Q&A: Longtime athletic director Jim Horn discusses changes in sports, turf fields and retirement

Pat Stoetzer
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

Jim Horn’s four-decade career in education is in its final months.

The longtime teacher and athletic director at South Carroll High School is set to retire at the end of the school year. Horn is in his 19th year as South Carroll’s AD, and 37th overall. Horn, 59, is a Mount St. Mary’s University graduate who met his wife Ann at South Carroll in 1985 and sent his two children, Katelyn and Jimmy, out of district to the high school in Winfield. “Our family bleeds black and gold,” he said.

The Times caught up with Horn to discuss his professional life spent as an educator, coach, and administrator.

Q: What are your most memorable moments in your time as South Carroll’s athletic director?

A: From an athletic standpoint it would have to be state championships. This would include coaching several track athletes to state titles, and then as AD watching the 10 teams that have won state titles. Each of those was unique and special, but three really stand out to me.

Our 2002 baseball team, coached by George Richardson, won with a great combination of pitching and hitting. In 2007, our volleyball team really struggled near the end of the season. They pulled together before their last regular-season game and caught fire. And then to watch our field hockey team this year was really neat. You could tell from the first day of fall practice that they had a purpose, and then they just steamrolled through the playoffs.

But, probably my most memorable moments would be watching the 2000-01 basketball team with Josh Boone and Marshall Strickland. That was a show, every night. Packed houses everywhere they went. We sold out every night at home, and we sit around 1,800. They captured the interest of not only SC, but the entire area.

Q: How has sports changed over the last few decades?

A: The way the games are played and the involvement of adults. When I was growing up, in the summer we left the house right after breakfast and didn’t come home until dinner time. We would play baseball with ghost runners, balls wrapped in duct tape, splintered bats, whatever would allow us to play. Hours and hours of pick-up basketball games. Two-hand touch football. Even golfing for a dollar at the local course, as many holes as you could play.

Now it seems that everything has to be “organized” and I think this has made athletes a bit more structured. This has led to some incredible athletes, but what I think is lacking is spontaneity and creativity. I also played high school basketball and baseball, and I think my parents saw me play one game in each sport. It did not ruin my experience, and I did not feel that they were slighting me in any way. My mom was raising six kids and my dad had to put food on the table. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great how parents and grandparents support kids today. But I also think that sometimes it would be beneficial for the kids to just be allowed to play with no background noise. Just play.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you during the week?

A: There are no “typical” days in this job. I was just commenting to someone the other night that just when you think you have seen it all, something else happens that you’ve never seen! However, I try to have a routine. Generally I get up, read the paper, clean out my personal and work email accounts, exercise, and eat breakfast before heading to work. During the school hours I do a good bit of scheduling, communicating with my coaches and preparing for after-school activities — lining fields, setting up the fields, pulling out bleachers, setting up money boxes, or whatever is needed that day. I do try to take an hour for dinner, where I can just eat and do some light reading, before heading back to school.

Then it is just a matter of opening the gate, supervising the events, shooing everyone out after the game, cleaning up the facility and then depositing the gate. Most game days run about nine hours, except football days, which can be up to 14. There are some long days and weeks, but when you are doing what you love, it really is not that difficult.

Q: Do you think we’ll see a day when Carroll has turf fields?

A: I think we will eventually, but not very soon. I know the politically correct answer is to put one at the old North Carroll building, but it is not the correct move. The county should start by putting one in a centrally located area — Westminster. That way everyone can benefit from the availability. It would be great to see one at every school and have several rec areas (Krimgold Park would be awesome). But, this is a fiscally conservative county and there just are not the funds available for the fields.

I do believe that this past year has made more people aware of the need for them. There were over 500 athletic events postponed due to weather since last spring. I got to the point that I was spending more nights at Western Regional Park in Howard County than I was at South Carroll. That is a shame, and should not be happening. Proper organization of turf fields could be a real money maker for the county, so I hope we begin to get some. Sooner or later, we will get some turf.

Q: What’s next for you, and was it a difficult decision to retire?

A: What’s next is about six months of nothing but golf and travel with my wife. I really want to concentrate on improving my golf game and fortunately Piney Branch has just completed a short game practice area, which I intend to put to good use. My wife and I plan on traveling to San Francisco over the summer to visit my sister ... to North Carolina in the fall to visit her father [and] we also, over time, want to go to New England, the Grand Canyon and possibly over to England and Ireland.

Eventually, after that initial six months, I will look for some type of work, paid or volunteer, that will not make me need to be tied to a computer or phone. It is tough leaving a place you love. I’ve spent more time at SC than anywhere else in my life. But, I also knew it was time. I’ll actually retire with more years at SC than any other former retiree. That record won’t last long though, as both Debbie Eaton and Jim Carnes have more years in than me, but neither has retired yet! My health is good and I wanted to get out while I could still enjoy my time.

I’ve also been getting more and more suggestions on things that we could incorporate at SC from a lot of the young coaches. That made me realize that it might be time to start letting those kids begin to shape the course of the athletic department in directions that I might not feel completely comfortable with. And by that, I don’t mean things that I think are not good for the program, but things that I just don’t have the expertise or maybe the energy to accomplish.

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