Justin Dixson and his Decatur Central associates believed they had a darned good athletic department.
So they had it evaluated by an organization that would know: The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
According to the NIAAA, to be recognized as exemplary, Dixson must have presented evidence of existing policies, practices and procedures that meet suggested content rubrics (criteria) within the 10 Quality Program Assessment (QPA) categories.
“Any time you’re recognized, 1, by your peers, 2, by your overseeing body, it’s obviously humbling,” Dixson said.
“One of the refreshing things about going through the process, we had information that what we’re doing is good and on par with what is going on at that level.”
There is a practicality to all this. Dixson cited the recent NFL game in Cincinnati in which Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin nearly died of cardiac arrest.
“The thing that happened with Damar Hamlin a few weeks ago caused us to really reflect on how we would handle a situation like that,” he said. “All of the different categories listed – sports medicine, being one of them – I think our athletic trainers (Nicole DeStefano and Seth Ireland) were going through all of our emergency documents in preparation.”
And that’s just one department within the athletic department.
“That’s just the type of people we have in this office,” Dixson said. “When things come up, we use it as a learning experience. That’s really what the QPA was. In every single category, there were topics and things we discussed what we were doing or what we needed to do better.”
By “we,” Dixson means the entire staff: DeStefano, assistant athletic director Derrek Staton, Athletic Supervisor Nick Jenkins, Sports Performance Director Adam Lane, Athletic Secretary Joy Ayers, and those charged with athletic support: Erica Sanders, Kelly Tate and Jeana Jefferson.
“It’s a testament to the group of people we have who are dedicated to this,” Dixson continued.
Superintendent Dr. Matthew Prusiecki is not surprised by this latest success.
“Mr. Dixson says we have education-based athletics,” Prusiecki said. “He has a holistic approach for what we do to be tomorrow ready. That’s the goal of the school, in a district that serves 6,600 students.
“As Director of Athletics, he has worked hard for district alignment. He is working well with every school. “The proof is truly in the pudding. We’re Decatur proud.”
Having Dixson’s department judged by the NIAAA was the group’s latest project.
“It started in January last year,” Dixson said, “and we really worked all second semester and all summer. We basically took it as an audit of the athletic department and everything we do, to improve and change in all aspects of how we operate. To put that up against the national rubric was exciting.”
The Hawk administrators began their task after Dixson returned from the NIAAA’s national conference in Denver.
“The thought was to come home and reflect and really dive into it, make the commitment to go for it,” he said. “One of the refreshing things about going through the process, we had information that what we’re doing is good and on par with what is going on at that level. What we’re doing are the best practices.”
“We knew it was a lofty requirement. Again, that’s a tribute to a great group of people who are willing to sacrifice and work for the athletic department.
“Obviously, without this challenge of such a large project, we’re busy 24/7 as it is. That in itself was challenging, to still be able to operate the athletic department with all of our responsibilities, to find time to meet and collaborate on different topics and different subject areas – we just made it work.
“Everybody took responsibility of certain parts and I collaborated with those people individually, and we just worked through it.”
Of the exemplary award, Dixson said, “It’s surreal. It was a sigh of relief a little bit because that’s a lot of work. You’re excited because of the recognition. You’re excited because that box is checked. Also a sense of pride, because the process – working on all that together, reflecting on all that you do, improving everything that you do – is rewarding in itself.
“The honor was truly a team, team, team award.”
Taking a look back
By Steve Page
When Justin Dixson says Decatur Central is home to him, the Hawks’ Director of Athletics is not kidding.
“I was born and raised here, I was a graduate and I have coached here,” he said. “And now, I’m in charge of our athletic department. I think it is something I have a passion for and it’s something that I enjoy every day to try to improve.”
He seemingly has been doing that since Day One.
After graduating from DC in 2002, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Butler in 2006. Dixson was a football assistant at Warren Central, which won state championships in 2005 and 2006.
In 2009, he returned to Decatur Central and, at age 25, became the youngest coach to head a Class 5A program in Marion County. In seven seasons, he led the Hawks to a 42-30 record and Mid-State Conference championships in 2011 and 2014. He was named a 2014 Indiana All-Star Football Coach and the Marion County Coach of the Year in 2015.
In 2016, the school board of the MSD of Decatur Township approved Superintendent Dr. Matthew Prusiecki’s recommendation to hire Dixson as athletic director. As such, he is directing the program at a school which has more than 2,000 students and 22 athletic programs.
Dixson serves on the board of directors of the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. He’s also second vice president of the Indiana Football Coaches Association.
“The Double I Triple A is an important part of my professional growth, as the IFCA was as a football coach,” Dixson said. “Both organizations mean a lot to me professionally, but becoming the athletic director and then being able to network and collaborate with guys like Mike Mossbrucker (Mooresville) and Brian Avery (Speedway) and Paul Loggan (North Central) – guys across the city, guys across the county, the state, who have been veterans for a long time. I could use them as a sounding board. That they took time to help me was invaluable. So I’m in debt to that organization and those guys who helped me grow as an athletic director and administrator.
“I’ve always focused on just trying to be present where I’m at and do the best job I can with the current situations. Not that I don’t have goals or aspirations to do anything different, but I’m really happy serving Decatur Township in this role specifically.”