Friday, November 24, 2017
Education

High school athletic director couple retire from their jobs at Countryside, Dixie Hollins after three decades

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When people ask them how many kids they have, Donna and Steve Blumer have a standard answer: between the two of them, about 4,000 a year.

The Blumers, the athletic coordinators of Dixie Hollins and Countryside High Schools respectively, are retiring after working in Pinellas County schools for the last 34 years, with a packed schedule shuttling between games and other events.

"We used to say on Monday mornings, 'Okay, well I'll see you Friday afternoon,' " Steve said. "But . . .

"Unless it was football season," Donna interjected. "Then it was, 'See you Saturday.' "

The two chuckled.

Recently, at the original Hooters location on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater the two have frequented since it opened in 1983, about 50 of their friends, former co-workers and athletic coordinators from other schools gathered to celebrate their retirement. The restaurant was like their Cheers, said Greg Zornes, assistant principal for athletics at Countryside, who worked with Steve and has known the couple for more than 13 years.

"That was the joke," Zornes said. "I don't know what they're going to talk about anymore. . . . This was pretty much their whole existence. It's what they talk about at the dinner table."

But it's not all bad, the Blumers said.

The couple met while working on their master's degrees in health and physical education in Missouri, got married and moved to the area in 1983.

"It's been great," Donna said. "It's sort of a double-check system, making sure we're always on task. We don't forget deadlines because there's two of us. We're always checking, 'Oh, did you do this? Did you do that?' Plus with the events we have to go to at nights, we understand the job so we understand what has to be done to make it work."

Sometimes their schools have played each other.

But are they competitive?

"Nah," they both said together.

"Earlier on, it was kind of a bigger deal," Steve said.

They would tease each other with "Oh we're going to beat you'' but at the actual game, both were usually too concerned with making sure the scoreboards were functional and lights were working.

When they started, Countryside was known for wrestling. Now, Dixie Hollins, is. Earlier, Countryside had weaker football teams, but now it's good.

"It kind of comes and goes," Steve said.

"Of course you always want your kids to win, but it's not going to cause a disagreement in our home life," Donna said.

Nick Grasso, retiring Pinellas County Schools athletics director, said the couple contributed much to the district. Donna was first hired as an athletic coordinator at the former Riviera Middle School, where she worked five years, and Steve was hired at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, where he worked for three years before working at Riviera for a year. In 1989, Donna left for Dixie Hollins and Steve left for Countryside. Donna served as the first female president of the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association in the late 1990s.

"They've been very loyal, committed people to all the kids of Pinellas County," he said. "They would do anything to help these students out during their high school years. . . . This particular job from the athletic standpoint is a very involved, committed job. There's long hours and a lot of responsibility. Both of those folks doing it at two separate high schools, for them to be able to coordinate their lives around it, is something."

Over the years, they've watched things change. What was once one sheet of paper with a doctor's initials okaying an athlete for sports, has turned into a 17-page packet and a pamphlet of rules has turned into a 300-page book, Steve said. A wall of his office used to be covered with handwritten phone numbers on pieces of paper, he said. Donna said her coaches were in shock the first time she texted them.

Still, they're the first people many of their athletic coordinator friends call.

"I said it's okay if you call me five or six times a day," Steve said he told his replacement at Countryside. Donna said she has been checking her email since she handed in her keys, leaving the school feeling naked without them.

He said he left an eight-page memo for his replacement. Donna's was 13.

"Was it legal pad size?" Steve asked her.

"Yeah!" she said. "But I write bigger than you."

The Blumers said they're most looking forward to being able to finally see each other more often.

"There's so much paper work we do," Steve said. "There's so much on your mind. To go home one day and say there's not really any pressing issues for awhile. We'll have things to do, but not have any pressing deadlines."

Donna was eligible three years earlier for retirement because of the years Steve worked in the private school system, but decided to wait.

"I would've been bored to tears if I retired first," she said. "There's only so many books you can read or lay out by the pool or take trips to the grocery store."

Donna said the two might actually consider going to watch sporting events for fun.

"We've always said let's go to a Bucs game," she said. "But that's kind of our job."

In their free time, they hope to travel the country more, something they've previously done during breaks from the academic year.

"We've had 30 years of practice for retirement," Steve said. "They're called summers. But it'll be nice when the summer . . ."

". . . doesn't end," Donna finished.

Contact Divya Kumar at dkumar@tampabay.com. Follow @divyadivyadivya.

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