck when it comes to high school activities.
"Give us a dime and we produce a dollar."
Strickland said he also will pay attention to customer service for the many entities ASAA deals with -- school districts, students, officials, coaches, sponsors, media, parents.
He also hopes to use ASAA's March Madness as a model for other championship events. He thinks March Madness, the week when the state basketball tournaments come to Anchorage, is one of Matthews' greatest legacies as ASAA's executive director.
"I would want my legacy to be that customer service was great, that the organization was in great financial state, and that other state tournaments had the similar buzz of March Madness," Strickland said.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG