It seems only fitting that Madison Memorial High School athletic director Jeremy Schlitz would devote significant time in his life competing in sports, coaching and serving as an athletics administrator.
After all, Schlitz’s mother, Jody, went into labor with him while hitting warm-up shots to Schlitz’s father prior to a tennis tournament match Chuck Schlitz was about to play.
His parents were educators and his dad was the boys tennis coach and girls basketball coach at Wausau East, meaning Jeremy Schlitz was surrounded by athletics and academics. Education was the family business, the 40-year-old Schlitz said.
Schlitz began college in 1996 at UW-Madison believing he’d become an actuary. But through connections — including being acquainted with Steve Collins, who had taken a job at Madison Memorial after coaching at Wausau East — the door to opportunities at Memorial opened for Schlitz starting as a college sophomore. He graduated from UW in December 2000 with degrees in mathematics and education.
He’s been at Memorial since, teaching, coaching and for the past seven years, working as athletic director. He’s also become an influential figure in the area and the state.
Each of Madison’s four main high schools has an athletic director, with Schlitz serving as the school district’s athletic director. The district has about 7,200 students, with about 3,000 participating in at least one sport. Memorial has 2,036 students, with more than 1,000 participating in athletics, he said.
Schlitz also is president of the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association until November. He’s the co-chairman, with Whitehall Superintendent Mike Beighley, of the WIAA’s conference realignment task force that will shape the future of conferences for all sports excluding football in the state. And he’s part of strategic planning with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
What do you enjoy about your job as athletic director?
This is my presidential year for the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association and the first thing I talked about was why we do what we do. It’s really a job that is all about (being) in the competitive sphere. It’s never about winning and losing. So how do you measure success? That is what is really unique about being an AD.
What I love about it is creating opportunities for people to follow their passions — whether that is student-athletes or whether that is coaches. Sometimes it is helping people to understand what their passion is or how it can be perceived, whether that is people’s interactions with officials or advocating for their own perceptions or their own positions.
I really enjoy the idea of getting to present opportunities to people. They are choosing this privilege of being an athlete or coach and then back-educating them on how it is such an integral part of not only their school experience but their life experience.
That must be satisfying and gratifying when you see student-athletes accomplish that.
You may not have that day-to-day interaction with the student-athletes (that you do as a coach), but it is super-satisfying — to see another graduating class and those classes that graduated 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago coming back. That’s what unifies school communities.
Like any job, your job can be difficult. It has its challenges. How do you work through the issues? You have to deal with other administrators, schedules, parents, the weather, all sorts of things.
When I started, describing this job, I always used the term, “juggling sand.” There are so many pieces. Everybody has their passionate piece.
But it is really 1% of what my overall job is. Now that I’ve had some experience in it, you put it into a mud ball, if you will, or put it in some cans. It is easier to juggle three cans of full sand than all of the different grains.
That’s the hard part. How do you manage that and not let yourself get bogged down in the details? How do you let yourself not be stressed about the things that you can’t control?
I’m very fortunate my wife (Liz) is a school counselor. She’s very well-versed in mindfulness and those things, and shares with me those type of strategies. We have realized how parallel being an athletic director and being a school counselor is. You are really taking emotional experiences people are having and trying to help them work through it.
You mentioned you are president of the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association. What does that entail?
You become an interface between your athletic directors as colleagues and the WIAA in making sure the interests of the athletic directors are being heard by the WIAA and vice versa. … The other thing is putting on the conference (in November in Wisconsin Dells) for about 400 participants. I’m really looking forward to that. … My theme is “pursuing your passion” because that is what I get to do. I don’t really have a job. I get to pursue my passion.
You are co-chairman of the WIAA conference realignment task force. How did that come to be?
I think I’ve shown a propensity for enjoyment of systems work and being really intentional about the ways decisions are made. I think what they saw was the value of my varied experiences – going to high school in Wausau, coaching and teaching here in Madison and having a relatively expansive perspective from my family and close friends who are in some of the smallest school districts to some of our largest ones and being able to bring those perspectives to the table. … I was honored they were interested in having me chair that group.
What do you hope to accomplish on the conference realignment committee?
I really hope to provide the most possible opportunities for everybody to have a chance to participate and compete. … You always hear about the vocal minority, which is a good voice to hear, but (we want) to kind of balance that with the greater good. I am hoping people see that the work of the committee does that and serves everyone, as opposed to seeing specific, individual interests.
Is it exciting to be at the forefront of shaping conference realignment in the next year or three?
That is the exciting part, when you can innovate and do something that hasn’t been done before and see how it works, and fine-tune it and make it a better system. That is an exciting thing.
“I really hope to provide the most possible opportunities for everybody to have a chance to participate and compete.”