It came as a surprise to many when it was revealed on Tuesday that Patricia Oliver would no longer be serving as the athletic director at Culpeper High School.
The position was listed as a vacancy on Culpeper County Public Schools’ website on Tuesday, marking a rather unceremonious end to Oliver’s three-year tenure with the Blue Devils.
Nobody seems to want to talk about the circumstances surrounding Oliver’s departure. When contacted by The Free Lance-Star’s Taft Coghill Jr. by phone on Wednesday, Oliver simply stated, “I have no comment.” Culpeper principal Daniel Soderholm hasn’t been available for comment on the situation, though one has to wonder if his response would be eerily similar to Oliver’s.
Regardless of what led to the vacancy, Soderholm and the Culpeper administration now face an uphill battle in replacing Oliver, who commuted 45 minutes one way from her home in Stafford County to run the Blue Devils’ athletic program since accepting the position in June 2016. A good AD can be very hard to find due to a number of reasons, chief among them the amount of hours and dedication required to fulfill the responsibilities of the role.
“Being an [AD] isn’t for everybody,” said Mark Settle, who’s held the position for Eastern View since that school first opened in 2008. “It especially isn’t for younger individuals who are newly married or just starting a family, because everything takes a backseat to the demands of the job.”
Settle said a typical day for him during the school year starts early. He’s out of bed well before the sun rises, as he likes to get a head start on the wide range of tasks the position demands. Those responsibilities include preparing fields and scheduling officials for upcoming home games, coordinating activity buses and travel arrangements for practices and away games, managing the use of shared facilities for practices by multiple teams and working with other AD’s to schedule or reschedule games for a variety of reasons.
Of course, all of those things cover just a portion of the job’s many demands, which are all time-sensitive.
“You have to decide how your day is going to go and plan it out carefully, because if you fall behind you’re constantly going to be playing catch-up,” Settle said. “I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in this field, and we all agree that a 60-plus hour work week is what it takes to be successful. If you put things off or try and cut corners, that’s when something goes wrong. Once that happens, time will simply not allow you to make things up.”
With July arriving and fall sports practices just weeks away from starting, time is something that Culpeper does not have much of in this situation. Not only do Soderholm and Co. have to find a qualified successor to Oliver, but they must do so in an extremely short period of time.
Furthermore, Culpeper is moving from Class 3 to Class 4 under the VHSL’s newest realignment this fall. This means that, while some opponents the Blue Devils play in nondistrict competition will remain the same as they have in the recent past, they will be facing some less familiar dance partners during district action.
While Culpeper will still be a member of the Northwestern District, the district is split between Class 3 and Class 4 schools. As a Class 3 member in the past, the Blue Devils annually took on the likes of Brentsville, Manassas Park, Skyline, Warren County and William Monroe while Oliver was at the helm. Those schools have been replaced on most of Culpeper’s sports schedules by the Northwestern’s bigger schools: Fauquier, Kettle Run, Liberty-Bealeton, Handley, James Wood and Millbrook. While the first three on that list are all Fauquier County schools and thus there is some familiarity and close proximity between them and Culpeper, the latter three are all located more than an hour away in the Winchester area and are strange bedfellows for the Blue Devils. It would help greatly for Culpeper to have an experienced AD in place to help coordinate travel and address any potential hurdles that may arise with the new opponents.
The fact that the start of the fall sports season and all of the above is on the horizon makes Oliver’s departure even more puzzling. A graduate of Youngstown State University (OH) who holds two postgraduate degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, Oliver had experience as the head girls basketball coach and assistant AD at North Stafford prior to serving as the AD at Smithfield High School in Isle of Wight County from 2014-16.
Seemingly well-liked by Culpeper’s athletes, Oliver was nominated by two seniors for the “Most Spirited Athletic Director in the Country” award, where she was one of 10 finalists.
Settle said that whatever the circumstances surrounding Oliver’s situation are, it’s a shame to see her go.
“I’ve always been a fan of hers,” he proclaimed. “It’s just unfortunate, because it’s a tough position to fill and ultimately we all want Culpeper County’s young athletes to succeed regardless of whether we’re wearing an Eastern View cap or a Culpeper cap.”