DeKALB – As the new athletic director and activities director at DeKalb High School, Tom Kim isn’t as interested in wins and losses as he is in creating a memorable experience for teens.
“I want kids to be prepared to move on from here to their next step in life because of their athletic and educational experiences in this district,” he said.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in history from North Park University, Kim got his master’s degree in education leadership/general administration Type 75, his Ed.D in administration, and his Ed.D in administration and supervision from Loyola University. He also graduated from the U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia.
Kim taught social studies and history and coached at Elgin High School for eight years and was athletic director and associate principal for curriculum and instruction at Grayslake Central High School for four years before coming to DeKalb.
Kim took time before the new school year to discuss his background and hopes for the future with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.
Oleson: Did you play sports in high school?
Kim: I went to Niles North in Skokie. I was a three-year starter in football. I played quarterback and safety. I also wrestled at 125 and was a sprinter in track. I just missed state in the 400. One of the teams we played was Evanston Township, who had Cecil Martin, who played in the NFL.
Oleson: Did you have a favorite sport?
Kim: I love them all. I think I could sit down and have an intelligent conversation about any of them. The first sport I learned to play was tennis. My grandfather, who was a doctor, taught me how to play. He was retired. ...He just wound up helping out with all the grandchildren. He loved tennis and soccer.
Like any red-blooded American, I love football and basketball and all the sports. I just love watching them.
Oleson: Did you coach?
Kim: I coached (high school) football, girls basketball, wrestling, and boys and girls track. In football, I was the head coach at Elgin High School for four years. I was also the assistant athletic director for two years.
Oleson: Did you always want to be an athletic director?
Kim: No. When I started teaching and coaching, I never once thought of being an athletic director.
Oleson: So what happened?
Kim: In my eighth year at Elgin High School, Dave Rohlman, who was an athletic director here for many years, and Dave Smiley, he was our building principal, they both started to encourage me to think about it.
They just felt I was a good leader. I work very well with people, and I had a good vision.
Oleson: How did you like being an athletic director?
Kim: It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of time, but I loved it.
Oleson: Why did you come to DeKalb?
Kim: When the opportunity came about, the superintendent of the district, Dr. (Doug) Moeller, reached out to me and wanted to see if I was interested in making a change. We talked a little about our vision.
He was one of the deans at Elgin High School for two years before I left there and he moved here. He and I worked together sometimes with kids who needed help. We just had a good relationship. And I knew others here. I felt it was a great opportunity.
Oleson: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Kim: We had a lot of hiring to do. We’ve hired six new head coaches and 12 assistants. I think we’ve put some really good people in place.
Oleson: Isn’t that unusual to have to hire so many at one time?
Kim: I wouldn’t say it’s unusual. It was definitely a high number, but it does happen from time to time. There are a lot of life situations that come up. I just hope we don’t have that next summer so we can work on other issues.
Oleson: Do you have any goals?
Kim: First, I would like to continue a district-wide alignment with our athletic program. Second, build a program where kids walk away with the best experience they could have. Their experience with athletics will prepare them for the real world. You get some of your best experiences in athletics. I also want them to realize they are responsible for their actions, the good things and the bad.
Oleson: What do you think of DeKalb so far?
Kim: I love it.
Our neighbors have been fantastic. Everywhere I go, everyone has been great to talk to. So many people have offered to help. Everyone from the board to the coaches have been so supportive. I just can’t wait for the kids to get in the building.
Oleson: When does it all start?
Kim: Football practice start(ed) Aug. 11; the other sports, Aug. 13. The first day of school is Aug. 27.
Oleson: How has the transition been going?
Kim: I’m just trying to close the gap. Throughout the summer, I’m just trying to familiarize myself with the district and how they do things. It’s the same job, but every school district does it a little differently. When we start (school), I want to be like I’ve been here for a few years. I hate to say, “I didn’t know that.”
Everyone has been so helpful, (DHS principal) Tamra Ropeter and my assistant ADs, Julie Craven, Justin Keck and Mark Sykes. Marianne (Buehler, AD assistant) is one the best I’ve ever worked with. There’s a great team here. Hopefully it’s been a good transition for everyone.
Oleson: Do you have a family?
Kim: I have a wife, Megan. She’s from Lincoln, Illinois. She was a teacher in ESL, business and technology, and coached tennis and soccer.
She’s going to take a year off to raise our girls and see how it goes. We have two daughters, Charissa, 3, and Kara, 1.
Oleson: I won’t ask what sports they like.
Kim: Charissa has already starting throwing. She likes throwing the ball at me, but she doesn’t like to catch. She has a decent arm. My wife told me if we had boys, I’d be a drill sergeant. But with the girls, they own me.