FHSAA Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing Announces Retirement

GAINESVILLE, FL (6/1/16) – After a remarkable eight-year run where he increased member school benefits by $1.5 million annually, Florida High School Athletic Association Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Dr. James “Roger” Dearing announced his retirement Wednesday morning.
Consistent with the FHSAA’s comprehensive succession plan, the organization’s Board of Directors will begin an extensive nationwide search immediately following the next board meeting, scheduled for June 13-14 in Gainesville. The new hire is expected to begin in spring 2017, at which point Dearing would leave his post.
“I have nothing but gratitude when I reflect on my tenure,” Dearing said. “This position was the epitome of shaping young lives and my goal from day one was to do just that. Our achievements during my time at the FHSAA were founded on a commitment to build leaders through teamwork, sportsmanship and citizenship, and I am very proud of what we accomplished.”
Prior to being voted into his current role on June 12, 2008, Dearing served the Sunshine State as a teacher, coach, athletic director, principal and superintendent. In his last stop before the FHSAA as Manatee County Superintendent, he served on the FHSAA Board of Directors from 2005-08. Investing years of hard work and dedication into his stakeholders, Dearing has grown membership, increased revenue and enhanced participation opportunities for student-athletes across the board.
Dearing arrived in Gainesville with a vision to replace membership fees with corporate sponsorships, merchandising and media contracts. He went to work immediately, saving membership more than $400,000 by reducing membership fees to just $25 per school. Beginning with the latest policy changes going into effect this coming year, he’s slashed sanction, classic and participation fees by more than $366,000. In terms of revenue share, the CEO has reduced the FHSAA’s cut by $160,000 and increased championship team payouts by $168,000. In total, member schools are $1.5 million better off annually than  before Dearing’s arrival.
The Executive Director also broadened the national visibility of the brand by partnering with Bright House Sports Network and the NFHS Network, making championships available worldwide. Thanks to Dearing, student-athlete participation in the FHSAA’s 32 sports has increased by 33 percent, with 141 teams and 294 individuals experiencing the feeling of winning a state championship.
Aside from on-field competition, Dearing made safety his top priority from the beginning. The Executive Director implemented a concussion policy during his tenure, including an action plan, return to play protocol and a mandated education for all student-athletes and coaches. In addition, he also created a heat acclimatization policy and a sudden cardiac arrest policy.
“I am forever thankful for the relentless effort my staff gave on a daily basis, the genuine servant nature of our Board members and the unparalleled work ethic of our stakeholders,” Dearing concluded. “Their focus on bettering the lives of thousands of young people never wavered and they should be commended for their efforts.”
The Florida High School Athletic Association supervises and regulates interscholastic athletic programs for high school students at member public, private and charter schools. The organization also recognizes and honors academic achievement among student-athletes at almost 800 middle, junior and senior high schools statewide. Headquartered in Gainesville, it is the official governing body for interscholastic athletics in Florida.
Dr. Dearing Q&A
What led to this decision?
Dr. Dearing: I have given almost half a century of my life to public service. After consulting with my family and my closest of friends, I feel it is in the best interest of all if I step aside and give someone else the absolute privilege and honor of taking on this role. It is simply time.
What will a typical day be like for you until you leave office?
Dr. Dearing: It will be just like it has been for the last eight years. The FHSAA will continue to maximize every resource available to promote interscholastic athletics, while monitoring and mentoring our member schools. With great integrity, we will make sure our members are served and that we enhance the quality of that service each and every day.
What are you plans for retirement?
Dr. Dearing: My wife and I are really looking forward to spending a great deal of time with our grandchildren and watching them grow up. We also want to travel. There are so many places in this beautiful country we’ve yet to visit like Wyoming, Oregon, Massachusetts, etc... Another hobby I am excited about is the continuation of my genealogy research. Educating myself on my personal family history is fascinating.
How supportive has your family been the last eight years?
