By Josh Sigler
BUNKER HILL — Even after 27 years in the classroom of Maconaquah schools, nothing could have prepared athletic director John Off for what he would face during the spring of 2011.
Just as spring sports were getting off the ground, a tornado swept through southern Miami County. Maconaquah's school complex was in the direct path and wasn't spared.
The school's athletic facilities sustained about $150,000 worth of damage. The football scoreboard was ripped off its girders and flung onto the home straightaway of the track encircling the field. Fencing around the football field and tennis courts were uprooted and tossed about. A set of dugouts at the softball and baseball complex were destroyed. Bleachers for both fields were mangled.
All but two baseball and softball games were played on the road that year while repairs were made. Off is glad to have it all behind him.
"We’re back up and running 100 percent," he said. "But, it’s always a scary thing when you see the wind and sideways rain. You know that the school, with nothing else around it — we sustain some damage almost every time. But, the 2011 storms left a mark. The insurance companies were great. The adjusters were out there the next day, and we moved as fast as we could, but it happened at such a time where we only got to play the two home games. All of the [Mid-Indiana Conference] schools and other schools we played were very kind to step up and host. It really helped us out of a real jam there."
Off enters this his seventh school year as AD this fall after a lengthy career in the classroom in the same school system. He's seen a lot of people and situations come and go, but he's also left an indelible footprint on Braves athletics, a talking point he takes pride in.
"Overall, I'm very pleased," he explained. "I've only been the AD for six years, but with the help of the administration, we've been able to upgrade every facility in the way of a scoreboard or bleachers or updating the press box. So, I'm very happy with that."
One of the things Off has witnessed firsthand over his time in the school system is the way Grissom Air Reserve Base downsizing, from 1994 to 1997, affected the school system from both an academic and athletic standpoint.
Grissom kept the student population much more diverse than it is today. The children whose parents wound up serving at Grissom were much more "worldly," meaning most of them had been traveling a large portion of their lives as their parents were stationed in different corners of the globe.
"Those kids had been exposed to a lot of things that kids around here weren't exposed to," Off said. "We compared it to opening presents at Christmas. You could have two all-conference running backs in the same year because their families had transferred into the base. On your first day of school, you never knew what you were going to get walking in the doorway. That was a nice surprise, to see some athletes walk in here. It definitely changed our dynamic some with the closing of the base."
On all fronts, Maconaquah athletics seems well-prepared to tackle the challenges of the future. On the current docket of issues for Off is finding a way to install fences or barriers between the outdoor athletic facilities and the general public, specifically the roads the school sits on, 50 South and 800 East.
"All our soccer fields are wide open, and so are our softball and baseball fields," Off said. "We just have to do a better job of policing the area, both with admissions and also with security. The administration has installed security cameras, and we now have a resource officer that patrols the area during the day. So, we're doing what we can to prevent [trespassing, etc.], and luckily we haven't had any type of damage of that kind.
"A lot of our work now is just maintenance," Off continued. "Now that we have the facilities the way we like, we just need to make sure they're being maintained and kept up to where they last a long time. The one pressing issue is the tennis courts and the [football] press box. But, in all other respects, I think our facilities are at least as good as the other schools around us."
Much like county-rival Peru, Maconaquah has been contacted by other athletic conferences in recent years to gauge its interest in leaving the MIC. Off said Maconaquah has been a member of the MIC since its inception in 1964, and couldn't see a scenario where the school would seriously consider leaving the league.
"We have been courted by some other conferences," he said. "In fact, I can't think of very many schools who haven't been courted by some other conferences. But, we like our core group. Hamilton Heights and Peru are our two newest members, but the four Howard County schools and us have pretty much been in the MIC for a really long time. So, it would take a lot for us to move out of the MIC. We like it there and have some natural rivalries there, which bring in really good gate [receipts] and good revenue."
Peru previously had been a member of the Central Indiana Conference, but made the move to the MIC with Hamilton Heights in the late 1990s. Already a major county rival with Maconaquah, the addition of Peru has ramped up the hoopla of the annual matchups between the schools over the last 15 years.
"Any time Maconaquah plays Peru, it always amps up the excitement and benefits both schools monetarily, too," Off said. "And, the fact that we know we're going to play them in every sport just adds to it. It's a friendly rivalry. I think we have a healthy respect for each other, and I think that's helped both of our athletics programs, because we measure ourselves against the other schools in the county."