Game-Changer Alumni Profile – Shay Steele

Director of Athletics Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati, OH

What were you like in high school?  What sports did you participate in?

I guess I was pretty normal. I studied to get good grades and my friends, and I would challenge each other and say, ‘Who’s going to get a better score on this test?’. Overall, I was a B student, so not too bad. I was very big on doing my homework at school, so I didn’t have to do it at home. I love to tell the one PE teacher that I used to love, and why I still love him now is because he would let us just hang out in his office and sometimes, we would skip a class and do homework in his office.  Then, sport wise. I did volleyball and track.  Track was more my thing, and I was pretty good at it,  then I was fortunate enough to go to college for Track.

In what year did you start as an Assistant Athletic Director at Walnut Hills and what were your primary responsibilities?

I think it was 2016. At that point, my day to day was all about making sure things were running smoothly. There was a lot of scheduling.  We have this document called ‘a week at a glance’, so I was able to put that together, so we knew where everybody was at practices, games and also to be able to share with people internally like our coaches and staff at the school. Then, I would just make sure that things were up to date online, so making sure our Arbiter is up to date so that people, when they go to Arbiter-live, they can see what games we have, what’s actually going on. Also, there was a lot of bus communication making sure that teams had transportation.  I also did a lot with our booster passes stuff, so getting people to sign up for that which had a discounted rate for the whole season as well as other fundraisers for athletics. One of the things that I really enjoyed doing was building those relationships with the kids.  Even beyond just that first year, I realized how important it is to have good relationships with the kids.  They would come to me, sit and they’d gossip and when there were issues, they knew that they could come to me, and they would be comfortable telling me stuff.

In 2020, while you were in graduate school here at UC; you multitasked as a graduate student, Assistant Athletic Director as well as a single mother. What was that like balancing those demands and what did you learn about yourself?

Parent in SchoolUnfortunately, with COVID, we weren’t in the building. So, a lot of the work was at home online and at that point in time, we weren’t having games and we were completely shut down. So, no practices, no games, everything was just virtual. So, I think that helped initially with getting started for school because I could respond to emails, do some computer stuff and then switch to school, knock that out and then switch focus to the girls. Then, as we transitioned back in late 2020 back to being in person, it was just a lot of figuring out that balance. So, certain times during the day was dedicated towards office hours and focusing on work. Then, another portion of the day before games was ‘let’s knock out this reading or this assignment’ before switching over to games.   So, it really was just about balancing and figuring out what worked best for me and my family and our situation. Also, I had to be the leader and figure out the new protocols put in place due to COVID. Something was always changing, or in some instances, you just never knew. So, every day you just had to be ready to adjust and adapt and when we came back to school, being in the ECC Conference, we were the only school in our conference that wasn’t able to play games right off the bat, because CPS was still saying no, we need to do this, and we we’re looking at this data from the CDC and we’re trying to figure this out. So even that part was tough to navigate that first fall season, because everybody else around us were playing games and having practices and our kids were just at home doing nothing. But overall, I learned that I could adapt.  I can react and adjust on the fly. I was not necessarily always happy about having to do it because it was like ‘dang I’ve just done everything to get to this point, and now it’s all changing’.  But overall, I learned to adapt and adjust.

Your rise in education-based athletics has been outstanding.  A game changing move happened on July 1st, 2022, when you took over as the Director of Athletics at Walnut Hills High School.  What were your immediate/short term goals and what are some longer-term goals you have as you lead the athletic program?

I have been here at Walnut Hills for two athletic directors prior to me taking over.  Therefore, we had a lot of the day-to-day procedures in place. We were solid, so it wasn’t as if anything had to be changed right away. We did have a decent amount of turnover, so one of my Assistants, Mark Hermann, who also went through the Master’s program, he accepted a job at CPS. So, I had to find two new assistants. I didn’t really have time to worry about changing anything at that point because it was like ‘it’s not broke, don’t touch it and let’s get two new people in and teach them what to do’.

So, every time somebody asked me how it’s going? I felt overwhelmed because it was hard finding new people and teaching them how to do everything and just the chaos of turnover.  However, game-wise and operation-wise, everything was like smooth sailing because all of those procedures have already been in place. So, it happened without even really having to think about it, which was great, because then we can focus on other stuff.

Long term. We are kind of in a position of wanting to recognize our student athletes a little bit more so, we tried a ‘student athlete of the month’ thing and that didn’t go too well. Then, the district implemented one. So, we backed off on our own and then nominated people for the district one. Overall, we’ve got some ideas. I just talked to someone yesterday about doing something big for our seniors as they graduate. We are trying to get an athletic hall of fame started and recognize the student-athletes that we have now and then also recognize our history. One of the things that people always comment on when they come into our Gyms is that, if you go to most schools, you see lots of conference championship banners, and all this other stuff, and that’s something that we don’t have. Overall, it’s not that we don’t have conference champions, we just don’t have that kind of stuff currently on display, so no one knows about it.  So, over the last couple of weeks we’ve been going through old trophies and getting them in the trophy case and showcasing the accomplishments of the past. For example, I personally didn’t know we had state swimming as well as state tennis champions from the 1940’s.  That was news to me, so that’s definitely new to our kids and it just shows them like you can go to Walnut, which is this big, academically rigorous school and people. push academics, academics, academics, but you can also be as athletically successful too.  I think that’s one thing that Walnut right now doesn’t necessarily showcase to our kids.  It’s fun to show off that state championship, but we have kids here who aren’t necessarily state champs and overall, we are doing good things that should be recognized.