Dr. Dearing: My family has been tremendously supportive throughout my entire career and especially during this decision-making process. In 46 years of public service, my family has made a ton of sacrifices so that I could help others. It is now my time to help them by giving them the quality family time they deserve.
What accomplishments are you most proud of during your tenure at FHSAA?
Dr. Dearing: As an organization, we are most proud of reducing the financial burden on member schools the past eight years. We were also able to enhance the financial stability of the FHSAA. Another thing I will treasure once I leave the office is the knowledge that in my eight years, the relationship between public and private schools was significantly strengthened. From an organizational standpoint, I leave very pleased with how much growth there has been in the synergetic relationships between the FHSAA, the FIAAA, the FACA and the FCIS. At the end of the day, I can confidently say we enhanced the concept of fairness and sportsmanship at every level, while at the same time improving and ensuring student-athlete safety. When I first took this job head on eight years ago, the goals we had have been met and exceeded. 
What do you want people to remember about your legacy at the FHSAA?
Dr. Dearing: I hope people will remember that I stayed true to my motto, which is “Work hard and have fun doing it.”
What have the last eight years meant to you personally?
Dr. Dearing: It has meant the world. It is a humbling experience looking back and reminiscing about all of the new people I have been fortunate enough to forge a bond with. I worked in Orange, Osceola, Indian River and Manatee County professionally as an educator, but this Executive Director position has allowed me to build relationships statewide in all 67 counties. Specifically, the dozens of Board members I worked with throughout the years were always unselfish and focused on what was best for student-athletes. Working with so many professionals, like Cheryl Golden or Lanness Robinson to name a few, made it easier for the FHSAA to take great strides in advancing forward in all aspects. I leave here in awe of the fact that everybody, whether we are in the business of private or public education, exist to positively impact children. That is the most rewarding aspect of all of this. 
Are there any special memories/person/students that you will take with you?
Dr. Dearing: I will always remember the inspiring story of a young man named Jacob Goldberg, who was a student-athlete at Pine Crest. He competed and excelled in cross country and was the first Floridian to receive the National Federation of State High School Associations Spirit of Sport Award. The tenacity shown by his ability to be a champion on and off the track despite having 20/150 vision and Tourette syndrome was an example to all that greatness can be achieved no matter the obstacle. Jacob just graduated from Harvard this spring with a degree in psychology and continues to be a shining model for any FHSAA student-athlete.
What will you miss the most about the FHSAA office itself?
Dr. Dearing: I will miss the family atmosphere in the Gainesville office. A lot of people only see us at state series events or conferences, but it is simply galvanizing to observe the work inside these walls and watch the dedication our staff has in serving our member schools. Our culture of “All for one, one for all,” is inspiring and something I am so honored to have been part of. 
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges upcoming for the FHSAA?
Dr. Dearing: I am particularly concerned with sports specialization. Student-athletes have a life outside of school. You do not see as many two-sport and three-sport athletes as you use to see. Someone playing only one sport year round presents a challenge to a school. Along with that, we must continue to manage classes in an appropriate manner. Finally, with student-athletes having more choices than ever on where to participate, we must balance the right of choice with maintaining a level playing field for all.  
Do you have any advice for the incoming Executive Director?
Dr. Dearing: Be a good listener. Remember that you are here to serve all of our member schools and all of the student-athletes that participate in interscholastic athletics.
“Roger and I have been colleagues for 20 years, and I consider him to be both a professional and personal friend. He has consistently upheld the highest of standards and has provided exceptional leadership in managing the many intricacies of high school athletics and activities.”
- Florida Senator Bill Montford
“Dr. Dearing has led the FHSAA with passion, commitment and dedication to Florida’s student-athletes. He will leave the FHSAA much stronger than it was when he arrived; the organization and its member schools have flourished under his leadership.”
