EMMA — When Darlene Mathew took a position teaching physical education and health for a teacher on leave she didn’t realize it would lead to a 46-year career.
“I thought it was just a good job,” she said.
Mathew, who now serves as the school’s athletic director announced her retirement earlier this year.
During her time behind that desk, Mathew helped build one of the most successful small school athletic programs in the state, breaking a glass ceiling or two along the way.
But her accomplishments mean little to Mathew.
“I wasn’t the first woman athletic director in the state,” she said, hinting that she might have been the second.
Mathew will tell you she did what she did, because she wanted to help Westview’s kids.
She arrived at Westview in 1975, hired to fill a temporary position for a teacher on maternity leave. That teacher later opted not to return to Westview and in 1976, Mathew joined the staff as a teacher and coach.
She said it was a busy time for her and her husband Rick.
“I coached volleyball, both JV and varsity because I didn’t have an assistant,” she recalled. “I also coached girls basketball — JV and varsity — again because I didn’t have an assistant. And I also coached junior high track.
A native of Syracuse, she earned her degree in education from Manchester College, now Manchester University.
Her husband, Rick, also was a teacher at Westview, and like his wife, also coached several sports.
“The first couple of years Rick and I were here, we coached three sports each, so we were very busy,” she said.
By 1980, Mathew was assigned the job of girls’ athletic director. She continued to coach while working as the AD.
While it involved more work, Mathew said being both a coach and the AD had its advantages.
It actually made coaching easier,” she explained. “I could get the teams I wanted on the schedule. Back then, we were short games, and they kept telling us they couldn’t find us anyone else to play. I made a couple of phone calls and got the games I had wanted for my teams to get for a couple of years.”
Support for girls sports was limited in those days, and Mathew and others worked to level those playing fields.
“Things are a lot better now than when I started,” she said. “When I started, girls had to wear the same uniform for volleyball, basketball, and track. We just didn’t have the finances. Now all of those sports they all have their own uniforms, and most teams have home and away uniforms, not just that one set.”
By 1989, Mathew was named the school’s AD, working with both boys and girls sports programs.
“They gave that job to me, I didn’t apply for that job,” she said with a smile.
Mathew likens the job of a school AD to that of putting together a large, 1,000 piece puzzle every day, scheduling games, finding officials to oversee those games, and making sure the event has enough staff on hand to take tickets and pass out rosters.
“In this job, you have to put all the pieces together and making sure they fit. The hardest part is finding workers, especially for track and ticket sales,” she explained.
In her time behind the AD’s desk, the athletic opportunities available for students have grown as well. Along the way, Westview captured back-to-back state championships in basketball in 1999 and 2000 in Indiana’s multi-class basketball system, a source of local pride.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” she explained. “Those kids that won those two state championships, they wanted to win and would do whatever it took as a team to do that. Those kids were really team-oriented and accomplished a great goal. It was a fun ride, and we all enjoyed that.”
Her days have been long, she’s often one of the first to arrive at school in the morning, and on a game day, the last to leave. She does it for the kids.
“You really have to love this job,” Mathew said. “Some of that comes from me as a high school student. I didn’t have these kinds of opportunities, I would have loved to, so I make sure these kids have those opportunities to play.”
Westview’s success, both in the classroom and in the gym, wouldn’t have been possible, she said, without the support of the local community.
“It’s a tight-knit community that’s very supportive and I think that is a blessing to our school. It helps kids succeed, not only out on the athletic fields but also in the classroom. Support at home means a whole lot to kids and I think it’s really important to do that.”
Mathew said she started thinking about her retirement a few years ago and was ready to retire when the pandemic arrived in Indiana. That prompted her to stick around at least one more year to help set up the next person who sits behind her desk for success.
“I was really thinking about it last year, and then we didn’t finish the year,” she said. “Going into this last fall, no one knew what the rest of the year would be like. I know this is a hard job and when you add that pandemic to it, it makes the job a lot harder. I didn’t feel like it was fair to ask someone else to step in and be new at this, so I hung around one more year.”
Over the course of her career, Mathew said she has no idea how many high school sporting events she’s watched, but the number has to be in the tens of thousands. She said both she and her husband happily spend that time seated in the bleachers because it was something they both loved to do.
“My husband and I, we really enjoy doing that,” Mathew said. “We’ve had a good time with sports over the years. Our lives have revolved around it.”