An Interview with Robyn Hootselle, AAASP Sports Director (GA)

An Interview with Robyn Hootselle, AAASP Sports Director (GA)

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When did you first start with AAASP, and how did you start working with the group?

I first started with AAASP as a volunteer before I was actually hired to work part time in 1997.  They were just starting out and needed training manuals and forms typed up for them.  Shortly before that time, I had left a job with a large SE pipeline company as a Word Processor, typing at 120 wpm, and my sister, who was a teacher in DeKalb County and already working with the adapted sports program within that school district, asked me if I might be interested in doing some typing for them.  I said, “Sure, I’d love to help out!” and that’s basically how I got started with AAASP.  From volunteer, to part-time employee, to full-time employee.  The best surprises in life are the ones you don’t expect…and the best job I’ve ever had in my life is one I totally didn’t expect to come from a volunteer gig!

What was your first job? And what is your current job?

My first job before I graduated from high school in 1980 (early release because I was so far ahead…LOL) was working with a company that rebuilt engine blocks for long-haul trucks!  I was the one in the front office to greet the customers, type, file, answer the phones, and do a little accounting.  Those were the days where if you were off even one cent, you had to go back through written log books to find your error.  Now Excel does all that stuff, but back then it was all done by hand using an adding machine.  Then I worked part-time for my father’s company while I attended college in the mornings and worked for him in the afternoons.  In 1983, I started working for a large pipeline company and after I left there, AAASP.  My current position with AAASP is as the Adapted Sports Director for the state of Georgia, where I keep the programs for the state on track by working closely with each district that has a team to recruit students, train coaches and officials, make sure paperwork is turned in in a timely manner, etc.  The job involves a plethora of things that would take much longer to explain; however, I can say that this is my favorite job because it feels like I’m actually helping.  Not only the Association, but the individuals it serves.  And the people are my favorite part of the job!  I have gotten to meet and work with some really amazing people over the years, students included!

Tell us about one of your first favorite memories of working with AAASP.

I can’t say I have a “favorite” memory….they are all good….but having the opportunity to work with my sister was extra special.  I do have one memory that makes me laugh out loud and that is what we lovingly refer to as the “wounded knee” grant!  We were behind, needing to meet a deadline, and I was running around like a crazy person trying to get the forms completed and collated.  I ran right into a table at knee level, and thought I broke my kneecap.  We all still laugh about it now, but at the time, it HURT!!

You’ve seen the organization grow and change many times over the course of the past 26 years… what do you think were some of the milestones that defined what AAASP is today.

I think Bev and Tommie’s vision to bring in “partners” such as GHSA, the NFHS, the NIAAA and other individuals and organizations is a huge milestone that is still defining what AAASP is today.  When Bev first started on this endeavor in DeKalb County School District, there were two teams that played each other for years before the Association was started after the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, and we’ve grown.  But there is still much work to do as the vision is to see these adapted sports programs in every county of every state in our nation, giving the opportunity for this populations of students the chance to participate in sports, grow in self-confidence, self-esteem, and all the life lessons that sport teaches.

Please tell us how your sister got involved. We would love to know more about that as well – she was such a positive light to Adapted Sports!

My sister, Leslie Sweatman, started teaching Special Education straight out of college for DeKalb County Schools.  Bev was hired as the program administrator for the DeKalb Adapted Sports program and put out a call for coaches, so being the naturally athletic individual my sister has been since childhood, she answered the call.  When Bev first met her, she was in the gym at Margaret Harris (where the program practiced and played games), in a wheelchair tooling around the court with the students.  Bev has said that she was a natural teacher as well, which translated well into coaching.  So that’s basically how Leslie started with the program.  Then when the 1996 Paralympics came to town, parents started requesting adapted sports for their students, and the rest is history!

Do any events stick out in your mind as favorites over the last 20 years?

I think the thing that sticks out most is the mentorship that Bev Vaughn has given to me over the years.  She has provided an excellent example to follow, not just personally, but professionally.  It has been an invaluable gift and I’m grateful to have had these past twenty-five years to learn from her.  My sister was also invaluable to me as our Trainer after she went back to teaching full time.  And, of course, my current boss, Tommie Storms.  It was her vision that kept us going when we lost our funding in 2008.  She had built up reserves that we existed off of until we could restore some of the funding.  I think without her vision and financial wizardry, we wouldn’t have made it through those tough years!!

Any coach or athlete that just particularly sticks out your mind or any stories that you would like to share?

I’ve met some really great adults and students over the years, but the thing that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside is seeing how our students have grown through sport.  I’ve witnessed incredible things and heard amazing stories of how these programs have literally changed their life, and in some cases even saved their life!  I’ve seen them come out of their “shells” to find their voice and find out what they are made of.  I’ve seen them test their limits physically and become part of a team of people who share their interests, know what they are going through, and understand.  I’ve seen them become leaders and mentors themselves.  That is the most gratifying part of working for AAASP.  Is not just knowing, but seeing, the difference it makes in other people’s lives and knowing you’ve played a small part in that success is very gratifying!

How have you seen the program grow in the schools?

I’ve seen this program grow from two teams to the ten we currently have.  The adapted sports movement is literally glacial and it’s taken years to get where we are now.  But with the help of some very professional individuals (Bev, Tommie, Ed Owen, Ron Lykins, Leslie Sweatman, Carol McCullough…..just a few names that come to mind), AAASP has become a leader in working with the schools to provide adapted sports and, through the help of these individuals, disabled students are afforded the opportunity to experience the benefits of school sport competition just as their non-disabled peers do.

What is one thing you would like people to know about you?

When I’m tasked with a problem, I find a solution (or go down in flames trying)!  We did a study in our Sunday School class of spiritual gifts and that’s when things started to make sense.  I’ve always been a “helper” at heart.  Anything I can do to help…even if that means bringing home stray animals to either find their owners, or keep, much to the chagrin of my parents as a youngster and my husband as an adult!

If you could change anything about AAASP what would you change?

The perception that the general public has about AAASP.  That we’re not really a sports program.  That we’re an “outside” organization, and not part of the schools, when in fact, we are an interscholastic association working closely with the schools.  GHSA has been key in adding that “credibility” because those who have children attending schools and participating in extra-curricular activities, know who GHSA is (and not necessarily AAASP).  That is what we are working to change and will continue to work at until it becomes a reality.


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