- Andrea Messina, Executive Director, Florida School Boards Association
“It is my privilege to pay tribute to the work of FHSAA Executive Director, Dr. Roger Dearing. In my role as the Executive Director of the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) and President of the Florida Association of Academic Non-public Schools (FAANS), we worked closely on matters impacting public and private schools. I appreciated his willingness to listen and to seek the solutions that would best meet the needs of all student-athletes in Florida high school athletics.”
- Dr. Barbara Hodges, Executive Director, Florida Council of Independent Schools
“Dr. Dearing has provided great leadership in ensuring that all students have an opportunity to participate and learn valuable leadership skills through athletics. He has been a frontrunner in encouraging sportsmanship and leadership throughout the state of Florida.”
- Hershel Lyons, Former Deputy Superintendent, Alachua County Public Schools
“Throughout his career, Dr. Dearing has consistently put children first. While managing a variety of demands he has remarkably been able to prioritize children and respect a parent’s choice in educating their child. As the Executive Director of the FHSAA, he has recognized and valued each child as an individual while balancing a fair playing field for all children. Home educators in Florida appreciate his leadership and he will be greatly missed. On behalf of current students and those students to come, we stand grateful for his sacrifice and investment.”
- Brenda Dickinson, President, Home Education Foundation 
“Dr. Dearing has been a great supporter of the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. I have always felt that the voices of the coaches meant something to him. He has hired a knowledgeable, problem solving and great listening staff. Many of them are former coaches and athletic directors in the state. We appreciate the effort, expertise and professionalism he has brought to the FHSAA. We wish him the best in his retirement.”
  - Shelton Crews, Executive Director, Florida Athletic Coaches Association
“Dr. Roger Dearing and I served on the FHSAA Board of Directors together for three years. I was the Board President when he was hired. I believe hiring him was the single most important accomplishment for the FHSAA during my tenure on the Board. I find it interesting that when asked about his accomplishments, Dr. Dearing mentioned the efforts he had made toward improving the relationships between public and private schools.  When Dr. Dearing assumed the role of Executive Director, he had served in public education for nearly four decades. There was definitely a learning curve in regard to the thoughts and needs of independent schools. I have always appreciated how hard he worked to gain a better understanding and insight of independent education. We had many conversations in the early stages of his tenure as he sought input into how to structure policy that was supportive of all member schools. I remember him calling me even while on vacation to discuss these issues that were important to private schools and, therefore, important to him. He had a deep desire to be supportive of both public and private schools. His passion to grow in this area has been greatly appreciated by many leaders in independent education, including me. His efforts have definitely improved the strength of our organization. He has led the FHSAA with character and a positive, enthusiastic approach. Roger Dearing has been a good friend to me, a good friend to the FHSAA and a good friend to high school athletics in Florida. I count it a blessing to have worked with him over these last 11 years.”
- Richard Finlayson, Principal, Aucilla Christian Academy
“I have been privileged to be a colleague and friend of Roger Dearing both as a superintendent in a neighboring county and as director of FHSAA. He is a truly dedicated educator whose every decision is informed by a deep desire to help students succeed in academics, athletics and in life. His optimism, understanding and sense of fairness have been key elements in the success of the FHSAA and the students it serves. Superintendents across the state trust his judgement to support high-quality athletic programs in every school district. Personally, I have greatly appreciated Dr. Dearing’s wise counsel in helping me work through complex challenges. I respect and admire his vast experience and deep commitment to students. He is a model of leadership to which all public servants should aspire.”
- Dr. Lori White, Superintendent, Sarasota County Public Schools, FHSAA Board of Directors
“Dr. Dearing has provided tremendous leadership for the FHSAA as the Executive Director. His open dialogue and continuous communication with county athletic directors during some very turbulent times for high school sports in the state of Florida has been appreciated both professionally and personally. The member schools that I represent in Hillsborough County have benefitted financially from Dr. Dearing’s constant desire  to reduce fees paid to the association by its member schools. Dr. Dearing’s commitment to the student-athletes for member schools of the FHSAA will be greatly missed!”
