Dave Lutes has spent the past 40 years working for the Kent School District – more than half of those as athletic director.
“I enjoy, now here 27 years later, being in a position of seniority,” Lutes, 63, said during an interview at his district office. “Everyone comes to us for questions and answers. It has been a good ride.”
Lutes was recently recognized for his service as one of eight high school athletic directors throughout the country to receive a National Federation of State High School Associations Citation.
He was presented the honor at the 47th annual National Athletic Directors Conference in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 12.
“If you stick around long enough, you are going get some awards,” he said. “… I am really proud of that award because it is pretty prestigious to come from the national federation.”
Lutes, who grew up in Des Moines, graduated from Mount Rainier High School in 1971 and went on to play football at University of Washington.
It was there Lutes got his first taste of coaching and supervising sports. After four years playing football, Lutes had another year of schooling to do, so he asked coach Don James if he could stay on scholarship.
“(James) said he would keep me on scholarship if I would come out and coach and I had real interest in coaching .…” Lutes said. “That was really a key thing for me.”
After graduating college, Lutes was hired as a traffic safety instructor and assistant football and basketball coach at Kentridge High School.
Four years later, Lutes was named Kentwood High School’s first athletic director and football coach.
“As a young person, just four years in, I was really excited for that,” he said.
In 1990, Lutes replaced Jack Burrell, becoming the Kent School District’s second athletic director.
“I had just lost, for the second year in a row, the state (football) championship,” Lutes said. “I was ready to get out of coaching. I had been working on my master’s to go into administration. When this opened I thought, ‘This is more who I am than the education administration side.’ ”
In 1997, Lutes took a year leave from his role as athletic director to help open Kentlake High.
As athletic director, Lutes oversees the district’s sports programs, activities and facility use.
When community organizations or individuals request to use any school or athletic facility, Lutes’ office approves it.
“It is actually a pretty good fit,” he said. ”I have a pretty good handle of who the community organizations are, especially athletically and that is where a lot of the use comes from the fields and the gyms.”
The athletics office is responsible for coordinating transportation and logistics for the district’s more than 130 sports teams and 2,500 athletic contests each year, as well Washington Interscholastic Activities Association sanctioned activities including cheer, dance, band and drama.
Each high school has a full-time athletic director or department chair, and the middle schools have teachers who organize athletics at their buildings.
“I am kind of like the head coach that oversees the assistant coaches,” Lutes said. “I keep them organized and don’t evaluate or hire them but I do somewhat supervise them. They look to this office for direction in terms of any department policy.”
In addition to running athletics in the district, Lutes serves on a variety of boards and organizations.
“There is real internal component to being the district’s athletic director – overseeing all the different things – but the other face of it is I am kind of the spokesperson for things that go on outside of the school district that are athletically oriented,” he said.
Being athletic director is challenging and rewarding, Lutes said.
During the recession in the mid-2000s, Lutes was directed by the school board to implement a pay-for-play program to offset the cost of athletics.
“That was a fun challenge,” Lutes said. “It wasn’t fun to be charging kids to play. I wasn’t a proponent of that. I had to do what the board directed. We put together, I think, a really good program. It lasted for about three years until that budget situation changed and the board decided to bring back some programs.”
Early in his job as athletic director, Lutes saw the creation of the Kent Coaches Association.
“That was fun putting that contract together,” he said. “It seems odd because those are the people I support, and I am on the management side. So, I understand their issues always, but sometimes you can’t do everything for everybody. Just having them organized has been good for them and helps us, too, to address issues.”
There are two programs Lutes said he is particularly proud of putting in place.
The first is a track management program, which is sometimes called the “Kent Model.”
With the help of Chris Kunzelman, Lutes centralized the operation of high school track meets by hiring officials and purchasing equipment to run the meets at a district level instead of each high school being responsible for its own meets.
“When they run the track meets, they have to have teachers come out,” Lutes said. “There’s a lot of positions to fill. There’s a lot just for the different field events. I didn’t like what I was seeing.”
Other districts have turned to Kent for guidance in setting up their own programs, and Lutes and Kunzelman were honored by USA Track and Field for their efforts.
The second program, Lutes implemented is the certification requirements for football coaches.
All football coaches in the district are required to go through safety training through USA Football Heads Up – which includes modules for cardiac arrest, concussions, heat and hydration, equipment fitting and blocking and tackling.
Lutes serves on USA Football’s advisory board as one of 11 representatives from around the country.
“We made a commitment to be members (of USA Football), which means 100 percent of our coaches are safety certified,” he said. “I don’t allow a coach out on the field if he is not safety certified through USA Football. We are one of the few districts in the state that can claim that.”
As a part of protocol, any athlete who has a concussion is required to get medical clearance before returning to play. Lutes arranged a contract with ATI Physical Therapy to provide the service to student-athletes at no cost to the student.
There are a few projects Lutes would like to finish before he retires, including the renovations of outdoor athletic facilities at the district’s six middle schools and four high schools authorized through a bond issue approved by voters in November.
Lutes has been married 41 years to his junior high sweetheart, Linda. They have three daughters – Kala, Trina and Kristin – who all work in education, and seven grandchildren.