Ross High School’s changing of the athletic guard becomes official this summer, but it’s already happening.
Outgoing athletic director Doug Noonan is working closely with his replacement, Brian Gunter, and both say it’s going smoothly.
“Doug has been tremendous,” Gunter said. “He is highly professional. I can’t say that enough.”
Noonan is retiring after 13 years as the head of the athletic department, with June 30 set to be his last day.
Gunter received school-board approval last month and takes over July 1.
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He’s nearing the end of his first year in the district. Gunter has been teaching seventh-grade language arts while handling the head coaching position for the varsity boys basketball team.
“I look forward to seeing what he’s going to do,” Noonan said. “It’s always nice to get fresh ideas, somebody looking at things through a different set of eyes.
“In the year I’ve gotten to know Brian, he’s a class guy. He’s going to represent Ross in a very professional way and go about doing things that are best for the kids.”
Gunter, 53, is becoming the full-time AD and remaining the basketball coach. That double duty will get an administrative review after one year to make sure he’s able to do both jobs effectively.
Gunter has no doubts. In the last six years before coming to Ross, he was the AD and head coach while teaching three classes a day at Arcanum.
“I feel very confident that I can do both and that it will not take away from any of the well-established athletic programs we have in place here at Ross,” Gunter said.
“This is an honor and a privilege. It’s a tremendous challenge, but a good one. Being organized and having good support people helps.”
He is striving for stability in the basketball program. That’s part of the reason he wanted to keep the job.
“We started something very good, and we want to continue it,” Gunter said. “If I stepped down, it would be three coaches in three years. I didn’t want the program to take a step back.”
He had a background in business administration before getting into education. Arcanum opened a new K-12 building while Gunter was there, and he was responsible for numerous improvements within the athletic department.
He doesn’t believe an athletic upheaval is necessary for Ross, a consistent winner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Harold A. Meyer Sportsmanship Award.
“We’re going to continue to run outstanding programs,” Gunter said. “We’re going to represent our district and our community with integrity. Academics will stay at the top of the list, and we want to be tremendous citizens.
“What can people expect from me? Very visible. Very community oriented. Total support for all of our athletic programs.”
Noonan, 51, said his retirement makes good financial sense with the changes in the state teacher retirement system.
He’s credited with 31 years of service. That includes 16 years at Alliance High School and two years as an Indiana state employee.
He’s originally from Delphos and was the athletic director at Alliance for five years. Before that, he held a number of positions within the district while coaching baseball and basketball.
“Working at Ross has been a great thing,” Noonan said. “It’s not about the blocks and mortar. It’s the relationships that you build and the people you encounter.
“It’s about great kids, great families, great coaches. I think Ross is a pretty special place. I just feel fortunate to have been part of it for 13 years.”
Noonan oversaw the school’s move from the Fort Ancient Valley Conference to the Southwest Ohio Conference. He said the SWOC is a good fit for Ross.
“It’s pretty good competition and schools with pretty similar enrollment numbers. They’ve kind of grown together better than when we were in the FAVC,” Noonan said. “It would be nice to get an eighth school so we don’t have that bye in the middle of our football schedule, but that’s just one sport.”
Ross captured one state championship during his tenure (Division II softball in 2009).
Asked if he’s leaving the athletic program in better shape than he found it, Noonan replied, “That’s anybody’s goal. That’s not for me to judge. It’s for whoever to judge.”
He said his primary regret is that the OHSAA has yet to find a solution for the enrollment discrepancy between the biggest and smallest schools in Division I.
“They do have a committee that’s looking at it because we’ve kind of been squeaky wheels on this,” Noonan said. “When you’ve got a school like Ross that has 372 boys in their three grades and you’re playing a Mason with 1,200 more than that, something’s wrong.
“I think schools that are in the same enrollment range as Ross really get the short end of the stick. Our kids get to look forward to the regular season and hopefully winning a league championship because when you get to the tournament, Moeller is waiting for you.”
The Rams are small-end Division I in most sports. They’ve shown some postseason power as a D-II school in softball, wrestling and soccer, and football is D-III.
“I don’t think competitive balance the way it passed is the answer,” Noonan said. “I think that’s a good start, but they also need to address the Division I discrepancy.
“We need to use the argument that changes were made in football, and it ran pretty well. Why can’t we do it in the other sports? Those kids deserve it as much as the football piece.”
Noonan said he has no plans to move and doesn’t know what he’ll do with his time after he retires. His wife works at Morgan Elementary School.
“I think July is going to be pretty laid-back,” Noonan said. “I’m sure the boredom’s going to kick in and I’m going to get antsy, and then I’ll find something to do. I just don’t know what it’s going to be yet. You can only cut the grass so many times.
“I’m sure I’ll be at some Ross games. Old habits are hard to break.”