Growing an Athletic Program With AD Michael Whittington
Coach Michael Whittington has been building up the Churchland High School athletic department since 2017. Landing the role was a culmination of decades of work and experience that Whittington had gained over his career as both a player and a coach.
Although he’s generally busy securing new equipment and overseeing all of Churchland’s sports teams, coach Whittington took time out of his day to share lessons and tips he’s learned during his time growing an athletic department. Below, he talks about his “brick by brick” mantra that he’s adopted, the roles that the community and social media plays in it, and how it all comes together to benefit his students.
Coach Michael Whittington’s story starts at Norfolk State University, where Whittington was a defensive lineman. “I played it for four years, [then] I became a coach at Lake Taylor high school in Norfolk, Virginia, where I coached the offensive and defensive line and I helped with girls’ basketball. I coached there for 13 years, enjoyed it, won a couple of state titles, and decided that I wanted to get out of coaching and possibly into the admin side.”
Despite his modesty, winning, “a couple of state titles,” takes real skill and insight. Churchland knows this as well, which is why In 2017, they named him their new Athletic Director. At the time, Whittington told Churchland High School’s online newspaper, “I’m really excited about working with the coaches and student athletes at Churchland High and the Churchland community and to build upon and strengthen what they already have in place.”
And indeed, he’s done exactly that: Since coach Whittington’s time began, Churchland’s sports programs have won a collective four state championships, and become regional runner-ups eight times.
The Churchland mantra
As he said, Churchland High School already had promise when he took over, but to take the next step and become great, he had to borrow a mantra from his football team.
“Brick by brick. It is what it says it is. I mean, we’re starting from the ground level. We’re building that foundation. I mean, that’s probably the most important part when you have a house.” Whittington’s brick by brick philosophy has proven successful in his mission of growing an athletic program, and the Portsmouth community plays a vital role in the entire thing.
At every step of the way, coach Whittington says the Portsmouth community has been key to their success, and does everything he can to give back to it.
“No matter what you’re doing, you’re repping Churchland High School, whether you’re in the community, whether you’re on the court, [or] you’re in the building, we’re always repping and we’re going to rep Churchland to the best of our abilities…Even parents hashtag brick by brick. So it’s pretty cool to see that out in the community and in your school.”
This philosophy of proudly representing the Churchland community has manifested itself in different ways across coach Whittington’s various sports programs. For example, Coach Whittington cites the new uniforms he’s helped his program get as being one of the key parts of not only fostering a sense of community, but improving performance as well.
“Maybe that has something to do with the [mentality] of how they perform, but you know, just making sure that the kids feel good when they’re out there, they look good because, you know, Deion Sanders:
“Look good, feel good, play good…we’re out there in the community, whether it’s the coaches, whether it’s the kids, you know, we gotta look good when we’re out there.”
Of course, Coach Whittington is not saying that a shipment of new t-shirts is all you need to find success (if only it were that easy). Instead, he’s acknowledging that there is a mental component to his students’ performance, and new uniforms as being a way of enhancing it.
“And so the people know that Churchland is a legit program. Like myself, I wear my shirts and stuff [proudly], and I wear it all over the place. I like to say that I’m a billboard for Churchland high school.”
Reaching out to the community
The Churchland High School athletic department gives the community something to be proud of and in turn, the community shows the students a level of support that fuels them to play better. Then, of course, the improved play again causes the cycle to repeat itself. It can’t be overstated how much of a role the community has in growing an athletic department, so it’s important to make sure there is a warm, positive relationship between them and the program.
Coach Whittington goes about this by making game nights more like experiences, making sure everyone enjoys themselves and to foster a family atmosphere. “We’re gonna do everything…whether it’s from the food, whether it’s from the halftime show. Whether it’s from the DJ playing music, whether it’s the fact that it was youth night and we let all the little kids in the game for free, so they could just run around a field at halftime.”
“We’ve had parades for homecoming, we’ve had a carnival, we do military appreciation night. We do an alumni night. We had a small business Saturday. Anything that just reaches out to the people in the community. And honestly, just to say, thank you for coming out and supporting Churchland athletics.”
The importance of social media
To make sure the community not only knows about these events, but can follow them and show their support is through social media.
“One of the things on my pitch to get this job was, I was going to make sure that I got on all the social media platforms, just to get information out to everyone. So I sat here and I learned it and now I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I have Tik-Tok. It’s been a great way just to touch base with our current truckers, former truckers, and even the folks that are going to be future truckers, just to get distribution of information for our program.”
Thanks to Churchland High School’s athletic department adopting social media so thoroughly, parents and fans can stay informed of what the school is up to, and show their support with hashtags, like #BrickByBrick.
“I feel like a lot of people, they put a lot into it, and God bless them. They have time to make great videos and things for their platforms, but, you know, I make sure I get the information out, and make sure it is correct when I get it out to the parents.
And then, you know, we’ll have fun from time to time, we’ll own it. It’s more so my Tik Tok page, there’s a lot of fun and taking little friendly jabs at the other schools in the city, or showing what we have. But just making sure that proper information is getting out to the proper people.”
Through social media, Churchland’s community of supporters have not only been able to engage with the programs on a new level, but support them as well. When hosting a carnival, Coach Whittington turned to his parent liaison, who put the event and all the information on Facebook, which led to great success.
“People were like, ‘we want to support you, we’ll come set [the carnival] up.’ And as long as you have a plan and you tell them, ‘Hey, we’re trying to do this for the community, something for the kids,’ a lot of people will donate and really help out because they want to help the community out.”
Putting it all together
Building a social media presence, especially one like Churchland’s, takes time, effort, and patience. Even when it comes to establishing yourself on Instagram or Facebook, the brick by brick approach still applies. But as Coach Whittington has proven, it is well worth the wait.
This emphasis on community comes from those decades of experience as both a player and a coach mentioned above. Sure, a high school may host events like homecoming or fairs, but how many go above and beyond? How many high school sports programs can say they’re a place that their community supports, even their friends or family aren’t currently attending?
By keeping a relationship with the community, Coach Whittington turned a tall task like growing an athletic department into something manageable, and has found incredible success in doing so.