- Lanness Robinson, Director of Athletics, Hillsborough County
“Dr. Dearing understood the challenge of Miami-Dade County. He knew that within one county, we have the city, the beach, the inner city, the suburban areas, the farm areas and even schools you could consider rural schools. He allowed us more input in decisions that would impact all schools in Miami-Dade, whether it is public, private, charter or home school. He made the stakeholders part of the solution and was one of the first to understand what being a multi-ethnic school system and county meant. He allowed us to embrace our challenges instead of being punitive. He made those challenges hills instead of mountains. In short, he will be missed.”
- Cheryl Golden, Former Director of Athletics, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
“We give thanks to Dr. Dearing for being a CHAMPION for athletes and coaches. We appreciate all his hard work and dedication to us in Duval County and in the state of Florida. He leads by example and has walked in our shoes as a former teacher, coach, director of athletics and superintendent. He will be missed but not forgotten!”
- Tammie Talley, Director of Athletics, Duval County
“Dr. Dearing exemplified true leadership. He was a true warrior and a solider for children, putting them first above everything. From my viewpoint, he was an individual who knew how to put the right people on the right seat on the bus to get the bus where it needed to go. The FHSAA will definitely miss this trailblazing visionary.”
- Johnny Thornton, Former FHSAA Board of Directors Member
“Having been associated with the FHSAA for 30 years, I have seen firsthand how Dr. Dearing’s leadership over the past eight years has transcended the organization from being almost unapproachable, to one of true servant hood. His extensive background in the field of education as a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, principal and superintendent gave him a unique prospective toward high school athletics that few have.  Dr. Dearing’s background, combined with his genuine desire to positively impact the lives of student-athletes through high school athletics, along with his willingness to always listen, has resulted in a tremendously stronger FHSAA. It is clearly evident to all associated with the organization. High school athletics is in a much better place than it was eight years ago because of Dr. Dearing’s leadership. He will be greatly missed!”
- Tim Tharpe, Director of Athletics, South Fork High School
“Dr. Dearing has made an impact on my life personally as well as representing the FHSAA. It was most encouraging to know that he recognizes and cares for students on an academic level and as a student-athlete. He attended my induction ceremony for the National Honor Society for high school students. I contemplated not even playing basketball last season, but Dr. Dearing spoke with me and offered encouraging words to me about being a student-athlete.  After speaking with him, I must admit he helped me in reaching a decision to play. He emphasized the importance of going to college and being part of different organizations and athletic programs while being a student. It was an honor to be chosen on the varsity team as a sophomore, and even more encouraging to see Dr. Dearing support me as a student-athlete by attending several of my games and cheering for me. Just knowing Dr. Dearing and remembering his words of encouragement has influenced me on and off the court. Dr. Dearing will be missed.”
- Cayla Francis, Gainesville High School Basketball Player 
“Dr. Dearing is an outstanding pillar in my neighborhood, in the community and as a person. He was the first person in the neighborhood to reach out to my family and made us feel more than welcome. At that time, I didn’t even know his position. As time went on, we discovered where he worked. He had already made a lasting impression on me and continues to do so in many ways. Dr. Dearing exemplifies what an Executive Director for the FHSAA should be, and he has gone above and beyond in his position to help us understand the FHSAA. It has been an honor to know Dr. Dearing and witness first hand his passion for the community as a whole.”
- Angela Francis, Mother of FHSAA Student-Athlete Cayla Francis
“Dr. Dearing taught me a number of sports lessons that have translated to my life when teaching my six children and now grandchildren. Setting out in life, I had no plan and did not follow higher education. Dr. Dearing taught me about succeeding and failing and winning and losing. In life, those lessons gave me an opportunity to raise the family I have and own two businesses. I appreciate what Dr. Dearing did for me.”
- David Campbell, Former Student of Dr. Dearing