By Dan Hardenbrook

This is part 1 of our exclusive interview with Tahquamenon Area Schools’ new Athletic Director, Tony Kitzman. In part 1, Kitzman talks about the transition, some of his early and long-term projects, and how he plans to overhaul fundraising in the community as we know it.

Newly hired Newberry Athletic Director Tony Kitzman hit the ground running in his new position, and if you know him, you’re not surprised. The self-described “go getter” is full of passion and energy, and he’s taking a unique approach to a traditionally difficult job.

He’s not just trying to keep the athletics department alive. He’s trying to make it thrive.

In his initial meeting with Newberry coaching staff earlier this week, Kitzman, a 2006 graduate of Newberry High School, laid his vision out. He bounced around the room with excitement and said he’s going to do everything he can to make things happen.

Although he officially took over July 1, Kitzman had been working behind the scenes for weeks, attending meetings with outgoing longtime AD Kenn Depew, meeting colleagues, visiting with coaches, and pounding the pavement in the community.

“Kenn has been great working with me and being by my side in the transition,” Kitzman said. “All the other Athletic Directors from other schools have been very welcoming, and we have a clear line of communication as far as what they want and need from us are as far as scheduling.”

As a Newberry native who recently returned to the area and is now tackling a pretty brutal job, you’d think he might tread lightly at first. But Kitzman has never done things as expected. His first major task as athletic director was to create a fundraising campaign and start working on long overdue upgrades to the school’s track and football field facility.

Many items on that list are projects that were voted down in previous bond proposals—a fact that might seem intimidating. But Kitzman went right to work, keeping his eye on the future.

Kitzman has raised over $17,000 in just a few weeks – just shy of the $20,000 he hoped to secure by now. He’d logged many hours on the job before he was officially hired or had a key to the building. He set up at grocery stores and restaurants, visited business, went to organizational meetings and more promoting his recent Bucket Golf fundraiser over the 4th of July Holiday.

“I chose this [project] because it’s the biggest expense we have to tackle,” Kitzman said. “If we get it taken care of and it’s out of the way, it opens the door and clears the way to do so much more.

Kitzman is looking for ways for the athletic department to bring in enough money to be self-sustaining.

“We understand that we can’t keep hitting people up for money,” he said. “So I’m trying all sorts of ideas out to get people involved and give them something in return. If we are going to ask for something from you, we need to make sure to return the favor and give the donor something in return.”

Future projects on his list include redoing the gym floor – a task with an estimated cost of $46,000. The J.L. DeCook gymnasium floor hasn’t been completely redone in almost 20 years. The playing surface often gets waxed or touched up, but the court is slick from years of use. That makes it hard and somewhat dangerous to play on.

Volleyball teams can only host single opponents because the layout of the lines for the court are off centered and do not allow for more than one game at a time in the facility. That rules out hosting lucrative volleyball tournaments.

Almost every sport in the district uses the gym for practices or programs. It’ll get even more use once the elementary gym is converted to the new band room.

Kitzman plans to team up with the shop class to build mini billboard signs that can be rented out at the football field on game nights, and is planning tennis ball style chuck-a-puck event at one of the first home football games.

As part of that event, admission will be free and instead, those in attendance would be encouraged to purchase a numbered tennis ball and throw it at a target set up at mid field. Hit the target and you win half of the proceeds through a 50/50. Miss but come closest to the target? You still win 10%.

That’s just one way the school is giving back to the community that supports its athletes. And it’s one example that shows anything and everything is a possibility under the new athletic department administration.