Sarah Whaley has worked at Marana High School for four years, moving into her current role as dean of students and athletic director two years ago. She previously served as a girls basketball and volleyball coach at Marana. She previously worked as an English teacher and girls basketball and softball coach at Flowing Wells High School, as well as Phoenix’s Alhambra High School. Whaley was named the Division 5A Sonoran Region AD of the Year by the Arizona Interscholastic Association this year. She lives in town with her husband Scott and three children. Last week, Tucson Local Media sat down with Whaley to discuss her role at the school, how she enjoys working at MHS and some of the fine points that come with her role. This interview has been edited for clarity.
What do you enjoy most about your dual roles as dean of students and athletic director at Marana High School?
You know, I think having the opportunity to positively impact kids and their experiences here. I think in both roles I have opportunities every day to make connections with kids and to give them opportunities to be successful, and I think ultimately, for me, I’m a big believer in extracurriculars being a huge part of the overall high school experience, and for a lot of kids, that’s what helps them feel connected. It ties them in to their school. So I think, for me, having opportunities to give kids those chances or to be a part of those experiences for kids is really rewarding.
What do you think is behind the success you’ve had in the different athletic programs?
I think it’s a huge
reflection of the quality of coaches that we’ve been able to bring out here. They’ve done a really great job of I think changing the culture, and I think that’s also a huge testament to the quality of student athletes we have here. They work exceptionally hard. They bought in to what our coaches are asking them to do. They’ve been great, I think, ambassadors of Marana High School and our athletic department as a whole, but I really think at the end of the day, it comes down to the quality of coaches and the quality of student athletes we have here.
You were named the 5A South Region Athletic Director of the year by the AIA. What does an award like that mean to you?
You know, again, I think ultimately, it’s a reflection of how hard our coaches and our kids work. I think at the end of the day, they’re the ones out there performing at the end of the day, and they’re the ones leading our teams, and so I think it’s a great reflection of all the positive things we’ve got going on at Marana. You know, from strong principal support to coaches who really would do anything to help our kids be successful, to kids who dedicate a lot of time and a lot of effort to participate, so I really think it’s, again, a testament to our coaches and to our kids.
Q: What has been your main goal or focus in the two-plus years you’ve been in your current position?
I think really making Marana a desirable place for coaches and kids, and I think providing kids the best opportunities we can to be successful, and I’m a big believer that great coaches are a huge part of that. I think my love will always be coaching, and I think from an AD perspective, it’s similar to coaching just in now that I coach coaches, but same kind of theory. Like, you want to put our coaches in the best possible positions for them to be successful so that they can help our kids be successful, so I think that’s really been kind of the most rewarding part, and kind of the focus over the last two years is really making Marana a place that people want to be and want to be a part of.
Could you give a little status update as to what’s happening with replacing former football coach Andy Litten?
You know, our district has very standardized processes for hiring, and so we are following that standard process ... Rigorous selection process, and I think, like I said before, we have exceptional student athletes, and we’re confident that we’ll find an exceptional coach to lead them. I think Andy did a great job here.
What’s been the hallmark of your tenure in Marana? Has there been a singular moment that’s stood out, or has there been a collection of moments?
I think one thing that I’ve really liked seeing is our kids get recognized. You know, just you go back a handful of years and a lot of our student athletes weren’t getting recognized on any kind of postseason accolades or anything like that, and now it’s kind of become just the norm. You look at any postseason first, second teams on all the mentions, whether they’re all region, all state, and we’ve got kids in multiple sports getting that type of recognition. I mean, we had the volleyball player of the year, we had football player of the year, we had girls basketball player of the year, so I think that’s been something that’s been awesome to see is that the hard work that these kids have put in and being recognized for that, and similarly to our coaches as well.
What are some of the goals you hope to accomplish or some of the things you hope to achieve during your tenure in Marana?
I think just continue to build on a foundation of an expectation of success. I think for a long time there wasn’t that expectation in terms of nobody expected Marana to win anything, and I think now we compete, and we’re doing that here at a region level, a city level, and my hope is in the next year or two that we are doing that at a state level and getting our kids to opportunities to be in positions to compete for state championships and things like that.