Former Woodlawn AD plans to keep growing Baltimore County sports

Some days, Mike Sye still leaves his office with his head spinning.

There's been so much to learn that Sye is still getting to know people and getting comfortable with procedures a year after he officially became coordinato of athletics for the Baltimore County Public Schools, the top job in running one of Maryland's — and one of the nation's — biggest scholastic sports programs. He oversees every aspect of competitive athletics in the county's 24 high schools.

Like his predecessor Ron Belinko, who retires Friday after 21 years, including ayear as a consultant to help Sye make the transition, Sye likes to be hands-on.

"If I showed you my calendar, it's all these blocks all over," Sye said. "I'm trying to make it out to these games and get to meet the coaches and know the coaches just so the people know I'm not just a guy who sits behind a desk and makes rules. I'm invested. I'm a product of the system. It's the system that helped raise me."

A Woodalwn graduate, Sye played football at Delaware and then returned home to coach football (for a year) and track at his alma mater. He led the Warriors to state titles in indoor and outdoor track. For 12 years, he was Woodlawn's athletic director.

Sye, 40, said while he will miss dealing directly with the athletes, the coordinator's job offered an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"I love Baltimore County, being a product of it," he said. "I was fortunate to have great coaches and mentors that helped me along the way and that I still talk to to this day, so I felt like it was my way of giving back to Woodlawn and this is my way of giving back to Baltimore County."

Sye shares much of Belinko's philosophy on high school sports, and Belinko has no doubt he will be successful.

"He understands Baltimore County and Mike has a passion like I do for public education and for Baltimore County in particular," Belinko said. "He's got a strong work ethic, good values and he had a positive experience with his coaches at Woodlawn High School."

Some of the challenges Sye faces are maintaining interest in sports such as field hockey and lacrosse at schools where teenagers have not been exposed to them at a younger age, managing a large program in a time of economic austerity and continuing to protect athletes' health with models for handling concussions and heat acclimatization.

One of Sye's main goals is to keep preaching that the athletics program is, first and foremost, educationally based. While the system needs coaches who are not teachers to maintain all of its teams, Sye would like to see more teacher-coaches.

"When you start hiring coaches that are outside the system, that's when you start to lose it a little bit, so we have to provide professional development for those that are outside [the schools], so they understand our philosophy," he said. "And we have to help those who are inside to become coaches, to become those role models who are in the building that the kids see every day, that the kids have constant contact with, that can be there when the kids need them and not just for practice."

Sye hopes to keep the sports program growing in Baltimore County and to build on what Belinko has accomplished, especially the allied sports program, which offers soccer, softball and bowling for students with disabilities to play beside their non-disabled peers.

While Sye said there are no plans to add new varsity sports across the board, there is still room for growth from an already impressive participation rate of 49 percent of high school students. Some schools will add sports that other schools already offer, and Sye sees the allied program as having the greatest potential for growth.

"For me, the state [of Baltimore County athletics] is good," Sye said. "I'm young age-wise compared to Ron, but I'm really old school in how I manage and lead, and I'm from the cloth that if it's not broke don't fix it, but at the same time, we're going to try to do things to keep up with the times. We're going to be innovative and out there and visible. Ron has left his legacy, and I tell everybody I can't be Ron, but I'll be the best Mike Sye I can be."

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