Within this realm of education-based athletics, who have been your role models?

I would say Josh Harden has been a good role model and mentor.  Josh has always been one of those people where I can just call him, and we’ll bounce ideas off of each other.   Then Rashawn Walton was also another role model. I would say he (Rayshawn) was probably the first person who ever really got me interested and I had no idea what I wanted to do, and he was like ‘come, coach, volleyball. We need a coach. Come help with track’, and then it turned into oh, hey, we need somebody to help with basketball games, and I need somebody to help with this, that and the other. I kind of just got roped into it and then after a while, I realized that this is where I want it to be and I wanted to be able to impact kids during those years where they’re still trying to figure that out.

Can you tell me about how you and your coaches act as role models for your student-athletes?

I know every one of our coaches personally and I genuinely like them all, so I think that helps. But I think the big thing is just showing them the impact of right from wrong.  So, if we lose a game, should I ( the coach) be upset that I lost, or should I be upset that I lost and channel that energy into something more positive, like finding the positives and correcting how we lost?  Or, just channeling that into next week’s workout and kind of shift the focus.  I think almost all of our coaches are very good about being respectful to officials and setting that expectation for our kids to be respectful to officials, like our boys’ basketball program. They used to dress up on game day, so that no hoodies were worn during the day, or just little things like that.  Whenever you are in this building or outside of this building, you want to reflect all of the best things about Walnut. So, we don’t want any of that negative stuff. I think our coaches do a great job of really pushing that message because they take pride in being here.  I think we’re fortunate to have coaches who love being here and they aren’t doing it for the money. They’re doing it because they love Walnut and the kids.

What are some of the initiatives you have for Walnut Hills Athletics in terms of either renovating sport facilities or possibly even constructing new sport facilities?

So, our alumni association has pretty much taken the lead with that.  We recently got our tennis courts domed in. That was a district-led initiative. But then, that opens up a new opportunity because now we can do tennis year-round. We can rent that facility out year-round and be able to make money off of it. There are pickle ball lines in place now, so that’s something that we’ve never had that we can also offer to our kids, but then, offer it to the community as well.   As far as growth is concerned, our Alumni are working to try to get us some baseball/softball facilities right now.  As far as short-term fixes are concerned, we don’t have too many and our facilities are about ten years old, so they’re still in pretty good shape. At some point in the future, we will need the track resurfaced and just some cosmetic things, but overall facility-wise, I think we are in a good place.

You are a significant member and leader of the Minority Athletic Directors Association or MADA for short.  What are the main goals and objectives of MADA and what kind of educational workshops and/or other types of opportunities come with being a member?

Initially, the main goal of M.A.D.A. was to provide a space for minority athletic directors.  More often than not, when you go to these (interscholastic athletics) conferences, it’s generally the same people winning awards, or it’s the same people in that space and its predominantly white men. So, first and foremost it was to create a space for non-white men to operate and to be able to come together and be able to bounce ideas off of each other and stuff like that based on our own unique challenges. Then, from there we have grown to tackling some other issues within athletic directing which aren’t necessarily just for minorities, but, for everybody. So, one of our pillars is scholarship. So, annually we raise funds, and we honor senior athletes in each district. So, we have six senior athletes receiving a scholarship towards school for next year.

For more information on M.A.D.A, click here.

Another pillar is a workshop piece. So, we do that annual workshop (at the University of Cincinnati) and that this past fall, we had our highest attended workshop ever at UC, which was great and that’s something we want to continue to do, because we’re growing in that regard. So, in this school year alone, we’ve been able to do one at Baldwin Wallace and one at Otterbein so we’re kind of expanding our range across the State.  The goal with that is to hit as many colleges as possible across the State of Ohio. So, we want to expand and get members to do them all over, so that we’re providing that insight to students who are coming into the field, that’s more real world as opposed to what you find in a textbook.  Overall, a textbook can’t have all the scenarios we experience. So, just being able to provide that kind of insight to the students is important. Then, we have a big mentorship pillar as well.  We also do community service. So, this year was our first year actually being in conjunction with the OIAAA (Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) and we did a toiletry drive.  So, all of the Athletic Directors who attended the conference, if they wanted to donate, they just brought their supplies, we collected them and then we donated them to a local shelter in Columbus.  Then in the Southwest District, we do our annual ‘Adopt a Family’ and do what we can around the community.

What advice would you offer to either undergraduate or graduate students as they matriculate through the Sport Administration Program?

While they’re in the program, I think the biggest thing would be to get out there and network. Networking is such an important piece of it.  Personally, I got to Walnut because the AD at the time knew me from when I was in high school, he was my AD in high school.  And, because I had that relationship with him, when Josh (Hardin) left, and that job became open, he reached out to me so we could have that conversation because I knew him.  So, the importance of networking and getting to know people. That’s one thing that I told Kayla (UCSPAD Student) one of her first days here, if you can get to know Dr. Kelley, and you can tap into that resource, that’s going to help you so much because he’s so well connected and that just helps her get to know so many more people.  So, I would say, the importance of networking.

birds eye view of students working at a round table with laptops and study materials
Need additional student resources?
Already an online student? UC Online has additional tips and tricks to ensure you are on the path to success. Check out our Student Resources section for what you need to maximize your learning.
Corporate Taxation professionals having a meeting
Helping You Build a Better Business Through Continuing Education
Employee recruitment and retention is crucial for the growth and profitability of an organization and should be a high priority for every business. At the University of Cincinnati Online, we want to help develop and retain your employees through our Business Partnership offering.

Sign up for updates from UC Online

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.