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Leveling the playing field: Urhahn to lead state high school sporting association

Sunday, February 19, 2006

New executive director for Missouri State High School Activities Association to start duties on July 1.

Kerwin Urhahn is a Southeast Missouri man through and through.

Urhahn graduated from Oran High School, continued his education at Southeast Missouri State University, taught and coached at Bloomfield High School and is currently the superintendent of the Portageville School District.

In the fall, Urhahn, who serves on the board of directors for the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), was named executive director of MSHSAA after Becky Oakes announced her retirement. Urhahn will take over July 1.

While the experiences of living and working in Southeast Missouri will help shape Urhahn's point of view, his position at MSHSAA will require him to become familiar with and work closely with various parts of the state.

"I'm very honored they chose me for this position," Urhahn said. "Hopefully I can represent Southeast Missouri well. It's going to be a challenge to get to know the people from around the state, but it will be a good challenge for me."

Urhahn, 38, received a bachelor's degree from Southeast in 1990 and a master's degree from the university in 1996. He received an education specialist designation in 2000 from St. Louis University, where he has been pursuing an educational doctorate since 1998.

Superintendent's duties

In 2000, Urhahn became superintendent at Portageville. He serves on the Missouri Association of School Administrators state accountability committee and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education MSIP performance committee.

He served on the MSHSAA Southeast investigative committee from 1998 to 2001 and was elected as the Southeast representative on the MSHSAA board of directors in 2003.

"It's something I kind of stumbled into, being on the board of directors," Urhahn said. "I wasn't sure how all this [MSHSAA] worked until I got onto the board of directors."

With more than two years' experience on the board of directors, Urhahn has gotten a taste of the goings-on at the state level. The board of directors is made up of 10 members from districts across the state.

Urhahn said his time on the board has helped prepare him for his new position.

"It allows me to know what we have dealt with the last 2 1/2 years," he said. "It's allowed me to know the staff at the MSHSAA office. It's allowed me to get associated with people throughout the state.

"We have a very diverse state. There's a lot of different size schools, different views in Missouri. We have to make it so everyone can get along."

One thing Urhahn has plenty of experience with is high school sports in Missouri. At Oran he lettered in basketball and baseball. Once at Bloomfield, Urhahn coached four sports and was the athletic director. He became principal at Bloomfield in 1997.

Of the many issues Urhahn is interested in at the state level, the multiplier is one that sticks out. Currently in Missouri, private schools' enrollments are multiplied by 1.35. The multiplier was instituted starting in the 2002-2003 season by a vote of the member schools of MSHSAA. The multiplier boosted the enrollment numbers of private schools, placing them in higher classifications for state tournament purposes.

Urhahn said he did not necessarily see anything wrong with the current system but believes it is an issue which should be studied.

"I think one of the things we can't forget here at the state level is the multiplier," he said. "It's something that needs to be continually monitored."

Improving communications

Another area Urhahn will strive to improve at the state level is the communication between MSHSAA and its member schools. There are countless forms which must be sent from member schools to MSHSAA, and dialogue between MSHSAA and the schools is a year-round process.

"I think it's important schools feel they can approach me and discuss issues in their area," Urhahn said. "Basically I look at our role at the office to serve our membership."

Added Urhahn: "I think it's important we become more user-friendly. Maybe do more stuff online."

Part of Oakes' responsibilities as executive director included eligibility rulings, transfers, interpretation of the MSHSAA constitution and by-laws. Each year MSHSAA examines its by-laws and sometimes makes changes on its annual ballot.

Urhahn said one of his main goals is to make sure to always try to listen to the ideas of MSHSAA member schools, even if the ideas may not be feasible.

"I think the thing I'd like to see is we listen to what people have to say before we say no," Urhahn said. "I'd like to see us be a little more open."

Another issue Urhahn would like to see continue to progress is girls' participation. The participation numbers released by MSHSAA for the 2004-2005 school year showed girls are participating on a nearly even level with boys. Golf is the only sport where there is a significant difference between the number of boys and girls competing.

"I think that's important girls feel like they have the opportunity to be superstars as well," Urhahn said.

Urhahn's term as superintendent at Portageville will end June 31. While his new job will bring him north to Columbia, Urhahn is not about to forget Southeast Missouri.

"If there is anything I can do for Southeast Missouri I'll do my best to make sure it's voiced," Urhahn said. "I will listen to what they have to say and get it out there."

jjoffray@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 171


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