When Mike Williams took over as Howard County's Coordinator of Athletics in 2005, he had a plan that extended well beyond the wins and losses that come on any field or court.
"My vision when I came in was to have an athletic program that was education-based," Williams said. "If what we do doesn't promote learning, it doesn't help our students become life-long learners and decent, participating citizens.
"I've always believed that if we promote learning and good citizenship along with what we do, we're going to have better people and we're going to win games anyway."
That foundation, which came from 38 years of teaching, coaching and his more recent role as the county's athletic coordinator, is what Williams will leave behind when he effectively steps down April 1. Over the next few weeks a search will be conducted to find his replacement.
For Williams, though, the decision to leave the county system that is so dear to him was a difficult one. Ultimately, the daily 110-mile round-trip commute from his home in Gettysburg, Pa. and a job opportunity there prompted the decision.
"I've accepted a job in the Gettysburg area school district," said Williams. "We've kind of been talking sporadically for the last couple of years. The offer this time was just too good to refuse. I'm going to miss terribly the many great people that have supported what I've done and worked with me. It was not an easy decision."
During Williams' tenure, he has helped commission several important endeavors. Among them is hiring athletic trainers into a full-time role and, more recently, the installation of turf fields at every county school, which will be completed over the next few years.
Williams was also instrumental in increasing concussion awareness through ImPACT, a computer-based testing program that alerts coaches and trainers to concussion symptoms.
He also helped launch the Allied Sports program that provides students with disabilities an alternative program when they weren't able to participate in traditional programs.
"I think that allied sports, along with the concussion program, is a crown jewel for the county," Williams said. "The state and some other school systems from around the country have modeled what they do after what we've started."
Williams' strong commitment to Howard County has not gone unnoticed.
"Mike has been a dynamic leader for the Howard County Schools," MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks said. "His innovation in areas like concussion management, heat acclimatization and athletic opportunities for disabled students has been a model for others across the state to follow.
"His forward thinking has kept the Howard County athletic program among the nationwide elite. His leadership and insight will be missed."
Last spring, the 12 public schools from around the county submitted an application for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administration Association (NIAAA) Quality Program Award to be assessed through 10 different categories including philosophy, risk management and innovation/creativity among others.
Each Athletic and Activities Manager of the 12 schools and several coaches, along with Williams and his staff, compiled and submitted 2,000 pages of documentation that filled an entire DVD.
It took over 650 hours to compile, but the result of the effort was being awarded the highest mark — Exemplary status with 90 percent or higher in each category — as an education-based athletic program.
"We were the first in the country to go through that assessment as a school system," Williams explained. "That really confirmed that we've been doing things the right way for our students and we've reached a level of excellence that is noteworthy."
It turns out, that of the 10 categories that were evaluated, there was not a single one that judged the on-field success of the programs. But just last fall, the county produced winners in eight of the 16 state championships and two more teams were state runners-up.
"We're all very proud that we're competitive and win. I've never coached to lose a game and I don't think any of our coaches do but we keep it in perspective," Williams said. "Winning is certainly not the only measure of what we do — it is a measure — but it's not the most important. We share with the coaches and parents that the number one reason why kids play sports or do any activity in high school is because it's fun."
In every regime change, the question is what will be the legacy left that is left behind?
"Oh that's easy. Mike's legacy is integrity," said Reservoir AAM Ken Klock. "He doesn't have an ego and everything that we've done in the county, we've done together as a team. He has a great temperament and does things the right way."
After nearly four decades of working in the county, there are many things that Williams will never forget.
"What I'll miss the most are the relationships that were developed," Williams said. "I'll miss the personal, professional and collegial relationships that have been so positive with so many, literally thousands of people, over the last 38 years. It's been wonderful.
"What success I've had has been in large part because of the great people I've been able to work with."