Award-winning Athletic Directors lead by example

By Maureen Callahan

The outstanding athletic department at Hinsdale Central (HC) is known throughout the state. A deep pool of talented athletes, led by a superior staff of dedicated coaches, deliver outstanding results year after year. Behind it are Athletic Director Dan Jones and Assistant Athletic Director Kelly Watson, the stewards of this superior program. The last seven years, Jones and Watson have been a dynamic duo, steering this outstanding group of coaches and student athletes. Next year will pose a challenge, as the retirement of Jones at the end of this schoolyear will upset the balance. There will be some big gym shoes to fill. Athletic Director Jones began his career close to three and a half decades ago as a science teacher at St. Mary Star of the Sea, a parochial school near Midway airport.

That year, he also coached freshman football at his alma mater, Oak Forest High School. In 1990, Jones moved west to DeKalb, where he taught middle and high school history and geography. He also coached all levels of football, wrestling and track and field. For seven years, he served as the DeKalb High School Athletic and Activity Director, a job he reluctantly accepted in 2005, as a favor to the school’s principal. Hesitant to leave the classroom, Jones said he would fill the role for the upcoming year. Now in his eighteenth year as an athletic director- the last ten of which at HC- Jones says he has loved athletic directing, but sometimes still misses teaching and coaching. “The time spent helping students reach their goals is very rewarding,” said Jones. “I only hope as an athletic director, I had the same positive effect on our athletes over the years, as I did in the classroom and on the playing field.” As a 2022 finalist for the National Athletic Director of the Year award, Jones should feel reassured that his efforts and encouragement will never be forgotten.

Jones has worked hard to set a tone of equality among all sports, providing whatever each player and coach needed to be successful. He considers the opportunity to see athletes compete in the sports they love as the best part of the job. He feels the thrill of victory, as well as the agony of defeat, for each player and coach in the athletic program. When asked what he will miss the most, the students and staff were paramount on the list. “Being a Red Devil is the best. This school is a special place,” Jones relayed. With an entire schoolyear left to go, retirement plans are still up in the air. “I have a lot left to do. I’ll focus on the future later. I’ve learned that long term plans change quickly,” Jones laughed. At Jones’ right hand is the 2022 recipient of the Assistant Athletic Director of the Year award, Kelly Watson. Jones nominated Watson for the award, stating that “Kelly goes above and beyond for her students and our programs.” With roots from close by, Watson grew up in Western Springs and attended Lyons Township High School, where she played varsity volleyball and basketball.

“Success has different forms for different people. We work hard in the classroom and do our best on the field to do things the right way. We call this Red Devil GRIT.”

A Division I scholarship allowed her the opportunity to play volleyball at Miami of Ohio. Watson believes her involvement in athletics at the collegiate level helped her learn valuable time management skills. “The mindfulness of keeping a schedule in order to get everything done is an important life skill,” she said. “Sports helped me learn to manage my life,” Watson believes. Watson came to HC in 2005. Her last thirteen years have been spent in a collaborative partnership with Jones, as mentors for the coaching staff and student athletes. “Dan Jones is an incredible mentor and great friend. Our coaching staff is among the best around and we enjoy working with them,” Watson stated. “Getting to know our athletes and seeing them succeed, as well as learn to handle adversity on and off the field of competition, is a very rewarding part of the job.” Over the years, Watson has transitioned from field to court, having coached girls basketball, girls and boys volleyball, softball and tennis. Currently, she coaches JV2 tennis and teaches adaptive PE for students with disabilities. She has also served as the head coach of the Special Olympics basketball team; a role Watson finds most rewarding. “Every moment spent with my Special Olympic athletes is the best part of my job. Their level of dedication and smiles of pride are incredible,” Watson relayed.

*Photos by 726 Visuals